Every week of the 2011 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 comments section below.
TIGER IN WINTER
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I think we’re obligated by law to discuss Tiger Woods at every roundtable. What do you see in 2011?
John Garrity, contributing writer, Sports Illustrated: He’s 35, he’s lost some clubhead speed and a lot of confidence but I see him bouncing back and winning tournaments. I think he starts picking up where he left off.
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: My fearless rumor-mongering on Twitter, which touched off an online jihad, resulted in Tiger’s people admitting he got a cortisone shot in his ankle. We know he’s had four surgeries, he’s got an Achilles problem, he’s an old 35. If he’s going to break down physically, that’s going to compromise his ability to prepare. That’s one of the great unknowns.
Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Tiger will win again. It’s how he’s built. That said, the landscape is deep and competitive. It’ll be harder for him than ever before.
Anonymous Pro: I’m more concerned about his knee and Achilles than his swing. Sean Foley will get him on a better swing path. What swing path wouldn’t be better? He’s going to be formidable tee-to-green again. After watching him make everything the last 12 years, I can’t picture him forgetting how to putt. I also can’t forget how lost he looked when he returned after the scandal.
Garrity: I agree but last year even with the worst possible scenario — his marriage and his life in tatters — he finished fourth in two majors. He’s still one of the ten best players.
Van Sickle: Tiger came back after knee surgery talking about how great his knee felt. Maybe that wasn’t a good thing for his swing.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Really, Tiger’s credibility is zero. Anything he says about his body parts, his knee, his coach — we can’t take what he says at face value. That should be one of our new year’s resolutions.
Van Sickle: He’ll get his ballstriking back. He’s a range rat and he loves to learn and work on new stuff. No question he’ll hit it better in 2011. We’re going to see one of two stories this year: Holy cow, Tiger is back, or, what’s wrong with Tiger’s putting? Can he putt like the old Tiger? That will determine how successful he’ll be.
Bamberger: I don’t think Tiger’s putting game will ever be anything like it was in 2000, or even 2008. There was no one in the history of golf, except possibly Ben Hogan, who became a better putter after the age of 35. I don’t see Tiger winning majors anything like he did in the past with a balky putter.
Shipnuck: Here’s the thing. There are only so many hours in a day. Does the fact that he putted poorly in 2010 mean his nerves are shot and he can’t putt like he used to or did he merely neglect it? He can go back to work and get the reps he needs. I don’t think Tiger is done as a great putter but he needs to show us he can still do it.
Van Sickle: Is it a better story if Tiger comes back and wins a major or comes back and doesn’t win?
Shipnuck: Michael Vick helps to answer that question. Tiger lost a lot of fans but Vick was more reviled and hated than Tiger ever was and now people are rooting for Vick. It shows you the redemptive power of playing great. If Tiger gets off to a hot start and wins the Masters, that would captivate the sports world.
Hack: Speaking of which, Tiger hasn’t won the Masters since ’05. Phil has taken over Magnolia Lane.
Garrity: If Tiger comes back and finishes in eighth and ninth place, that’s not compelling. The Hogan-type scenario would be compelling if he comes back and starts losing major championships by missing four-footers — not a happy story but there would be a lot of drama.
Shipnuck: We all know the majors are a lot more fun when Tiger is on the leaderboard. It turns up the volume. Do we want him to slide into mediocrity? I don’t think so.
Anonymous Pro: It doesn’t matter. Whatever Tiger does will be a compelling story. He’s Tiger Woods.
Van Sickle: What excites you about this year’s major championship sites — Congressional, Royal St. George’s and Atlanta Athletic Club.
Shipnuck: Nothing. As good as the venues were in 2010, they’re that bad in 2011. Congressional is boring. AAC is boring. The British Open in England is never as good as the British Open in Scotland.
Garrity: Visually, St. George’s is probably the least memorable Open venue.
Bamberger: Bill Rogers, Sandy Lyle and Ben Curtis won there. It hasn’t produced the greatest Open winners. Jack Nicklaus always said he likes the Open courses in descending order from north to south. In other words, from Scotland to England.
Shipnuck: They’re not crappy courses, they’re just not memorable. They’re not much fun.
Van Sickle: You can ask anyone, even golf writers, and I’ll bet no one can name more than one hole at Congressional — probably the 17th, where Monty and Tom Lehman lost the U.S. Open in ’97.
Anonymous Pro: All I remember about Congressional and Atlanta is that they had bad traffic and fans who didn’t know much about golf.
Bamberger: Last year we had three great venues and we thought we’d get three great champions. Pebble Beach didn’t really pan out, St. Andrews didn’t really pan out and Whistling Straits was weird. This year, we’ve got bland venues so maybe it’ll be the reverse.
Garrity: A bland venue doesn’t necessarily mean a bland tournament.
Hack: There’s always the Masters, guys. It’s first. It’s springtime. It’s the same ballpark every year. It’s Lambeau, Wrigley and the old Boston Garden rolled into one. Lots of ghosts among those loblolly pines. The other majors are hit and miss but I’m always excited for the Masters.
Shipnuck: I’m a West Coast guy, I hate being in sweltering, humid weather. Atlanta in August, are you kidding me? D.C. in June? It’s not only uncomfortable, it affects the courses. They have to water the greens to keep them alive in the heat. So you get soft greens, spike marks.
Van Sickle: It’s hard to get much farther south in England than St. George’s, otherwise you’re in France, so it could be warm there, too.
Garrity: We had a heat wave at the Open there last time.
Shipnuck: Actually, Vans, that’s the best idea I’ve heard. Let’s hold the Open in France. Better food, better lodging, prettier girls. It’s a no-brainer.
Bamberger: Hold it, Alan. Then the course marshals would be French.
Shipnuck: Except for that, the idea has merit.
THE YEAR IN MAJORS
Van Sickle: Pick your four major champions for the year, in order. I’ll take Kaymer, Westwood, Justin Rose and Tiger. There’s something about Tiger and PGAs. And I think Rose has taken his game to Level 3.
Garrity: I’ll pick Dustin Johnson for all four majors, which increases my chances of being right at least once.
Van Sickle: John, did you tell your usual pick, Robert Karlsson, that you’re divorcing him? Wow, talk about stabbing a guy in the back.
Shipnuck: I like Phil, Westwood, Jim Furyk and Dustin Johnson. It’s just not right that Furyk has only one major in his career, he has such great ball control. And Atlanta Athletic Club is a big ballpark, so I like Dustin there.
Bamberger: I think it’s so obvious that Dustin Johnson will win the Grand Slam this year and so uncreative that I’m not even going to go there, John. I’m going with Phil, Phil, Ben Curtis and Kaymer.
Van Sickle: Ben Curtis is going to catch lightning in a Mountain Dew bottle twice in one career?
Bamberger: Repeat offender at the same course, yes, that’s what I’m telling you.
Anonymous Pro: Westwood, McDowell, Luke Donald and Ernie Els. It’s going to be a big year for Lee Westwood, and an English champion at an English Open venue.
Hack: Mickelson, Westwood, McIlroy and Tiger. I’m calling it early — Tiger and Phil in a shootout at Augusta, but Phil has the keys to the place now. By the PGA, Tiger’s swing will be fully in place.