Every week of the 2009 PGA Tour season, the editorial staff of the SI Golf Group will conduct an e-mail roundtable. Check in on Mondays for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors.
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Welcome back to the champions of hindsight, the weekly PGA Tour Confidential gang. The Players didn’t go as expected all week, from Alex Cejka, who escaped Czechoslovakia when he was 9 and squandered a five-shot lead on Sunday; to Tiger Woods, who played one of his worst-looking final rounds; to Henrik Stenson, who put up the only bogey-free finale. Was it a good tournament and an exciting week, or did the Stadium Course make the world’s best players look like a bunch of chumps on the weekend when no one but Stenson could handle the firm and fast greens? (Two demerits for the first guy who calls this the fifth major, by the way.)
Jim Herre, editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Plus: Good question for Tiger from Maltbie at the end of Sunday’s broadcast. Tiger, are you feeling lost?
Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: This reminds me a little of 2003-2004, when Tiger was changing his swing and was in the wilderness. He needs more reps, more trust, more everything. He can’t miss the ball at the U.S. Open at Bethpage the way he was missing it here. If he does, it could be a short week.
Ryan Reiterman, producer, Golf.com: It’s amazing that when Tiger comes out and wins, everyone says he’s back. Now he has some so-so events, still finishes in the top 10, yet he’s lost?
Dick Friedman, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Well, the other night Mariano Rivera coughed up two dingers to the Rays. It’s just natural, when someone has been so omnipotent (especially in closing things out), that people will wonder why — and what it means.
Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Plus: On the front nine, Tiger was terrible and couldn’t fix it. There’s no way to watch that and not wonder what’s up.
Van Sickle: Nothing against Stenson, who played phenomenally, but the story of the day seemed to be Tiger. He played awful from the start, almost shanking a wedge into the first green, blowing his layup shot into the water at 2, missing the fairway at 4. Today, 73 was about the best he could have shot. Anyone who thinks his swing is fine or even close should check out this round. Tiger is in need of more than fine tuning.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Tiger’s has put an ungodly amount of pressure on himself, and we’ve bought the whole thing: if you’re not getting better you’re getting worse; second is losing; third is losing to the loser, etc. Our expectations, courtesy of his career, are laughably unrealistic. Tiger as a human golfer? I’ve wanted this for years. Makes golf way more interesting when we don’t know the outcome ahead of time.
Hack: I walked with Tiger a number of times this week. I have no idea how he finished solo eighth where he was hitting the ball. Pine needles, tree limbs, water, sand, you name it, Tiger was a frequent visitor there this week.
Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: For our U.S. Open preview cover, we should have a picture of Tiger with a big question mark superimposed over the picture. That tells the whole story.
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: The problem is, Tiger will probably win the Open, requiring an exclamation point.
Van Sickle: Take it a step further and get a logo from the TV show “Lost,” showing the whole island. Tiger is lost. Where was Phil this week? Sergio Garcia is lost. Retief Goosen looked lost on Sunday. Ernie Els, wherefore art thou? Vijay Singh. Padraig Harrington, whatever happened to you? We’ve got an island full of lost players. Maybe the wins by Stenson and good showings by Poulter and others are evidence of a new world order in golf. I doubt it, but the phrase “new world order” makes my sentence sound important.
Gorant: That seems like it’s been under way since the collapse of the Big 5, but who the next group will be isn’t clear. Sergio, Adam Scott, even Geoff Ogilvy haven’t really grabbed the mantle yet. Hence the Rory/Ryo/Danny Lee hype.
Herre: I think Vans is onto to something with his New Order. Obviously it’s too early to write off Tiger, but you have to wonder about guys like Goosen, Els, Singh, etc.
Friedman: Will more events like this turn off the casual fan who doesn’t want to see guys like Stenson and Poulter coming down the stretch?
Shipnuck: No doubt. You could hear TVs clicking off across the country every time Stenson birdied.
David Dusek, deputy editor, Golf.com: You mean general sports fans and NBC weren’t rooting for a Brian Davis-Henrik Stenson thriller on the back nine?
Bamberger: Alan: In Twitter-like fashion, tell us what this winner Stenson is really like.
Shipnuck: Great guy, funny, self-deprecating, nice perspective having survived a massive slump in the early 21st century. Don’t know anybody who doesn’t like him. (Per Tweet-ese, note the lack of complete sentences.)
Dusek: Stenson is another European player who fans in the United States don’t really appreciate. We don’t see him, or Robert Karlsson, enough to consider them among the game’s elite players, but both are outstanding.
Gorant: More importantly, they haven’t won enough to get our attention.
Van Sickle: Stenson looked like a world-beater in the match play tourney, but until he starts winning on a more regular basis, we’ll have to reserve judgment. He looks like he may have the talent to be No. 2 in the world. But so did Sergio, Padraig and Geoff Ogilvy. (Anybody remember him?)
