Every Sunday night, the editorial staff of the SI Golf Group conducts an e-mail roundtable. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.
TWO FOR TORREY PINES
Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Let's look ahead to next week. Tiger and Phil are teeing it up at Torrey Pines. Tiger is coming off the missed cut in Abu Dhabi. Phil was 17 under over his last three rounds at the Humana. Both have great track records at Torrey. Who beats whom? And would it surprise you if one of them won?
Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: Based on what we saw at Abu Dhabi and Palm Springs, I would be surprised if either wins this week. Slight edge to Mickelson based solely on his stated desire to get off to a fast start this year.
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I'm never surprised when Phil or Tiger contends, but I'd agree with Jim. These guys are just shifting into second gear. There's a whole field of guys at Torrey who are already in fourth gear, if not overdrive.
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Phil plays best at a handful of places that inspire him. He's spent a lot of time around Torrey working on his proposed redesign. He'll contend for sure. I'm less confident about Tiger.
David Dusek, deputy editor, Golf.com: It's almost too much to hope for, but I think both guys could contend, and either might win. The history with Tiger is obvious, and the venue means a lot to Mickelson, too. If I had to pick, I'd go with Mickelson to beat Tiger and get the W.
Charlie Hanger, executive editor, Golf.com: Seeing as I'm always wrong in my predictions, I'm going for broke. Tiger will beat Phil in a seven-hole playoff.
Walker: Mickelson. He had a good weekend at the Hope, and he's playing better than Tiger right now.
Dusek: Interesting to see that Mickelson had a new Odyssey Versa putter in his bag last week in Palm Springs. Phil said he didn't think much of it until he started holing everything in his backyard while putting with it at night.
Mike Walker, senior editor, Golf Magazine: That zebra stick is pretty eye-catching.
Stephanie Wei, contributor, SI Golf+: My bet is on Phil to play better than Tiger. He doesn't have to deal with jetlag, and he played pretty well this weekend after recovering from the flu and knocking off the rust. He'll also be at home.
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: I'd guess someone other than those two will win. Phil has merely come close since the South was toughened up by Rees Jones. Tiger is more likely to win, but he should have done better in Abu Dhabi, so he's clearly rusty.
Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Who has the better finish at Torrey: Tiger or Phil?
LEFTY TALKS TAXES
Wei: Speaking of Phil, he made some interesting comments after his round and said he'd go into more detail at his pre-tourney presser at Torrey Pines. Asked about Stricker's semi-retirement, Phil launched into a semi-rant on taxes, saying it'll cost more for him to play and that he was considering "drastic changes." Asked if that meant moving out of California, he said: "I'm not sure what, exactly, I'm going to do yet. …There are going to be some drastic changes for me because I happen to be in that zone that has been targeted both federally and by the state, and it doesn't work for me right now."
Herre: Oh, boy! Can't wait for Phil's Torrey presser.
Walker: I hear Phil's been pricing villas outside Moscow with Gérard Depardieu.
Wei: Yep, Phil's presser should be interesting. He said his tax rate was "62, 63 percent" when adding up "all the federal and you look at the disability and the unemployment and the Social Security and the state." He also implied that taxes had something to do with the Padres deal falling apart.
Godich: I don't think Phil's going to get a lot of sympathy.
Wei: Judging from the replies to my tweet, definitely not.
Van Sickle: Anybody else sense "Phil for Governor" coming up?
Tell us what you think in the comments section below: What's your take on Lefty's rant on taxes?
RORY AND TIGER FLAME OUT
Godich: Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods, the world No. 1 and 2, kicked off their much-anticipated 2013 seasons by missing the cut in Abu Dhabi. Neither guy did much to impress. I've never seen two players finishing so many swings with one hand on the club, if not flat out dropping the club in disgust. I know it's early, but based on what you witnessed, which player should we be more concerned about? And why?
Herre: They'll both be fine, but Rory needs to dial in his new sticks and Tiger needs to read the rulebook.
Shipnuck: I'm not concerned about either. Rory hadn't played in eight weeks, and Tiger was coming off one of the longest vacations of his career. They'll be fine.
Van Sickle: The results say they went there for the appearance money, and they don't have their games ready yet. In Rory's case, he's got to adjust to his new gear. And I'll say it again: Nobody changes everything in the bag, including the putter and the ball, without serious growing pains. Notice that his new putter lasted all of one round. These guys are pointing toward Augusta, not Abu Dhabi. I'm not concerned about either one, but I think Rory has more work to do than Tiger.
