PGA Tour Confidential: Phil’s schedule strategy, Tiger vs. Rory and our favorite courses in Scotland

Phil Mickelson finished a stroke behind Payne Stewart at the 1999 U.S. Open at Pinehurst.
Getty Images

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. Phil Mickelson said this week that he’ll play fewer tournaments in 2014 and focus on events that will help him prepare for the majors. Is this a sound strategy for Mickelson? Why or why not?

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@AlanShipnuck): Absolutely. So often Phil looks like he's just going through the motions. Being "competitively starved" — to use Adam Scott's term for his scheduling philosophy — can only help Mickelson play at a higher level. 

Eamon Lynch, managing editor, (@eamonlynch): Winning the Scottish Open at Castle Stuart a week before taking the Open at Muirfield probably convinced him of the merits of this strategy. But that's a rare situation where the actual course — as opposed to just the competitive experience — helps a player prepare for the next major. It's not easy to find ideal course preparation for the Masters or Pinehurst in '14. But Valhalla? He can find that every week on Tour.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Phil has more theories than Archimedes and Einstein put together. Actually, I have no idea if that makes sense, but Phil likely does. As for his schedule, the same. On scheduling, I have advice only for Tiger: play Hilton Head, Hawaii, Colonial and Greenbrier. You may or may not win, but you'll have a good time.

Joe Passov, senior editor, courses and travel, Golf Magazine (@joepassov): He's at the age and stage that Nicklaus did the same thing. Unfortunate for Phil fanatics, who will see less of him, but it makes sense to me if it makes sense to him, especially if his aches and pains are an ongoing part of his life.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): If there's been any pattern to when or where Phil plays well over the past two decades, I must've missed it. He seems to play better when he plays a few weeks in a row — the Scottish and then the British this year. But not necessarily. Phil is a guy who likes strategy. Some work — two drivers at the Masters. Some don't — no drivers at the U.S. Open. If Phil's happy, I'm happy.

Jeff Ritter, senior producer, (@Jeff_Ritter): Definitely. Playing a limited schedule has worked well for Tiger, although a more apt comparison might be Steve Stricker, who seemed rejuvenated this season after dialing it back. Phil's entering his mid-forties and battling an arthritic condition that likely affects him more than most of us even realize. He has nothing left to play for except his legacy. Now is as good a time as any to slow down and try to peak four times a season.

2. With stars like Mickelson, Bubba Watson, Sergio Garcia and Keegan Bradley, the CIMB Classic in Malaysia is now a bona fide PGA Tour event. Right direction or wrong direction for the PGA Tour? Is this a slap at the Texas Opens and Memphises and Greensboros that have trouble drawing the top names?

VAN SICKLE: It's not an event in Asia that is cause for concern. Well, maybe it is. It's another event on the schedule with a limited field. The Tour has too many of those. Playing opportunities seem to be on the decline. Every Tour stop can't be a big-deal extravaganza. A tour has to be built on something, and these events undermine the Tour's own product.

RITTER: It's no secret that golf is discovering a new captive audience in Asia. And for Tour pros looking to bank some cash and FedEx points — and maybe even see a new part of the world — the CIMB falls at a nice spot on the calendar. The low-wattage U.S  events are sandwiched into the week-to-week summer grind, and they unfortunately face an uphill battle until they can get a date change.

PASSOV: Why is it that everything the PGA Tour does is always about the money? Oh, that's right — because it's always about the money. When I think of how hard our community in Phoenix works on the Phoenix Open, and think of how the lesser lights on Tour commit all that time, volunteers, many events with 50, 70 and even 90 years of PGA Tour tradition, I'm perturbed (the slightest word I could use). OK, I think it stinks.

SHIPNUCK: Screw the Texas Opens — golf is a global game and with this two-week Asian swing, the Tour has successfully colonized an important part of the world. And we all get to enjoy good golf in the fall — what's not to love?

LYNCH: This question arises annually, right around the same time top U.S. players start showing up in Asia for appearance fees. Of course, the CIMB Classic is now an official Tour event, so we know none of these guys are getting a penny for flying a day to get there. They just want a head start on the FedEx Cup standings, right? There will always be Tour events that struggle to attract names for a variety of reasons, but the Tour making stops overseas is not one of them.

BAMBERGER: It is not a slap in the face. It is the market at work.

3. Another week, another rules violation. This time, Simon Dyson was DQ’d for signing an incorrect scorecard after TV viewers noticed he had touched the line of his putt during the second round of the BMW Shanghai Masters. Because of the DQ, Dyson might not qualify for the Euro Tour’s DP World Tour Championship. How urgent is it for the professional tours to address the issue of viewers calling in penalties?

RITTER: It's beyond urgent. I continue to detest the fact that fans from their couches can influence an event's outcome. That's not how any other professional sport operates, and golf should eliminate it yesterday. Leave the rules stuff to walking officials and the players inside the ropes.  In the past, I've compared golf to American Idol and Dancing With the Stars. This week, let's go with The Voice, which I'm told has spinning chairs and a large audience. Most importantly, it's not a sport.

LYNCH: It's not urgent at all. Who cares that a viewer called in the violation? The rule was broken, and the penalty was assessed, which protected the rest of the field. So Dyson may not qualify for the World Tour Championship. But what if he had qualified and knocked out someone else on the basis of not being penalized for the rules violation? That's hardly fair. Clearly his biggest mistake was not doing this in a tournament where [Masters competition committee chairman] Fred Ridley presides over the rules committee, since we know signing an incorrect scorecard isn't always cause for a DQ in Ridley's “Believe It Or Not” world.

