PGA Tour Confidential: Mickelson vs. Els, plus Tiger's elbow and Bubba's head

PGA Tour Confidential: Mickelson vs. Els, plus Tiger’s elbow and Bubba’s head

Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson in the final round of the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.
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Every Sunday night, has an email roundtable with our writers and editors. Check in every week to read their their unfiltered opinions and join the conversation in the comments section below.

1. Coming off a T4 at the U.S. Open, Ernie Els won the BMW Championship in Munich for his 28th European Tour win. Who is more likely to win a fifth major, Els or Phil Mickelson?

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Tough call, but I'd say Els … at least until they take his belly putter away. Right now he just seems more comfortable in crunch time than Phil does. It took Mickelson a year to recover from kicking away the 2012 Masters with that right-handed blowup on the 4th hole. Who knows how long the post-Merion hangover will linger?

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I'd say Phil, because he'll have more chances, and he's more likely to sneak in a PGA win when nobody is expecting it.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I'll go with Ernie. If Phil can't hit the 13th green at Merion from 110 yards to win the Open, he's got bad karma. Ernie's ballstriking and short game give him the edge. He can win the British, where Phil doesn't usually fare well in the wind.

Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: I'll take Ernie, for two reasons. His health is better, and his game is versatile enough to win any of the four majors. Though Phil is no doubt inspired whenever he sets foot on Augusta National, he has pretty much a one-track mind these days: the U.S. Open.

Joe Passov, senior editor, Golf Magazine: I could have seen Ernie pulling a Darren Clarke, simply shutting it down after his Open win last year. I'll still pick Mickelson, but after suffering through Ernie's nightmare meltdowns 18 months ago, I'm really impressed with his rebound.

Stephanie Wei, Phil has made a career of coming in second. I'd take Ernie just because Muirfield is coming up next month … and he won the Open the last time it was held there.

Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Mickelson. He can still be overwhelming at times, where Ernie is more like very good, which is sometimes good enough. Plus the clock is ticking on Ernie's putter.

Ryan Reiterman, senior producer, I know I should say Mickelson, but we’re about to head to the major where the Big Easy is the defending champion, and he also won there in 2002. So I’ll go with Els.

Eamon Lynch, managing editor, Ernie has the edge in form and health, while Phil has always seemed more resilient to the substantial scar tissue both have accumulated in the Tiger era. I wouldn't bet the house on either of them winning another, but forced to choose it's Ernie, since his record in the Open Championship is such that he could contend there into his 50s.

2. Tiger Woods is skipping his own AT&T event in D.C. to rest/repair his elbow. Can we officially blame his injury as part of his problems at Merion? With Muirfield typically serving up serious rough, does this development remove him as the British Open favorite?

VAN SICKLE: Looks likely that Tiger played poorly at Memorial because of the elbow, and then at Merion. Just being a little off and having to putt from the wrong parts of the greens there due to errant play made his putting look bad. If Tiger's not the favorite, though, who is? He'll still be the favorite for bettors.

GODICH: I don't think so. That bad elbow didn't lead to all of those missed putts. Let's face it: Tiger is at long last proving he is mortal. He has come back to the pack a bit, and others have raised their games. He's still the best player in the world, but when he doesn't make putts, he's not unbeatable because he makes more mistakes than he ever has.

GORANT: Has to be part of the equation at Merion, but it doesn't change the fact that he was in position going into the weekend — as he has been at several majors over the last two years — and faltered. That's a bigger part of it. Don't think he can be the outright fave at Muirfield, although I hasten to add that I'm sticking with my prediction that he gets to 18 majors.

SHIPNUCK: Sure, it had to be a factor, and not just at the Open — it helps explain his abysmal showing at Memorial in what was supposed to be his tune-up. Given how bad Tiger has been on the weekends at the majors in the post-hydrant era I don't think he can be considered the favorite at any of them going forward, healthy or not.

LYNCH: His major woes extend well beyond the elbow issue. At Merion it was more than the miserable putting Tiger often blames when things go wrong: his ballstriking was really substandard, too. His scoring average in his last 12 weekend rounds in majors is 72.75. For some reason he has lost the major mojo. Despite all that, of course he's the Open favorite. Until someone else steps up on a regular basis to earn the honor, who else would you pick?

