PGA Tour Confidential: Tiger Woods wins Bay Hill Invitational

March 26, 2012

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 our all-new live Readers' Confidential or in the comments section below.

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: What impressed you most about Tiger's victory?

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: Definitely his putting. He made an all-world two-putt after getting into a bit of trouble on 10, and a great putt from about 15 feet to save par on 15, just like he used to in the old days.

Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: It wasn't a great score, but he kept the pressure on all day. He hit a lot of good shots and forced McDowell to continually match him. Tiger had a lot of tap-in pars.

Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: I thought Woods putted well all week. Nothing crazy, but solid on extremely fast greens. He also hit a lot of solid iron shots, and aside from the drive on 15 on Saturday, kept his ball in play. Overall, a nice B+ effort for four days, which has always been enough for TW to win.

Van Sickle: Tiger was in near complete control of his ball on the weekend. Just like old times. Great ballstriking, great shotmaking, great putting. It would be tough to make an argument that he isn't back.

Jeff Ritter, senior producer, I also can't remember a week since he started working with Foley where he hit this many 3-wood stingers off the tee. That's going to serve him well at Augusta.

Charlie Hanger, executive editor, And the British Open. I was most impressed that Tiger was so much better than the field. This was a blowout of old-school-Tiger proportions.

Van Sickle: If Tiger isn't playing, McDowell runs away with this thing. Instead, he's the B-Flight champ. Sound familiar? Tiger was a touchdown ahead of everyone else.

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Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: His margin of victory was most impressive, and on a HARD course.

Ryan Reiterman, senior producer, Lag putting. Tiger made it look relatively easy. Just like old times.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: The win is deeply impressive because he earned it on the practice tee, and it's hard to devote yourself to the practice tee when you're 36 and your kids need rides and the lawn needs mowing. He earned it. It wasn't smoke-and-mirrors. It was not like old times. It was totally different.

Hanger: I'll give you the kids' rides, but he's not mowing much of that lawn, which is actually his personal golf course. Still, point taken.

Shipnuck: I loved Tiger's demeanor. He seemed utterly in control all day, and even a couple of 50-footers from G-Mac early in the round couldn't change that.

Van Sickle: When McDowell holed that eagle putt on 6, it was hard to tell whether Tiger even noticed it go in. In the zone, for sure.

Ritter: Other than the new caddie and the goofy shoes, the whole scene felt a lot like something we saw frequently in 2007. Other than one three-putt, he was in total control on Sunday. Just like old times.

Mick Rouse, editorial assistant, SI Golf Group: Impressive performance all around by Tiger, especially with the putter. We've talked about Tiger not being able to close lately, but he never looked like he was going to falter today.

Stephanie Wei, contributor, SI Golf+: I was impressed by his great iron play all week, and his ability to recover after a bogey (or the double on 15 Saturday). He made those key 5- to 15-foot putts to keep his momentum going or swing it back in his favor.

Van Sickle: Tiger is driving it straight. I can't point that out enough. That's a scary thought, given his shotmaking skills with his irons. Not only is he back, I think he's going to win multiple majors in the next few years.

Wei: Tiger is ranked No. 1 on Tour in total driving. He hit 57 of 72 greens this week (more like 65 if you count the fringe). Behind the 18th green, Foley said, "The sexiest long iron I've ever seen Tiger hit was the one on No. 6." (Yes, he really said "sexiest." It was a 3-iron.) It's scary to think what Tiger will do now that he's driving it on a string and finally has found some rhythm with his putting stroke.

Tell us what you think in the all-new readers' live Confidential or in the comments section below: What impressed you most about Tiger's five-shot victory at Bay Hill?

Shipnuck: No doubt this week was a big step forward, but is Tiger really "back"? Is he now the guy to beat every time he tees it up?

Van Sickle: Tiger's biggest challenge will be to remain healthy. His ballstriking this week looked better than at any time since the Harmon years.

Gorant: Not quite. I certainly expect him to be in contention, but I can't quite expect him to win yet.

Herre: We'll see. This could be another incremental move. You have to keep in mind that Tiger won a higher percentage of events entered than any player in modern history — by a mile. I don't know if he'll ever reach that pinnacle again. I'm not surprised at all that he won again. I will be surprised if he becomes the player he was 10 or 12 years ago.

Gorant: I don't know. It was a pretty dominant performance on a tough course, and you can see lots of room for improvement. He could distance himself again.

Van Sickle: He is the guy to beat, yes. If he'd slopped it around and won with his putting or something, maybe not, but he played dominant golf. He's the new favorite for Augusta now, and if he wins there, as I've said many times, 19 majors will be back in play and Tiger mania will vault to a new high.

Lipsey: In people's minds and player's minds, yes, Tiger is the man to beat.

Wei: I'm tired of the "is Tiger back or not?" storylines. He's back in the winner's circle, but he'll never be the same person/player he was pre-scandal. It's just not possible. Let's move on and focus on the fact that Tiger's playing well again.