Hanger: I'm not seriously worried about either one. Tiger was far from great, but he would have made the cut if he hadn't made that rules blunder. Rory was more off his game, but some adjustment period to the new clubs (and ball, and shoes, and clothes, and bank account) is to be expected. He'll get it figured out.
Ryan Reiterman, senior producer, Golf.com: I was shocked that Rory switched putters after one round. All eyes will be on his bag at the Match Play.
Jeff Ritter, senior producer, Golf.com: They're still the two best players in the world, but I'm more worried about Rory because his Nike deal has created some new pressure from new places. Every bad round — heck, every bad SHOT — is going to be scrutinized like never before until he wins with the new clubs and silences those skeptics.
Walker: I'd be more concerned about Tiger than McIlroy, who has the club-change excuse. It's only Abu Dhabi, but it's another tournament where Tiger didn't contend. The Memorial must feel like a long time ago for him.
John Garrity, contributing writer, Sports Illustrated: I'd be more concerned about Tiger. He used to be able to win with his B game and contend with his C game. Now he needs his A game to even be part of the conversation.
Dusek: We shouldn't worry about either Rory or Tiger, but Rory's knee-jerk reaction to the greens in Abu Dhabi was to switch back to his old putter, which shows that, deep down, he's not completely committed to his new gear yet. Tiger missed the cut after making a mental error. He'll contend this week at Torrey Pines. I just wish Rory would add another event before the Match Play.
Wei: I'm not too concerned about either guy. Both are dusting off some rust after the holidays. It made me feel a lot better watching some of the shots they both hit! Like when Tiger took a divot with his driver in the first round.
Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Whose poor play concerns you more: Rory or Tiger?
MCILROY'S BIG DEAL
Godich: I found it interesting that Rory, when asked about his new endorsement deal, said he didn't play golf for the money. Nobody says no to a reported $250 million, but if it's not about the money, why would Rory change equipment after a monster year? And will this become a distraction if he continues to struggle?
Ritter: It's already a distraction.
Herre: It will definitely be a distraction if he keeps shooting 75s, but I don't expect that. Could take awhile, though, to settle in with the new stuff.
Van Sickle: You're right, nobody says no to $250 million. Pros are confident that if they've got their shaft, they can play with any head stuck on the end. For them, it's all about the shaft. And the ball. I'm hearing that a couple of players who have gone to wearing low-profile spikes have actually adjusted the loft-and-lie on their irons. They're that precise. So changing anything makes a difference. And anything that affects confidence, whether real or imagined, is a factor. Perception is reality.
Hanger: My BS detector always goes off when someone says "it's not about the money." Of course it's about the money. Granted, at this point, Rory is much more interested in major titles than another $1 million for the pile, but if money didn't matter to him, he wouldn't have been in Abu Dhabi in the first place, and he more than likely would not have moved to Nike.
Garrity: Also, money is sort of relevant when your latest impulse purchase is a $10 million oceanfront mansion.
Morfit: Of course it's about the money, as it almost always is.
Dusek: Rory may not play golf for money, but that doesn't mean he isn't interested in earning money. I see his equipment becoming a story only if he fails to win a few matches in Tucson and then doesn't contend at Doral. By March, the kinks need to be worked out, and he has to be dialed in to make a run at Augusta.
Walker: I don't think McIlroy cares that much about the money other than as a way to keep score. And there's no reason to think he won't adjust to the new gear in time. He's not Tiger; he's going to miss cuts and have slumps. We had better get used to it.
Herre: That's a good point, Mike. Rory isn't Tiger. Tiger's consistent excellence was unprecedented.
Reiterman: Right. Let's not forget Rory had a few rough months last year, and he was still the runaway player of the year.
Garrity: There have certainly been instances where a guy didn't play as well after the equipment switch. Lee Janzen got paired with Jack Nicklaus after dumping Nicklaus's equipment; Jack didn't say a word for most of the round, making him pay for his perceived disloyalty. But Tiger and Phil made big equipment changes without mishap. They kept tweaking clubs and ball until they got the feel they wanted.
Shipnuck: Rory was going to make a huge pile of money no matter who he signed with, and he'll make another huge pile in on-course earnings. So it's not really about the money. He grew up venerating Nike athletes and loved the image of the company. He wanted to be part of that. And he knew Nike's marketing muscle would help him transcend golf. He made the decision with his heart, not his wallet.
