PGA Tour Confidential: The Sony Open

PGA Tour Confidential: The Sony Open

Johnson Wagner rallied to win the Sony Open by two shots over Carl Pettersson, Sean O'Hair, Harrison Frazar and Charles Howell III.
Sam Greenwood / Getty Images

Every week of the 2012 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 and join the conversation in the all-new live Readers' Confidential or in the comments section below.

David Dusek, deputy editor, As we say aloha to Hawaii and prepare for the PGA Tour to hit the mainland, there's much to discuss this week on PGA Tour Confidential. Mustache and all, Johnson Wagner is your winner of the Sony Open. How much stock do you put in early season wins? Are the tea leaves worth inspecting, let alone reading?

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Hey, a win is a win. For the likes of Johnson Wagner, it's already been a very good year.

Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Winning never gets old. I think it especially helps a guy like Wagner, who validated his victory from a year ago.

Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: He's going to Augusta.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: It's always a bad look when the leaders back up or fall apart and someone seems to win by default. Still, Wagner played well. His swing is still a bit odd, but it worked. The biggest thing to come out of this tournament might be Charles Howell, who has retooled his game and is having success with the belly putter. I expect Howell to win again this year at some point.

Have a question for Gary Van Sickle's mailbag? E-mail [email protected] or ask it on Facebook.

Gorant: How many times have we heard that? I will believe it when I see it. Wagner now has three PGA Tour wins, one more than Howell.

Stephanie Wei, contributor, SI Golf+: Howell's putting was the weak link today, which he found surprising, too. He missed two three-footers, and that made all the difference.

Godich: It's always something with Charles. I wonder if his time has passed.

Gorant: Nice guy. Nice bank account. Did his time ever come?

Godich: Good point, Jim. Make that: I wonder if his opportunities have passed.

Wei: Howell may be the nicest, most polite guy out there. I wouldn't have minded seeing him (finally) win again.

Jeff Ritter, senior producer, Maybe he should try growing a mustache.

Godich: He's a great guy, and maybe that's the problem. I wonder if he has that killer instinct.

Van Sickle: Winning on tour is all about the short game, especially putting. You can't have a killer instinct unless you make 'em all inside 8 feet. Making putts is killer instinct.

Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Wagner has fight in him, at least partly from his days in the caddie yard, and that's helped him win three times already. Lots of guys with much more pizazz and raw skill have won much less, starting with Wagner's partner today, Howell.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I don't think it's a question of putting stock in the win. These guys play to win, and if they can't win then they play to go as low (and make as much) as they can. Johnson Wagner's won three times on Tour. How many guys in the top 125 can say that? Charlie Howell also looks like he's going to knock one down here soon.

Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: It's cool for Wagner, who looks like a natural, but it's hard to get excited about the Hawaiian swing. The season starts at Torrey Pines.

Wei: I thought it was Abu Dhabi this year? Or Pebble Beach.

Tell us what you think in the all-new readers' live Confidential or in the comments section below: How much stock do you put in Wagner's victory? Will we hear more from him this year?

Tim Finchem

Stan Badz / Getty Images
PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem received a four-year extension that will run until 2016.

Dusek: Tim Finchem, 64, has been the PGA Tour's commissioner since 1994, and on Wednesday he received a four-year contract extension that will keep him ruling the roost in Ponte Vedra through 2016. Was this move a no-brainer for the Tour and Finchem, and how would you grade his performance over the past five years?

Bamberger: He works for the players, not for us. They would have few complaints about his straight-down-the-middle leadership.

Gorant: In discussing the new deal, he seemed to admit/imply that there was no clear successor, so I guess that makes it something of a no-brainer. Clever move on Finchem's part. Certainly, from a players' perspective, he's done a great job by protecting the game (no news on fines, etc.), raising purses and protecting opportunities for the rank and file.

Godich: He has guided the Tour admirably during tough economic times. These guys are playing for ridiculous amounts of money, and playing less. What's not to like about that?

Charlie Hanger, executive editor, The new TV deal alone, especially with Tiger's dominance seemingly at an end, warrants a re-up. He's a company man, but the company has been strong under his watch.

Van Sickle: And his likely, obvious successor was… uh, nobody I can think of. The Tour is shrinking and playing opportunities are shrinking, but not enough for most players to be remotely concerned yet. Great job by Finchem in finding new sponsors in a bad economy. Remarkable, really.

Herre: I'd give a B+. He's done a terrific job on the business side, but he's painfully conservative.

