PGA Tour Confidential: The New Big Four, A Royal Portrush PGA Championship and the Best Hole in Golf

PGA Tour Confidential: The New Big Four, A Royal Portrush PGA Championship and the Best Hole in Golf

Henrik Stenson is the first golfer to win the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup and the European Tour's Race to Dubai in the same season.
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Every Sunday night, conducts an e-mail roundtable with writers from Sports Illustrated and Golf Magazine. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.

1. Henrik Stenson crushed the field to win the World Tour Championship and the European Tour's Race to Dubai, becoming the first player ever to win both of those events and the PGA’s Tour Championship and FedEx Cup in the same year. Adam Scott won back-to-back Aussie majors, capturing the Australian Masters by two over Matt Kuchar at Royal Melbourne. Now who's had the best 2013: Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Stenson or Scott? And who's your No. 1 in the world right this minute?

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Right this minute? Adam Scott. He was playing great in April and he's playing great now and he played beautifully in between. He's getting it done with a putting stroke that is legal only for now and he cannot really know for sure what life will be like without it, which surely adds to the pressure. He gets to go back to Augusta for the rest of his life. What's not to like?

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@AlanShipnuck): Adam Scott is the answer to both questions. To prevail on Augusta National and Royal Melbourne in the same year is about as epic as it gets. Stenson has been unreal since the late summer — the only reason Scott gets the nod is that the Stense didn't win a major in 2013. But he did pretty much everything else.

Josh Sens, contributing writer, Golf Magazine (@JoshSens): Tiger's five wins still give him the season edge, but if I had to pick one guy to win a big event right now, I'd go with the guy with the putter that makes him look like a guy sweeping his front stoop. Scott is my man.

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine (@CameronMorfit): I would put Stenson-Scott at one-two. Stenson is especially intriguing now because he's done so much of his damage so late in the year. Both guys should be lobbying for the 2014 Masters to start tomorrow. As for who had the best year, start-to-finish, you probably have to at least consider giving a slight edge to Scott. If not, why do they even bother playing in Australia?

Jeff Ritter, senior producer, (@Jeff_Ritter): Tiger deserved to be PGA Tour Player of the year on the strength of those five wins, but as has been said before in this panel, he'd probably trade his year straight up for Phil's or Adam's. Tiger is still No. 1 until we get all the big guns together in the same field, and it does already feel like Woods, Phil, Scott and Stenson are on a collision course for the Masters. It can't get here fast enough.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): Stenson's big checks are impressive but I'd take Adam Scott's year — one official major and two titles in his home country that are majors to Aussies. I suppose Tiger is still No. 1, but Scott has to be a suddenly close second now.

Joe Passov, senior editor, courses and travel, Golf Magazine (@joepassov): Stenson had the greatest second half of a year in memory. Tiger had the best 2013 of all by winning five times on Earth's toughest tour. Phil is my player of the year — and Adam Scott is my No. 1 right this minute. I can't fence-straddle any better than that.

2. Not so long ago, Henrik Stenson was in golf oblivion. Where does his return to form rank in the history of golf comebacks?

MORFIT: His comeback has now pulled ahead of Stricker's by a driver yip or two. And don't forget about Westwood, who may have been almost as much of a basket case as Stricker. Oh, and Michael Campbell is plenty rested and ready for his U.S. Open title defense at Pinehurst No. 2. If Cambo makes a comeback from wherever he's been, it'll top even Stenson.

BAMBERGER: Sir Henrik ain't Hogan, but what he's doing is very, deeply impressive. I love the way he goes about his business.

SENS: Not as dramatic as Hogan's return from a car accident but possibly more impressive, given that Stenson's problems were in no small part between the ears. Not many golfers rehab fully from those kinds of woes.

VAN SICKLE: I remember chatting with Stenson about the little odds and ends in his bag for a magazine piece at Bay Hill after he'd just shot 81 or 83 or something. He couldn't have been nicer, but he did have a shell-shocked feel about him. It's got to be close to one of the better comebacks from poor play as opposed to an injury. I can't think of a better one at the moment.

RITTER: Stenson is a nice story, but Ben Hogan's comeback is in a class by itself. I'd place Tiger's comeback from injury/hydrant far above Henrik's, too. It's easy to forget that two years ago it looked like Woods' career might be toast.

PASSOV: He's still in the midst … but Steve Stricker, Adam Scott and Lee Westwood had pretty astonishing comebacks as well. I might be partial to Scott Verplank, who sunk one year to finishing last on Tour in both driving distance AND driving accuracy — and returned to be a consistent winner and Ryder Cup-type player.