VAN SICKLE: Let viewers call in. It's better if justice is served, isn't it, than if it's discovered after the fact that Dyson committed a violation and got away with it. The real problem is that the punishment doesn't fit the crime. It would make more sense to simply adjust Dyson's score with the penalty than to DQ him for a wrong score … as Tiger should have been at the Masters.

PASSOV: I've said it since the Walrus first knelt on a towel in La Jolla: viewers should have no part in determining the outcome of a PGA Tour event, period.

SHIPNUCK: I don't know, I like the anarchy of the current system. And a lot of violations are getting found out, which protects the field. I say don't change a thing. And BTW, Dyson's violation was egregious — he deserves to have gotten DQ'd. 

BAMBERGER: What would you address? What's the difference between seeing a violation on TV or in person? The goal — I'm stealing this from Davis Love and various other Elders of the Game — is for the player to turn in the most accurate card possible. The players should welcome the light because the other side of that coin is that they're trying to get away from something, and none of them, surely, is trying to do that.

4. Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy met in a one-on-one 18-hole match in China on Sunday night that Don King would be proud of. If the match had been on TV, would you have watched?

PASSOV: Everything Tiger does interests me, especially in a competitive round of golf. I would have watched, or TiVo'd had it been opposite football or World Series baseball. Let's be honest, however. This year's matchup had the feel of Broncos-Jaguars. I mean, it's football, but the competitors were not exactly on equal footing.

VAN SICKLE: The thing about exhibition matches between two players is that there's a tremendous amount of dead time between shots while players walk to their tee balls, line up putts and all. Lot of commercials, lot of inane chatter. I might have watched just to see where Rory's game is now, but as far as being interested in who was winning, no.

RITTER: Of course I'd watch. But as we learned from the Skins Games and Battles at Bighorn, not enough folks would likely join me to make it worth putting on air.

BAMBEGER: Yes, if a boom mic could pick up their thoughts.

LYNCH: I'll watch almost any golf event, but a man has to draw the line somewhere. Tiger vs. Rory and Big Break NFL seem as good a place as any to start.

SHIPNUCK: Oh, hell yeah! I attended last year's Duel and it was a blast. Who else in golf do we care more about? 

5. What accounts for the decline of high-profile hit-and-giggle golf events like the Skins Game and the Battles of Bighorn? Do you miss them?

LYNCH: I suspect those events died for lack of genuine characters in the game today. Fred Couples drove home a Brinks truck from the Skins Game for years, but you'd have to be feeling very charitable to call Couples one of the game's more engaging characters. The Skins Game initially worked because it was lively old legends who had spent a lifetime selling the game, not bland pros for whom it was just another stop on the way to the bank. The first Skins Game featured Nicklaus, Palmer, Player and Watson. The last three winners were K.J. Choi and Stephen Ames twice. Who giggled at that? Other than Stephen Ames. If we're looking for good golf-as-entertainment, bring back Shell's Wonderful World of Golf — legends facing off at fantastic courses. Just make it match play. And don't invite dull pros.

BAMBERGER: They never did anything for me. They're dying or dead because payday-golf has been devalued. Every week offers the promise of a change-your-life payday.

SHIPNUCK: The money got so big during the real season that no top pros were motivated to play in the Silly Season. And without star power, the events were doomed. Which is fine by me — I never loved 'em anyway. 

PASSOV: I miss the days when I actually found them to be compelling theater — as in the 1980s Skins Games. When Fred Funk took to wearing an "Annika" skirt at one of the Skins Games, however, it reminded me that I had some work to catch up on. If the organizers and players weren't going to take it seriously, neither would I. Gotta say, I still like the Father-Son event. I think that means something to those guys. 

RITTER: I liked watching them, but low TV ratings did them in. Golf needs more rivalries that are fueled by actual dislike between players. Tiger and Rory are two of the best players in the game, but they're buddies. I doubt their match would move the ratings needle, and TV people must also agree.

VAN SICKLE: Those silly season events lost their calling card. The Skins Game was for $1 million, big money at one time. Now players like Phil and Tiger get bigger appearance fees for a week than that. Also, it needs chatter and lively personalities to carry the show and that pretty much went away once Fred Funk wasn't invited. I was always partial to the Skills Challenge, where pros tried a variety of different shots. That was fun to see just how good these guys are, like watching Chi Chi spin a wedge shot through a tree. An exhibition match would be slightly more watchable if it was match play, not stroke play.  

6. In the November issue of Golf Magazine, our own Alan Shipnuck wrote about his dream buddies’ trip to Scotland to celebrate his 40th birthday and named Cruden Bay his favorite Scottish course. What’s your favorite course in Scotland and why?

BAMBERGER: Elie in the wind, with a friend. The Old Course in the sunshine. Machrihanish with my wife walking with me. Auchnafree in my dreams.

PASSOV: The Old Course at St. Andrews is still my favorite. It's not the quirkiest or the most attractive, but it is relentlessly fascinating, and it’s the tee time I covet the most. The sense of history is so overwhelming, it never fails to affect me. As Herb Kohler once told me, "Do you realize that they were playing golf at St. Andrews before people realized the world was round?" I think of that every time I'm there.

VAN SICKLE: There's something about the lighthouse, castle ruins, airmen memorial, gorse, ocean views and sunsets at Turnberry that put it over the top. I'd never pass up a chance to play the Old Course in St. Andrews, where history drips off every old roof in town, or the two courses just up the road, Kingsbarns and Crail.

LYNCH: The Old Course for architecture and history, Turnberry for aesthetics, and North Berwick for sheer, unadulterated fun. Oh, and Muirfield for po-faced members.

RITTER: St. Andrews because it's a blast and you feel the history as you make the walk. It's also nice that the course doesn't beat you up too badly in between all those pauses to snap photos.

SHIPNUCK: Cruden Bay, obvs. The place is simply magical.

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