Van Sickle: Personally, I don't know how much more obvious Tiger could've made it this week. He dominated, and now he's going to Augusta, where he finished fourth the last two years with no swing. Now he's playing his best in half a dozen years. I'm not easily swayed, but we've seen Tiger's steady progression since late last year. It was a process, Tiger said, and now the process is over. He's there. He's back.

Tell us what you think in the all-new readers' live Confidential or in the comments section below: Are you ready to say that Tiger is "back"?

Shipnuck: A lot of jabronis win PGA Tour events. I think we all agree the Masters will be the true gauge of where Tiger's game/head is. So, who is now your pick to win the green jacket?

Bamberger: Kyle Stanley, Jonathan Byrd, Phil, Rory, Tiger, Fred, Zach Johnson, Johnson Wagner. In that order.

Van Sickle: If forced to wager, I'd put my money on Tiger 3.0. McDowell mentioned how this course was U.S. Open-esque, and Tiger crushed the field.

Gorant: It has to be Tiger, Rory and everyone else going in.

Hanger: I'd say Tiger, Rory, Phil and everyone else. Winner? If I had to bet my life, I'd still pick Rory.

Herre: As Michael Bamberger has written for this week's SI Masters preview, the Masters is going to be all about Tiger and Rory McIlroy. I'll take McIlroy.

Lipsey: After this win, I think it'll be all about Tiger, with Rory as a sidelight. Winning today vaults Tiger back into Tiger mania, and everybody else is second fiddle, no matter what they've done or how much talent they have.

Morfit: I can't pick Tiger to win the Masters, even after winning at Bay Hill. He hasn't won at Augusta since '05. I've got to go with either Phil or Rory.

Van Sickle: I'll go back to what Curtis Strange said in the SI roundtable about Tiger's intimidation factor. If he starts winning again, the other guys will be intimidated. I agree with Curtis.

Morfit: Loved that quote from Curtis, and I also agree.

Gorant: Me too.

Lipsey: It seems like that happened today, with the field going south and Woods going low.

Bamberger: Guys will be intimidated if he putts short ones with guys breathing down his neck like he used to. It's hard to imagine that skill coming back.

Ritter: I'm still picking McIlroy, but Tiger won't be outside the top five. It's going to be a great week.

Lipsey: Robert Karlsson. You're welcome, Mr. Garrity.

John Garrity, contributing writer, Sports Illustrated: Will Karlsson be intimidated by Tiger's resurgence? I don't think so. But for the record, I picked Tiger to win the Masters way back in December.

Wei: Tough not to pick Tiger after that dominant performance, but I'm going to stick with Rory as my favorite if I have to pick just one.

Tell us what you think in the all-new readers' live Confidential or in the comments section below: Who's your pick to win the Masters?

Shipnuck: Since we're going deep on all things Tiger, let's get everyone's updated thinking on whether Tiger gets to 19 majors. I say no.

Morfit: I still don't think he gets to 19. I think there's just too much talent out there now, and Tiger's body is just too iffy.

Lipsey: Unlikely.

Van Sickle: I say it's back on the table. If he can win one more major, he can win five more. It now looks possible again after some very barren years.

Ritter: I still think he wins two more and finishes two behind Jack.

Gorant: I've been saying yes all along, and I'll stick with that.

Bamberger: I say no. I think we'll all enjoy watching the attempt, though.

Herre: I've been on record as a "no" for quite a while now. I've always maintained that he would win again, probably many times. I simply think that winning five majors is a Hall of Fame career for any player. I don't think Woods, for a variety of reasons but primarily his health and his 20 years in the spotlight, has that much career left.

Reiterman: I'm staying with yes, but one more left leg injury, and I'll probably jump off the bandwagon.

Garrity: Tiger's shown me enough to put me back on the 19 majors bandwagon. Forty isn't a mental barrier any more, and his game is always going to be better suited to the big events and the toughest courses. It's like Nicklaus used to say — half the field at the Masters was out of it before the first tee shot on Thursday.

Tell us what you think in the all-new readers' live Confidential or in the comments section below: Did Sunday's result change your opinion on whether Tiger will pass Jack? How many more majors do you think he'll win in his career?

Shipnuck: It's been agonizing watching Hall of Famer Ernie Els try to play his way into the Masters field. Should the lords of Augusta have given him a special invite?

Bamberger: Yes. This is the year to have Ernie there, when he could contend.

Gorant: Since they gave one to Ishikawa two weeks ago, I say yes. I know ANGC has been all about courting Asia, but Ernie has done enough.

Herre: Yes, and they still might, although waiting this long is sort of cruel.

Van Sickle: Absolutely not. Ernie had the same chance as every other player in the world. I don't think Ishikawa should've gotten a free pass, either. The Japanese tour is clearly over-weighted in the World Ranking, so it says something that Ishikawa still didn't play well enough to be eligible. For the Masters, it was strictly a Japanese media buy. I'd love to see Ernie at Augusta, but he's got to do it the SmithBarney way — earn it.

