PGA Tour Confidential: Tiger's playing partners, Presidents Cup vs. Ryder Cup and the PGA Tour's top secret voting

PGA Tour Confidential: Tiger’s playing partners, Presidents Cup vs. Ryder Cup and the PGA Tour’s top secret voting

U.S. Presidents Cup captain Fred Couples and Tiger Woods at the Memorial in June 2013.
Getty Images

Every Sunday night, conducts an e-mail roundtable with writers from Sports Illustrated and Golf Magazine. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.

1. Compare the Presidents Cup to the Ryder Cup: Pale imitation, strong but a clear second, or virtual equal?

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: You can't even begin to compare the two. The Ryder Cup works because there's an actual rivalry there. The Presidents Cup is a nice (to borrow a phrase) golfing get-together. Our interest always stems from the players' interest, e.g., the U.S. Open at Merion versus the FedEx Cup finale at East Lake.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): Pale imitation. Its finest hour was when they changed the rules in the middle of the Tiger-Ernie playoff to allow a tie. That was also its lowest hour. It's difficult to see a Rest of the World squad as a team. Europe has a camaraderie in the Ryder Cup that no International team will ever have. It's still fun to watch, but it's not going to be compelling until the Internationals start winning a few times.

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine (@CameronMorfit): The Presidents Cup has become less interesting as time goes on, partly because the Internationals never win, and partly because there is simply too much going on between the WGCs and the FedEx and the Players and the majors. Plus the Int's have always just seemed like such a diffuse group. Do they even have a fight song? A flag? A logo? This event couldn't be more vanilla if it tried, and that's bad TV.

Mike Walker, senior editor, (@michaelwalkerjr): Strong but clear second. The Ryder Cup is a blood feud that stirs dark passions unmatched in golf and maybe even all of sport. The Presidents Cup is what the Ryder Cup used to be: a friendly and entertaining exhibition designed to show off the best players in the game's best format — team play — to an international audience.

Josh Sens, contributing writer, Golf Magazine (@JoshSens): A pale imitation. What Bud Light Lime is to actual beer. They can say it’s beer,  and even try to add an exotic twist, just like they can call the Presidents Cup a compelling competition with international flavor. But discerning consumers know the difference between it and the real thing.

Joe Passov, senior editor, courses and travel, Golf Magazine (@joepassov): For me, the Presidents Cup falls right in between “pale imitation” and “strong but clear second” compared to the Ryder Cup. Once the matches begin, it's captivating. I can't get too worked up ahead of time, however. There's no real rivalry here. The results have been too one-sided, there's not enough animosity between players and tours as is the case with the Ryder Cup and there's not much unity among rest-of-the-world Presidents Cup players, who come from too many different backgrounds. 

Jeff Ritter, senior producer, (@Jeff_Ritter): The Presidents Cup is the Diet Coke of international golf competitions. It quenches your thirst, but it's only one calorie. Not enough.

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@AlanShipnuck): To quote a great golf philosopher, it is what it is. The Prez doesn't have the Ryder's intensity, obviously, but that's not a bad thing. The players are more relaxed so the golf is better; at the Ryder, everyone is playing not to lose, so the golf is often defensive. And I like the Prez's low-key vibe. One overhyped  "Super Bowl of Golf" is enough, thanks.

2. If U.S. Captain Fred Couples does indeed split up the Tiger Woods/Steve Stricker team, who's the best player to pair with Tiger?

MORFIT: I think Stricker and Spieth have to be paired together, based on Stricker reportedly making nine birdies when they played a practice round against Mickelson/Keegan at East Lake. I'd pair Tiger with Dufner. The two have a lot of respect for each other and are friends. 

PASSOV: If he's looking to replace Stricker's usual clutch putting, Brandt Snedeker is top choice. If it's substituting for Stricker's low-key demeanor, flat-liner Jason Dufner and his remarkable ball-striking fit the bill. 

SHIPNUCK: Either Keegan or Jordan. Their youthful vigor should keep him interested. Just about the most fun I've ever seen Woods have in a golf course was as a long-ago Ryder Cup playing with Chris Riley, who was like goofy, lovable puppy. 

RITTER: We've seen how Phil became energized while playing alongside a fired up Keegan Bradley, so this week I'd like to see Tiger play with Spieth. The Stricker-Woods pairing is definitely over. Why not try sticking Woods with the youngest guy on your team, just to see what happens?

VAN SICKLE: With Tiger's short game, it would be nice to have Brandt Snedeker (like Stricker, a great putter) backing him up in alternate shot. Seriously, who doesn't want to be paired with the best putter on the team?

WALKER: At this point in his career, Tiger should be ready to play the mentor. Pair him with Jordan Spieth. If not Spieth, then Matt Kuchar is the kind of steady pro's pro that Tiger has always favored.

BAMBERGER: The ideal playing partner for Tiger Woods would be a clone of Tiger Woods. I think Stricker is worn out by the attention, and still getting over last year's Ryder Cup, so he really is out. Fred himself would be a good playing partner, but that of course is not an option. It's pretty tough. I'd go with Spieth, since Fred seems to understand that this thing is a TV show and that pairing would make for good TV. Or, in the Stricker role, Zach Johnson.