BAMBERGER: Was the elbow PART of the problem at Merion? Yes, but the Tiger of yore rose above his problems. The business of a "favorite" going into a major is meaningless, unless you're a punter. I'd be more likely to say Muirfield's relatively slow, relatively flat greens will be more a problem for Woods.

WEI: He said it started bothering him at the Players. If so, it seems weird that we didn't see him in pain at the Memorial, though it explains why he played so badly. His crappy scrambling and putting should be to blame. And yes, he shouldn't be the British Open favorite anymore — after all, he did have his worst score as a pro (81) there in 2002.

REITERMAN: As long as Tiger’s playing he’ll always be the favorite, but it obviously is another dent in the armor for Tiger. Just when we were starting to hand tournaments to him again (“There’s no WAY he loses the U.S. Open!”) he all of a sudden looks a lot more human.

PASSOV: I'm still not sure who else you would pick as a "favorite" — Adam Scott, who's now "owed" an Open, and is now contending in every major? Justin Rose? Rory has said he's not wild about bad-weather links golf, and his game isn't showing he'd be around at the end anyway. At the least, Tiger has seemed to play it pretty smart with the last two minor injuries he's endured. He has rested, returned, and won quickly. Still, since neither Tiger nor his camp is going to reveal anything concerning the true extent of the problem, it's tough to say for sure how much of an issue this was at Merion, or will be at Muirfield.


3. We saw the Full Bubba at the Travelers Championship: massive drives, a first-round 63, but also a shaky finish Saturday and a triple bogey on the 16th hole Sunday as Ken Duke passed him to win in a playoff over Chris Stroud. Will Bubba win another major?

SHIPNUCK: For sure. Augusta National sets up perfectly for him, as does the Old Course. He'll pick off another one, at least. He'll also have plenty of blowup and missed cuts, but that's just part of the deal.

GODICH: Of course, he will. And it will come out of nowhere, when we least expect it — just like his victory at the Masters.

LYNCH: He's another John Daly: streaky, unpredictable, capable of running away with a major, and liable to get in his own way when it matters more often than not.

PASSOV: As fidgety and wildly inconsistent as he gets, even when he's playing well, I still can't believe he won the Masters. Hey, even the best have dropped balls into the water at crunch time, but his overly emotional exchange with his caddie regarding the clubbing disasters at 16 Sunday made him appear more like a scared rookie than a major winner. He is an entertaining, mind-boggling shotmaker, but no more majors in the forecast for Bubba.

VAN SICKLE: Bubba is an enigma. He reminds me a little of Phil. I could see him winning another Masters, maybe. I don't see him winning either Open. He's fulfilled a lot of his own dreams — he may be satisfied.

REITERMAN: It’s hard to say someone as talented as Bubba would never win a major again, especially at a place like Augusta, but after watching him scold his caddie at the Travelers — the Travelers! — you have to wonder if his head will ever be in the game long enough to handle the grind of the other three majors.

BAMBERGER: Bubba SHOULD win another major, but that and $5 gets you a cup of coffee at Starbucks. He needs the moon and the stars aligned perfectly to win, and sooner or later you have to think it will happen.

WEI: Not if he continues to flip out on his caddie and blame him for hitting bad shots/putts. That meltdown was pretty epic and nothing new. As you may recall, when Bubba won his first Tour event here in 2010, he thanked his caddie for sticking with him despite his temper tantrums.

GORANT: I said he'd never win the first one, so I should probably zip it. Plus, Augusta does set up well for him.

4. Exhausted as he must have been, Justin Rose kept his commitment and played the Travelers this week. He not only played, but he contended. Did his appearance in Hartford bump up your respect for Rose even more? Would you have forgiven him if he had withdrawn?

GODICH: I heard everything I needed to during Rose's gracious acceptance speech at Merion. Pure class. I'm not surprised in the least he honored that commitment.

REITERMAN: I wouldn’t have blamed him for withdrawing, but I’m glad he kept his word and played well. But Philly to Hartford is not exactly a tough trip to make.

SHIPNUCK: You can't withdraw in that situation. Ever. The blowback would be too intense — better to just show up and sleepwalk through a missed cut, soaking up all the goodwill along the way. That Rose played so hard is a testament to his professionalism and his pride. There's nothing not to love about this golfing gentleman.