Godich: If it ain't broke …

Ritter: I agree with Jim H., B+. Business is booming, but I still remember how he dragged his feet around mandatory drug testing in 2006-07, when all the other major sports were implementing new policies. Eventually the Tour got with the program, but that was one example where his conservatism created some headaches in pro golf.

Van Sickle: We're going to hear more on drug testing, I believe. The Tour's testing isn't up to the stringent standards of Olympic drug testing, is it? I don't think so.

Shipnuck: The Tour sailed through the Great Recession, and Finchem deserves almost all of the credit. That alone earned him the extension. And I'm guessing Bill Haas agrees.

Van Sickle: We just got confirmation. The points have been double-checked and yes, Bill Haas is your FedEx Cup champion. Other than that scoring system, you have to give Finchem some kind of an A.

Lipsey: An amazing job, and Finchem must really love the work. After 2016, he will have done 22 years without a break.

Wei: The Tour is coming out of the economic downturn better than before. How many non-profit organizations can say the same?

Tell us what you think in the all-new readers' live Confidential or in the comments section below: How would you grade Finchem's performance as commish?

Dusek: With the TV contracts signed, what is the most pressing and important issue that Finchem has to deal with? Or does he just need to keep the car rolling down the road without hitting any pot holes?

Bamberger: He has to embrace the new wide world of golf even more than he has in the past and find overseas partners.

Gorant: I'm with Michael. He has to find a way to tap into the international, especially Asian, audience without alienating the domestic one. Same stuff the LPGA has been dealing with for the last five years.

Lipsey: Getting Tiger Woods back into the fold. If Tiger fades, the Tour could fade too. Not into the abyss, but down a few notches on the sporting ladder.

Shipnuck: The Tour needs to more aggressively promote the next generation of stars. The end is nigh for the Tiger-Phil era, and I doubt the general sports fan could ID any other players on Tour. The NBA created the model; the players have to be franchises.

Hanger: Exactly. What does the Tour look like in the post-Tiger world? It's time to start making that transition.

Godich: He has to make the Tour attractive to the Europeans. In particular, getting Rory McIlroy to play over here more would be a coup.

Herre: Securing sponsors is a never-ending task, but I think Olympic golf might be his legacy. He needs to make sure golf doesn't lay an egg in Rio.

Shipnuck: Olympic golf is gonna be Ty Votaw's legacy.

Ryan Reiterman, senior producer, I know I'm in the minority, and this will never happen, but player disciplinary actions need to be made public.

Bamberger: I'm in your minority.

Wei: I'm with Reiterman. Is there another sports league that doesn't disclose player disciplinary action?

Lipsey: Is there another sports league with as clean an image as golf? Status quo is likely to remain.

Reiterman: But the problem is no one believes that. (See Woods, Tiger.)

Mick Rouse, editorial assistant, SI Golf Group: Sponsors, sponsors, sponsors. Big name companies are still trying to recover from the big hits they took in recent years, and you never know when they'll cut their losses with pro golf. Finchem has to keep those sponsor dollars coming. The more the merrier.

Tell us what you think in the all-new readers' live Confidential or in the comments section below: What will be Finchem's greatest challenge during the next four years?

Dusek: After shooting 64 on Friday to take the lead at the Sony Open, Matt Every agreed to a post-round interview with the Golf Channel's Kelly Tilghman. These things are usually tame, but Every certainly didn't seem ready for Tilghman to ask him about his arrest in 2010 for possession of marijuana. What was your take on Tilghman's decision to bring up the arrest and Every's not-so-politically-correct answers?

Gorant: I'm okay with both. Journalism and honesty. Can't beat it.

Shipnuck: It was great TV. Tilghman asked the right questions and Every's Spicoli-esque vibe was classic. I liked how he couldn't pretend he had done something terrible.

Reiterman: Perfectly legitimate question, and the only reason this became a story is because Every didn't handle the question well.

Hanger: Of course she was going to ask about it, but that "Lost" transition was certainly painful and awkward. And how could he not be prepared for her to ask? I think they both blew it.

Bamberger: Kelly's questions were absolutely fine, and so were his answers. She was being an interviewer and he was being himself. What more could you want? I mean, my toes were curling because the whole thing was so uncomfortable, but so what?

Herre: Imagine, Kelly Tilghman acting like a journalist. Good for her.

Godich: All fair game. I second what Jim said. It was a nice break from listening to Mark Rolfing, Hawaiian tour guide.

Van Sickle: Tip of the cap to Golf Channel for not ignoring the topic, but Every was like a deer in the headlights.