Lipsey: Amazing, in golf, how a guy on the cusp of becoming a David can absolutely vanish. Nobody has even mentioned Cejka yet tonight, and just six hours ago he was on the verge.
Friedman: My favorite moment was Stenson’s discussion with his caddie, Fanny Sunesson. Haven’t heard that much Swedish since 1973, when I first saw “Cries and Whispers.”
Herre: That Swedish gabfest was just another thing that went wrong for NBC.
Charlie Hanger, executive editor, Golf.com: Dick, don’t you realize that Ingmar Bergman references have no place in a sports discussion? (I had to look it up on IMDb, I swear.)
Shipnuck: The Swedish consultation did set up the line of the year by Johnny, when he cracked that it was the only part of the broadcast Elin Woods was enjoying. The whole press room let out a mighty guffaw.
Van Sickle: Anybody besides me leave with the feeling, after watching all weekend, that these guys aren’t really that good? That the course got the better of most of them? On Saturday especially, the leaders chopped it up. I’m not sure if that’s great TV. The course was pushed to the brink with the firmness and speed of the greens. Maybe a little less of both would’ve been more fun to watch on Sunday? (I use the word greens loosely, since they were some shade south of green and north of brown.)
Gorant: I had someone come into my office this morning and ask if they were playing on a muni. Lots of brown out there.
Lipsey: A muni that costs $385/round.
Van Sickle: The HDTV doesn’t make it look any better. Just like you can see a lot more flaws in the faces of the TV talent. Not to mention the sweat on their upper lips. Tip to Golf Channel: It’s 90 and humid, and it’s golf. Lose the suits and ties and wear golf shirts. Preferably with sandals and shorts, too.
Evans: The point is to do everything but kill the greens. That theory sank the USGA at Shinnecock a few years back. Rolling 13 on the stimpmeter, the Sawgrass greens were unfair.
Herre: When they allow a course to bake, like they did this week, it looks like a pizza crust on TV.
Shipnuck: Who cares how it looks? I thought it played great, demanding skill and imagination. Firm, fast greens really separate the men from the boys.
Herre: But, Alan, very few players could stop the ball close to the hole. There was a lot of defensive lag putting on Sunday — boorrrring.
Lipsey: I bet the greenskeeper gets a tongue lashing, or worse. Having NBC show burnt-out greens to the world is a horrible marketing gaffe.
Hack: I disagree: 12-under won this thing. The best ball-striker won on a tough Sunday by not making one bogey. The course was great this week.
Bamberger: There’s no tongue-lashing at PGA Tour HQ; jut nasty looks at the microwave while you’re warming up your soup for lunch.
Gorant: I like it in theory, but like Jim H. I found Sunday a little boring.
Bamberger: It’s not boring at the Masters or at the U.S. Open. The baked greens fit with what the PGA Tour wants this event to be: a major. (Which it’s not.)
Herre: I don’t know, Michael. On one hand it’s cool that they left the course alone and Mother Nature dictated conditions. On the other, Sawgrass, like almost all Pete Dye courses, was designed for target golf. Is it fair to play target golf on asphalt?
Bamberger: That’s certainly true. Guys were saying it was like British Open and American target-golf conditions at the same time, and some liked that and others didn’t. But it’s sort of a gimmick to build a course out of a swamp in the first place, and viewed that way all “traditional” bets are off. They’re playing target golf on asphalt. It’s weird and fluky, but you still have to figure out a way to get it done. Fair is overrated in my book.
Gorant: He continues to reaffirm Michael Bamberger’s belief that JD is a golf sage.
Evans: Daly is back. I’m picking him to get a top 10 at the British Open. The clothes are great on him.
Herre: Yeah, Daly looks like the XXL version of Ian Poulter.
Shipnuck: The only difference is that Poulter has style.
Evans: Does Poulter have style because he’s thin? Big John is doing the best with what he has.
Van Sickle: It’ll be shocking if Daly doesn’t file for bankruptcy before the year is over. And the growing financial pressure on him, having played his way off the tour and out of sponsors’ good graces, isn’t going to help his game. I’d love to see him play his way back into the top 100, even if continues to wear the clown outfits, but I don’t see it happening.
Bamberger: The threat of bankruptcy is likely the best thing that’s happened to JD in years. Now he’s got to go out and make golf scores again, and there’s no reason to think the skill just vanished.
Lipsey: John Daly on a driving range, no matter what he’s wearing, would attract more fans than Henrik Stenson battling Ian Poulter to win the Players.
Hack: Said it a few weeks ago, and I’ll say it again. John Daly is the third most popular player out here, behind Woods and Mickelson. The rest of the guys are just guys.
Gorant: Those three and Wie are about the only ones who move the needle outside hardcore golf fans.
Shipnuck: I think Boom-Boom is still the third most popular, and Daly is a distant fourth.
Van Sickle: Azinger might be up there if he still contended.
Friedman: We need Rory to be the next LeBron.
Van Sickle: McIlBron!