PASSOV: Any tournament after a major — and Hartford is no exception — is going to have challenges drawing the best fields. Rose played great until a fade at the end (and he wasn't the only one), which is a lot different that showing up to look good, then tanking with 78-77 and having the weekend free. I realize he's young, fit, and riding a strong wave of momentum, but I don't see how you can give 100 percent the week after what he did, and yet, there he was. I'm glad he didn't WD, but I would have forgiven. Good on ya, Justin!

LYNCH: He was playing golf, not working a 70-hour week in a coal mine. Rose's conduct has always been admirable, but lets not assume a 32-year-old multimillionaire is so physically and emotionally shattered as to need a rest after a good week in the office.

BAMBERGER: I just think Rose is a well-mannered, grounded man, with a grind-it-out personality. He ain't no Bubba. Would I forgive him had not played? He doesn't owe me a thing. He can do what he wants. They all can, and do.

WEI: Yes, I would have completely forgiven him had he withdrawn. I'm still exhausted from Merion and barely showed up to cover the Travelers myself! And I didn't even have to play either course! Webb Simpson also deserves credit for honoring his commitment last year after he won at Olympic and that was on the other side of the country. So did Lucas Glover after winning the 2009 U.S. Open at Bethpage. We would have given them all a pass had their "plans changed."

GORANT: Nah, he's a professional who went and played golf. No heroism there, although I wouldn't have blamed him if he ditched either.

VAN SICKLE: Justin Rose has always been a good guy. I'm not surprised he did the right thing. Why wouldn't you play at a course where you've had success? Give him a tip of the visor.


5. With Rose off the board, who will be the next first-time major champion?

BAMBERGER: Dustin Johnson. Just too much talent not to win a big tournament on a hard, long golf course.

VAN SICKLE: We're starting to run low on candidates. I think Sergio has too much baggage, and I don't mean Samsonite. Lee Westwood has potential. So does Luke Donald. I'll go off the board and say Jordan Spieth.

REITERMAN: Jason Day. He’s already had two top-3 finishes at the Masters and the U.S. Open in his young career.

SHIPNUCK: Kuchar. Unlike Westwood or Donald, he seems to be peaking. And he doesn't have nearly as much scar tissue.

PASSOV: Lee Westwood clanks one off the wicker basket when he was in position to take an early lead, and loses all momentum, just like the tree trouble he found at Olympic in last year’s final round. Lotsa of bad luck for a guy who brings his game to almost every major. It's hard to see him not winning one, but I used to say that a lot about Monty, too. With his temperament and putting stroke, I'll go with Brandt Snedeker. That's "Snee-de-ker."

GODICH: Hunter Mahan. And he'll get it this year at Oak Hill.

WEI: Hunter Mahan or Luke Donald.

GORANT: Rickie Fowler.

LYNCH: Monty.

6. Craig Stadler, one of the great characters in Tour history, won on the Champions Tour on Sunday for the first time in almost years. Who is the current PGA Tour equivalent of Stads?

GODICH: Tim Herron and Bubba Watson: Lumpy for the physique, facial expressions and body language; fellow Masters champion Bubba for the way he speaks his mind.

PASSOV: What I always loved about Stads was not his temper, but his reactions, which were instantaneous. The roll of the eyes, the head shake, the club flip — classics all. When I interviewed him in 1992, he mentioned Dudley Hart as his heir apparent. I wish I knew the young guys better. All I can think is his actual heir Kevin … or maybe Pat Perez, who seems more scary than funny when he blows his stack.

GORANT: Allenby. Appleby. Duval.

LYNCH: On a Tour full of Adam Scotts — all clean shaven prettiness, positive thinking and firm abs — there is no room for a Stadler, a pouting, pissy veteran who left no one in any doubt to his mood after every shot. Unless you count his son, of course.

WEI: Um, his son? Kevin Stadler.

SHIPNUCK: Kevin Stadler.

VAN SICKLE: Not Kevin Stadler. He's a very good player and nice guy but not quite the impresario player his dad was. Colt Knost has the Walrus physique but not the snarky attitude. I'll go with Christina Kim, who's a pretty good player, funny as hell and doesn't take crap from anyone. She's brilliant.

BAMBERGER: Prof. Jason Dufner.

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