SHIPNUCK: It's not quite in the territory of Ben Hogan vs. a bus, but it's pretty damn impressive.

3. The abbreviated portion of the PGA Tour's new 2013-14 wraparound schedule has now concluded. We next get a six-week hiatus from official PGA Tour events. Was this new wrinkle a worthy experiment, a dismal failure or somewhere in between?

VAN SICKLE: The experiment is not about whether fans watched on TV or cared about the events. It was about finding sponsorship dollars. More players from the top 125 money list teed it up in the fall events than before, leaving a chunk of the new Q-school grads with no place to play, so from those aspects, it was a success.

PASSOV: I'm not convinced this setup was one ounce more compelling than the old Fall Series. To me, it just confuses matters going forward. If the PGA Tour slotted another four sanctioned, automatic-Masters-invite events, I might feel differently, but this momentum-killing break is ludicrous.

SHIPNUCK: I think it was a worthy experiment. If nothing else, it created a strong Asian swing, an important colonization for the PGA Tour and a boon to late-night TV viewers here in the U.S. And tourneys like the Frys and the McGladrey were charming in their small scale: out-of-the-way venues, no big stars, and just pure golf for hard-core fans. Nothing wrong with that.

RITTER: Did they hope for better fields and bigger TV ratings? If so, it failed. But my impression is that they simply wanted to lock up sponsors for these events, and the scheduling wrinkle was created to close a few business deals. In that case, mission accomplished.

MORFIT: For the guys who barely got their Tour cards through the tour, it was a dismal failure. They had a heck of a time getting into tournaments. For Webb Simpson, Harris English and even Briny Baird, it was a rousing success. Did I watch? I did not. 

SENS: Somewhere in between. Worth seeking alternatives to the snooze of the silly season, but the wide dispersion of events around the globe and the wildly watered down fields in many tournaments made things a mess from a branding standpoint. Which tournaments mattered? Where was a fan to focus his or her interest? It was like going to the store and seeing all those olive oils. So much choice, it's hard to develop loyalty to any one. Which reminds me: if you're not cooking with olive oil, you really should be.

BAMBERGER: Well, you surely cannot call it a failure after one year. It will take years for us to really accept this new definition of the golf season. It's inherently awkward, but it can work. Over time, as the various tours merge and the boundaries disappear, I imagine we'll go back to thinking about a calendar-year season. Check back with me in 2033 (he typed hopefully). 

4. A couple weeks ago, the PGA of America floated the idea of bringing the PGA Championship overseas. This week, PGA of America president Ted Bishop named a potential venue: Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland. What do you think of Portrush hosting a PGA Championship?

PASSOV: Contesting any PGA Championship outside of the United States seems ridiculous to me — utter nonsense. I'd drop that opinion entirely if they played it at Royal Portrush. You go, Ted Bishop!

VAN SICKLE: An international PGA makes sense if it's twinned with another big event of some kind, either a major (like a British Open) or a WGC event. I'm not familiar with the infrastructure at Portrush, but the course is certainly worthy. Points for the PGA of America for thinking outside the bun.

SHIPNUCK: As much as I love Portrush, it's a horrible idea. I thought the point was to do something different — we already have one major played in the linksland, and Europe gets to host every other Ryder Cup. If the PGA is going to go on the road, it needs to go to Asia, the antipodes, South America … hell, maybe Iceland. Just nowhere near the other majors.

SENS: Great venue, and I like the fact that the public can play it. And it would give fans a glimpse of a course that has been left off the British Open rota for decades. As for other venues: if it weren't for the summer heat in Florida, I'd say bring the PGA to Streamsong. And it weren't for the logistical headaches, I'd say Bandon. And if it weren't for the time change, I'd say Barnbougle Dunes. I'm not being much help here.

RITTER: Portrush would be cool, and there are dozens of great courses around the world that would be worthy venues. Off the top of my head, Royal Melbourne might be my first choice.

MORFIT: This whole thing reminds me of a thing I wrote almost 15 years ago, arguing tongue-in-cheek that the U.S. Open should be held in Britain. If the idea of crossing borders is so appealing, why not take baby steps and venture up to Hamilton Golf and Country Club, a highly regarded course outside Toronto? From what I'm hearing on the news lately, Toronto seems like a cracking good place for a PGA.  

BAMBERGER: Have you ever been to Portrush? Very, very cool idea. This is not your grandmother's PGA of America.