Hanger: Well, the "marketing muscle to help him transcend golf" means that he's interested in becoming a major global brand, and that's certainly all about the money, right?
Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Will Rory's Nike deal become a distraction as the season rolls along?
'DUDE, IS THAT YOUR REAL HAIR'
Godich: If you haven't seen the new Nike commercial featuring Rory and Tiger, you must be living under a rock. I think it's great. Tiger comes off as likable. I also think that if this keeps up, Rory just might help Tiger rehabilitate his image. What say you?
Van Sickle: Tiger's ball-bouncing-on-the-wedge spot remains the all-time greatest golf gear commercial.
Herre: Tiger's made a bunch of terrific commercials. He's a good actor. I seriously doubt he is thrilled about sharing the spotlight with McIlroy, but that's simply his fate.
Godich: But he hasn't made any commercials of note since the fire hydrant.
Van Sickle: The commercial is a winner, even after you learn that Rory and Tiger were never together for the filming. This is how Tiger's original image was built by Buick and Nike, almost entirely through commercials. Not through speaking with the media.
Walker: The commercial explains why McIlroy went with Nike: they know how to create stars. Although outside of the ball-bouncing-on-the-wedge ad, which was improvised, I don't think Tiger's ever shown that great a touch in ads. These Rory commercials will be good for him.
Reiterman: The ad was good but a little predictable. Too much like Bird and Jordan's commercial.
Van Sickle: Agreed, but at least one generation of consumers, and maybe two, have already forgotten those fossils or never heard of them in the first place.
Dusek: Nike is not afraid to spend money on high production values, clever concepts and talent. Even my wife, who is not a Tiger fan these days, said she liked the spot.
Shipnuck: That is an unsung reason for signing Rory: Nike can recoup some of its investment in Tiger. They've hardly used him post-scandal. So much goodwill surrounds Rory that Nike is banking on some of it rubbing off on Tiger.
Hanger: I think Tiger's image is as rehabilitated as it's going to get. Those who still hold his past transgressions against him aren't going to be swayed by proximity to McIlroy, no matter how likable Rory is.
Van Sickle: Winning cures all image ills, isn't that right, Kobe? Tiger will get more endorsements and more commercials. But Rory is the new No. 1 get for commercials. He may wind up doing more spots than Peyton Manning. Tiger is now No. 2 in that category, too.
Reiterman: Am I the only one who doesn't think Tiger's image needs rehabilitating? Dude just needs to win a major and all will be normal again.
Van Sickle: I agree. Tiger's image already is rehabbed. If it wasn't, he wouldn't have been in the Nike shoot. He's moving forward, and if he gets to major 15, he will be in great demand again.
Godich: If Tiger's image were totally rehabbed, he'd have a lot more endorsement deals, no?
Herre: Things will never be "normal" again for Woods. Half the world's population remains against him.
Hanger: I agree with that, Jim. His marketability might improve with more majors, but for some his image problems have nothing to do with what he's done on the course. That's why I say his image is as rehabbed as it'll ever be.
Herre: I thought the post-hydrant commercial with Earl's voiceover was brilliant.
Dusek: I vividly remember seeing it in the media center at Augusta and getting chills.
Walker: Someone compared that commercial to the movie The Ring: If you watch it, you're going to die.
Hanger: I thought that one was just creepy.
Van Sickle: I'm with Charlie. Spooky.
Wei: Resurrecting his dad for a commercial in an attempt to help rehab his image? Bleh.
Walker: I've always thought Mickelson is underrated in commercials. Those Crowne Plaza ads were really funny.
Van Sickle: The one where Phil grabs the two halves of the hacker's broken driver in mid-air is good, too.
Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Can Tiger further improve his image by doing ads with Rory? What did you think of their first commercial?
MCGINLEY, THE PLAYERS' CAPTAIN
Godich: Paul McGinley was named Europe's Ryder Cup captain for 2014. McGinley is well-liked by the players, but give me another reason why he will (or won't) excel as the man charged with continuing the Europeans' dominance.
Van Sickle: He's captaining the better team.
Herre: McGinley's a tough little bugger who has the respect of the players. I wish the Euros would've given Faldo another go.
Shipnuck: It's a great choice because Europe's core players essentially chose him, and now they're very invested in his success.