Shipnuck: Ishikawa is not about golf, it's about TV demographics, and Billy Payne was quite transparent about that. I think it's a huge mistake for any major to give out what are essentially sponsor's exemptions. Ernie (and everyone else) can play his way into the field in any number of ways. If he doesn't, tough luck.

Rouse: I think Ryo is a huge talent, but if he didn't earn his way into the field, he shouldn't be there, no matter what he does for viewership. Same goes for Ernie.

Garrity: Johnny Miller said no to Els because there's no room for sentiment in golf. (I'm paraphrasing.) I sort of agree on principle, but I don't think Els would be a sentimental invite. He's been in contention as of late, and I could see him contending again at Augusta. He certainly has a better shot than Ishikawa and some of the other invitees.

Wei: I'm a sucker for sentiment.

Gorant: I'm okay with that as long as it means I no longer have to endure any self-righteous crap about the purity of the Masters and their self-congratulatory announcements about only having four minutes of commercials per hour. If it's about the sell, then it's about the sell. If it's about Bobby Jones's vision, then Ryo has to play his way in, too.

Bamberger: Bob's vision was simple — come on down and play in my little event.

Morfit: I'd throw Ernie an invite. I agree with Bamberger. I think Ernie could actually contend at the Masters.

Van Sickle: I don't know how you justify singling out one individual. Like Alan said, it's a sponsor's exemption and a bad precedent.

Morfit: The Masters already has exemptions, chief among them the exemption for past champions, most of whom aren't anywhere near as competitive as Els would be. If you're talking the strict meritocracy of the U.S. Open, no, I don't think Ernie or anyone else deserves an invite.

Garrity: Normally I'd agree with Gary, but historically the Masters was an invitational. I liked that. I liked the idea that Bobby Jones or his ghost was penning the invitation letters. And I'm sure Bobby would have invited Ernie.

Bamberger: It's an invitational. It's a club event. It's not meant to be democratic. It's about the fans and who they want to see play and contend. That's why I'd have Ernie there this year, when he's playing well.

Shipnuck: The Seminole Pro-Member is an invitational. The Masters is life and death.

Bamberger: I don't agree. I think the whole point of the Masters is that it's not life-and-death.

Wei: A resounding yes! Ernie represents today's modern world golfer. He's done enough for the game to deserve a special invite from the green coats. He's played in every Masters since 1994. It wouldn't be the same without Ernie, and he's played his heart out the past few weeks. Last week he told me at Innisbrook that he didn't want to get an invite and then go and play poorly because he'd be disappointed. Yesterday he said he finally feels like his game has come around, and it's where it needs to be for the first time in 18 months.

Shipnuck: Have you guys seen Els putt lately? The last place Ernie is going to find his old putting stroke is at Augusta National.

Bamberger: You can contend without putting great, as Fred, Davis, Tiger and others have shown.

Herre: The Masters has given out exemptions forever. Let Ernie Play!

Van Sickle: They made Tom Kite sit at home one year and cut wood when he was more deserving than Ernie is now. Ernie has had ample chances.

Lipsey: It's entertainment.

Van Sickle: Invite Michelle Wie then. And Michael Jordan. That's entertainment.

Morfit: The Masters got away from pure meritocracy a long time ago, as Jim said. They invite who they invite. That's just the way the tournament is.

Van Sickle: On the contrary, the Masters is far more of a meritocracy now than ever before by going all the way to 50 in the World Ranking. It used to be much, much more of an "invitational."

Tell us what you think in the all-new readers' live Confidential or in the comments section below: Should Augusta extend an invitation to Els?

Shipnuck: It's poetic that Yani had a dominating victory on the same day that Tiger did. This week we have the Kraft Nabisco, the first of the four LPGA majors. Does Tseng win the Grand Slam this year, before we go to five majors with the Evian Masters in 2013? And if so, does anybody besides us notice?

Lipsey: Yani wins a lot more than Tiger, that's for sure, but the Grand Slam? Probably not. It's just too hard.

Gorant: With the roll she's on right now, it sure seems like she will.

Van Sickle: Alan, are you absolutely certain that we'll notice?

Bamberger: Lexi should prevent that from happening, along with a half-dozen others.

Shipnuck: I think she's going to do it. Yani has found a way to peak every time she tees it up. And she is already defining her career by the majors.

Rouse: With the LPGA going to five majors next year, this is certainly Yani's best chance. I think she can do it, but unfortunately no one will really notice. Lexi winning a no-name tournament would garner more media attention.

Bamberger: It's actually pathetic, this formal declaration of majors by the LPGA and the Champions tour. It shows such a tin ear and such a lack of understanding about how majors became majors in the first place. Where's Furman Bisher when we need him!

Wei: If anyone is going to win the Grand Slam this year, it will be Yani, but only a small percentage of cult LPGA fans would notice. She's won two in a row, and I'm betting she barely gets a mention on Golf Central tonight.

Tell us what you think in the all-new readers' live Confidential or in the comments section below: Will Yani win the Grand Slam this year?