5. At the USGA’s recent pace-of-play summit, former PGA Tour commission Deane Beman said, “It’s not possible to get 144 players around on any given day in less than 4:20-4:30 minutes if everything goes perfectly.” So do PGA Tour players get a bad rap on slow play?

SHIPNUCK: What planet is Beman living on? Kids at AJGA tourneys play in four hours flat, and they're taking more strokes and don't have the benefit of professional caddies. Tour players don't play fast because it's not part of the culture out there and there are no repercussions for dawdling, but it's certainly possible for them to play in close to four hours.

PASSOV: I do think PGA Tour players get a bad rap on slow play. Play at classic, shorter courses where the next tee is close to the previous green and slow green speeds down to 9 or less so there would be little fear overrunning 20 footers six feet by and little trepidation over three footers and you'd see much faster play. You'd also see 30-under win every event, but at least they'd be over quickly.

VAN SICKLE: There are Tour players who are slow, period. But I'd mostly agree with Beman. With drivable par 4s in vogue and most par 5s being reachable in two by today's big hitters, backups and waits are inevitable. But they clearly spend far too much time on the greens, so I wouldn't give them a free pass on this issue.

RITTER: Just watch a telecast. Or read Golf Magazine's report from a couple years ago. There seem to be about 10-20 consistent offenders who more than justify the bad rap.

SENS: Shame on Beman for holding players to such a low standard. But that's been the drift of golf over the years. At the '49 Open at Medinah, the first group out (a threesome) played in 3 hours, 27 minutes. The last group played in 4:16. Yeah, the fields are bigger today, and the galleries are larger. But there's no reason pros can't be asked to play faster than they do. It would be better for the game in so many ways.

BAMBERGER: PGA Tour players play within the accepted norms of what constitutes a proper pace. The problem is those norms. Golf, at every level, would be a better and faster game if players would simply walk directly to their ball, look out for their playing partners as they prepare to play their shots, and be ready to go within a half-minute, tops, of when it is their turn to play. The putting routines are absurd. I am not at all convinced that even the Tour players putt better by spending so much time examining the matter from every possible angle. For Sunday golfers, it does NOTHING. Beman is correct about the pace, if you accept the conditions as they are. But golf as a half-day enterprise will ultimately be its death, and since we don't want that something has to give here. By the way, if you're playing in a cart, and most of us are, one guy should go straight to his ball in the buggy and the other guy — I know this is radical — SHOULD GRAB SOME CLUBS AND WALK TO HIS BALL. By the Way II, in Scotland, at almost every course you go to off the tourist rota, four golfers, shooting in the 80s and 90s and carrying their own clubs, will routinely play in three and a half hours, or far less. Playing match play helps. Match play makes everything more fun, faster and better.

MORFIT: No. They're slow. We're slow. Everyone is slow. And it's killing golf.  

6. Travelin' Joe Passov named Cypress Point's par-3 16th as the greatest golf hole in the United States. Agree or disagree?

SHIPNUCK: Yep. Nothing else is really close.

VAN SICKLE: The 16th is a great hole, no question. I wouldn't argue it … except if the aforementioned pace of play is part of the definition of a great hole, I'm not sure the 16th would qualify. It's a hole so difficult that it brings pace of play to a grinding halt because a lot of players make big numbers there. There is no better-looking hole in golf, I'd agree with that. If you're going to criticize Tour players for being slow, maybe holes themselves should be subject to the same scrutiny.

BAMBERGER: I prefer No. 15 at Cypress, the short par-3 before the long par-3. The most aromatic hole in all of golf: kelp, sea air, the breath of the nearby eucalyptus trees, if the wind is right. If you're on that tee, you're on top of the world. But Travelin' Joe has the best job in the world.

MORFIT: I am not about to disagree with a guy who has not only played nearly every hole everywhere, he remembers them. However, I'd like to nominate 7, 12, 14 and 17 at Stanford Golf Course.  

RITTER: Hard to argue with Joe, but I might lean toward No. 12 at Augusta for both the history and the feeling you get just from wandering down to look at it.

PASSOV: Even though I barely possess warning-track power, there's no hole in golf that is so completely compelling to me from aesthetic and challenge aspects. Even the bail-out layup to the left with a hybrid is thrilling.

SENS: The greatest hole in the country is any hole I just birdied. And besides, I like the little par-three 15th at Cypress even more.

The PGA Tour Confidential debate continues Monday on our new weekly show hosted by Jessica Marksbury. Tweet her your questions @Jess_Marksbury.