Herre: Yes, the European selection process is messy and drama-filled, but they mostly get it right. As someone recently pointed out in this forum, the Americans handcuff themselves by requiring that the U.S. captain be a major-winner, which eliminates many excellent candidates.
Reiterman: Good point. Yes, McGinley made the winning putt at the 2002 Ryder Cup, but he only won four events, none in the U.S. and none of them majors. It's hard to think of the PGA ever picking a U.S. captain with those credentials.
Godich: Talk about extremes. McGinley has exactly two top-10 finishes in a major.
Van Sickle: Other modern Euro captains without majors include Sam Torrance and Bernard Gallacher and, of course, Monty. The PGA of America should continue to try to think outside the bun.
Hanger: McGinley might excel, but I still don't think he'll be a difference-maker. It all comes down to how the players perform, and the captain can't do much about that.
Dusek: I've never met Paul McGinley, but I was impressed with how methodical he seemed in his press conference. Humble, gracious and eager. He's got to know that his team will be strong, so his role will be to help them stay loose and keep distractions to a minimum.
Walker: It was smart of the Euros not to overreact to the Tom Watson pick. Why mess with success? But I still love the Tom Watson pick.
Morfit: I love that Watson is not the same age as the players he'll be selecting for his wildcard picks. He won't let sentiment muck up the hard choices before or after the Cup. You can't please all of the people, no matter how nice McGinley is.
Tell us what you think in the comments section below: How do you think McGinley will fare as Europe's Ryder Cup captain?
HOWELL COMES UP SHORT AGAIN
Godich: Brian Gay won a three-way playoff at the Humana, but I'd rather focus on one of the runners-up. Anyone who writes the bio on Charles Howell has to include the words potential and missed opportunities. At Humana, Howell finished second for the 14th time in his career. He also has eight third-place finishes. He has won only twice. Hard as it may be to believe, he's still only 33. So I ask: Can Howell still become a force on the PGA Tour, maybe pick up four or five more victories? Or has his ship sailed?
Dusek: Au revoir!
Shipnuck: I love Charles Howell, but if he was going to become a force, it would've happened a long time ago.
Van Sickle: We've been saying for 10 years that Howell's wedge game needed to get better. He finally accomplished that by working with Gary Gilchrist, and we're seeing the results. I think he can start winning again, yes. Phil didn't win his first major until he was 33, and Hogan was 34. I'm optimistic about Howell's upside, but he's not in that class yet. Bunker play is still a weakness.
Herre: Howell is also a very average putter.
Wei: His ballstriking is phenomenal. He's always in the mix and notches so many top 5s, but I'm sure he'd trade all those for a win and a trip to the Masters.
Walker: Howell said he made the move to Gilchrist last fall because he wanted to win more, and he's been playing really well since then. Definitely a player to watch in 2013.
Wei: Howell, who as we all know is very mechanical, also said Gilchrist has simplified things for him and also serves as kind of a "coach."
Godich: Howell has played a lot of good golf over the years. He just doesn't know how to close. Today was yet another example. That's too bad because he seems like a great guy.
Wei: It was actually surprisingly thrilling in the end…
Godich: You call that thrilling?
Wei: Well, in regulation, Howell needed to birdie 18 for the outright win, and Stallings dumped it in the water and was trying to get up-and-down for par. Zach Johnson, Richard H. Lee, Blake Adams and Will McGirt were all out there cheering Stallings on, living and dying with his every shot. It was cool to see players rooting for their friend. It doesn't happen that often.
Ritter: I'd like to apologize to Stallings, who I drafted for my fantasy team this year. His hooked 6-iron into the pond on 18, when anything near the green would've likely won him the tournament in regulation, was tough to watch. It took 72 holes, but my wretched fantasy karma finally struck him down. It wasn't your fault, Scott.
Wei: You also have to give Brian Gay credit. Talk about a guy who gets the most out of his game. There are only a few courses where Gay can win because he's not a bomber, and this is one of them. The fact that the guy has won four times on Tour is a testament to his talent.
Herre: After Stallings, and then Lingmerth in the playoff, went down in flames, I was torn between who to root for. Gay and Howell are two of the good guys on Tour. Gay is more reserved, but both are accommodating, humble and popular. Still, you just knew that Gay would not make the fatal mistake.
Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Will Howell ever take the next step? What are your thoughts on the Humana Challenge?