Wei: Both Tilghman and Every were fine. Tilghman did her job, and it would have been weird not to ask him about it. I think it should have been made more clear that he wasn't convicted of a crime and that he was suspended for "conduct unbecoming a professional," not "possession of marijuana." I asked Every about it afterward and he was obviously a little upset about being blindsided, but he also had a past beef with Kelly from the Disney in 2010 when she apparently said he was suspended for possession of marijuana. He also said he wouldn't have answered any differently had he known the question was coming. In his actual presser, he was much less awkward and much more clear on the entire situation. To me, his honesty was a breath of fresh air. We want players to be more forthcoming, so we shouldn't slam them when they are.

Tell us what you think in the all-new readers' live Confidential or in the comments section below: Was it acceptable for Tilghman to mention Every's arrest in that post-round interview?

Phil Mickelson, 2011 Presidents Cup

Asanka Brendon Ratnayake / Icon SMI
Phil Mickelson will make his 2012 debut this week at the Humana Challenge.

Dusek: Don't look now, but with the help of former President Bill Clinton, this week's PGA Tour event, the Humana Challenge (which people are going to refer to as "The Hope" for decades to come) has amassed an interesting field. We're scheduled to see Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson (who is coming off knee surgery), Greg Norman and Anthony Kim, to name a few. But let's cut to the chase. What are you expecting to see from Phil?

Lipsey: Not much, though it would be a nice surprise to see him in contention.

Gorant: Traditionally, Phil's been a pretty fast starter. Majority of his wins are on the West Coast Swing. Hanging around the house must agree with him.

Godich: There will be a lot of good shots, some what-the-heck-was-that shots and plenty of tinkering. I'll be most interested to see which putting stroke he rolls out.

Bamberger: I expect a total charm offensive from Phil. He wants more public money for science education and other causes dear to him. Clinton can help him, and he can help Clinton.

Shipnuck: I expect the usual: some straight, some crooked.

Herre: I expect Phil to contend. He has a good track record in Palm Springs and will probably be energized by the presence of Clinton.

Reiterman: (Shrugs shoulders.) I'm sure Phil will say he feels better than ever. Then he'll go out and win the thing by eight or miss the cut. Phil's always tough to predict.

Van Sickle: Reports are Phil is feeling like a new man, refreshed, mentally renewed. I will not be surprised if he wins.

Wei: I think we'll see the same ol' Phil — lots of charisma, maybe a decent finish.

Rouse: I'm expecting a mediocre performance. One good round combined with some even or one-over rounds.

Tell us what you think in the all-new readers' live Confidential or in the comments section below: What do you expect from Phil at the Humana Challenge?

Dusek: Jason Gore posted the following message on his Twitter account last Sunday: "Just signed up for the @ntrustopen qualifier, but you have NO IDEA how stoked I'd be to get a sponsors invitation! #myhometown #mymajor." His followers turned his plea in into a mini-movement and … presto! Gore got a sponsor's exemption into Riviera. What's your reaction to Gore using social media to help land a spot in the field? Could this start a trend?

Rouse: It's super smart on his end, but the appeal is going to wear out very quickly when hundreds of players try to pull it off. The story is never as great the second time around.

Godich: Smart move. Surprised it took somebody this long to do it.

Bamberger: I think it's great. Bring everybody in. Everything is like a version of "America's Next Top Model" these days. You can try to fight it, but you're going to lose.

Shipnuck: Gore was already under strong consideration for the spot before his tweet, but it's still a cute story. Why not use Twitter to drum up support? Power to the tweeple!

Reiterman: Social media helped, but I think this had more to do with Gore being a good guy and local favorite than with a bunch of tweets.

Ritter: Cool one-time story, but I hope this is the only instance where a pro successfully takes the social media route to get an exemption. My guess is that it won't be.

Hanger: I think it'll be tough for another player to start the ball rolling for himself (or herself), but other players and fans could certainly still influence tournament directors via social media.

Van Sickle: Twitter is a good way to measure crowd appeal. Good for Gore for getting the edge on other players with this ploy.

Wei: Amazing, loved it! Shows the power of social media. I am surprised, too, that no one had tried it before. Obviously, I think it helped that Gore is a popular player.

Gorant: It's still runner up to Bubba's YouTube campaign to get on Ellen.

Van Sickle: I disagree. At end of the day, Gore got in the field in LA and Bubba got on "Ellen" and had to goofy-dance. Slam dunk for Gore.

Tell us what you think in the all-new readers' live Confidential or in the comments section below: What's your reaction to Gore tweeting his way into the field? Will this start a trend?