SENS: Jordan Spieth. Likes the big stage, won’t be daunted and won’t mind playing the beta dog to Tiger’s alpha. But really, can we stop with all the agonizing over who Tiger will play with? He’s no more important to winning than any other member of the team, and all the years of tip-toeing around him only reinforces the bogus idea that he is somehow above or apart from the rest of the squad. Treating him like just another one of the guys would make it easier on his partner. And you have to think Tiger would like it too.

3. The PGA Tour Player of the Year award is done by player voting, but only the winner is revealed. Is it an issue that the Tour doesn't reveal the percentage of votes or even the runners-up, or no big deal?

VAN SICKLE: It's an issue. Baseball reports its MVP balloting. In golf, who's to say how many voted, who voted and if the guy who won really won if they're not going to supply the count? Ditto for the whole charity deal. The Tour won't reveal how much each tournament donated for charity but expects us to accept at face value that it is approaching $2 billion all-time. They probably are, but if I can't prove it, I'm not writing it.

SHIPNUCK: Less than a big deal. In fact, not a deal at all. 

SENS: It’s an issue. Make all of the votes public, as baseball does with its Hall of Fame ballots and its MVP voting. Let the opinions be known. Let the controversies simmer. Honors aside, this should really be about stirring conversation and fan interest. Wouldn’t you like to know where all the candidates rate in the eyes of their peers?

MORFIT: I for one would like to know if Phil came just one vote shy of winning the thing, so yes, it's an issue. But the Tour is a closed shop, unfortunately. I'd like to know who's getting fined and for what, also, but that won't happen anytime soon, either.

RITTER: It's not a big deal, but I'd like to know the final results. And I bet most golf fans would like to know the final results. So why exactly can't we know the final results?

PASSOV: I'd definitely like to see more transparency here. We do it with every other sport, from baseball's MVP to college football's rankings — let's see who came close and how close it was. If you want to shield how the players themselves voted, so be it, but make it more compelling for the fans.

WALKER: Golf fans would love to see the vote breakdown, i.e., what the players really think. I can see why the players don't want disciplinary action made public, but it's hard to understand why they want secrecy about the Player of the Year vote total.

BAMBERGER: The Tour does not like to share! Hall of Fame voting is secretive, too. If Tim Finchem and the Ponte Vedrans would dole out more info, there would be more spirited debate and that would be good for the game. But it’s not the Kremlin's style.

4. Given the globetrotting the top stars do and the year-round calendar for tournaments, is the PGA Tour Player of the Year vote, tied primarily to Tour performance, somewhat irrelevant?

PASSOV: I get why Wayne Levi beat Nick Faldo for POY in 1990. You're rewarding the guy who won four times on your Tour (Atlanta, Western, Hartford and Canadian). It just seems archaic now. All Faldo did was win the Masters and the British Open that year. He should have been POY by any measure, but he only played in eight U.S. tour events. Tiger was still my pick this year — five wins, including a fistful against all-star fields — but Mickelson deserves more credit for his Scottish Open win, at least as much as a John Deere, Memphis St. Jude or winner would get. If Mickelson hits his PGA Tour minimum numbers to remain a member, his year should be judged on all tournaments, worldwide.   

SHIPNUCK: Yeah, it's a little funky. If Stenson wins two or three more times in Asia this fall and takes the Race to Dubai you could a make a case that he's the global player of the year. This is why I like the Golf Writers Association of America’s POY — it's not specific to one tour and takes into account a global body of work. Plus, it's done by the writers, some of whom are sophisticated enough to recognize this was Phil's year. 

SENS: No. We’re still talking about the lion’s share of tournaments that really matter, based not just on reputation but on strength of field.

VAN SICKLE: It is irrelevant. In team sports, awards spotlight individuals who excelled. Golf is an individual sport to start with so the top players are already spotlighted. Golf has four Players of the Year. They're the guys who won the four majors. So let's dispense with the trophy.

RITTER: It does seem to be sliding toward irrelevancy. A lot of people tried to bolster Phil's candidacy this year by citing his win at the Scottish Open. That's not a PGA Tour event, so safe to say it didn't factor — but it should, and that's the problem.

BAMBERGER: Well, no — I think it's a serious honor to be recognized by your lodge brothers as being the dominant player. But a world player of the year, as Golf Magazine does, is a much more interesting thing.

MORFIT: It's irrelevant if you've won it as many times as Tiger has, and very relevant if you've never won it.

WALKER: Golf has too many ruling bodies giving out too many different awards. PGA Tour Player of the Year is pretty irrelevant. At the end of the day, what matters the most is the majors and the money list.

5. Jordan Spieth was a slam-dunk rookie-of-the-year winner. The previous three winners were Rickie Fowler in '10, Keegan Bradley in '11 and John Huh in '12. Which of these four players has the brightest future?

SHIPNUCK: I'd say Bradley, but he's losing his putter in two years so who knows how that's gonna affect him. I still love his swing and competitive makeup; he's set the bar pretty high for Spieth, but I wouldn't be surprised to see the kid from Texas leap right over it. 

VAN SICKLE: You've got to go with Spieth, who's just getting started. Bradley snagged a major early but has cooled off since. Fowler and Huh didn't have much impact this year on the course. Spieth played his way onto the Tour, won, and made the U.S. Presidents Cup team. It's hard to believe he's not going to keep getting better for the next couple of years. I can't say that about the other three.

WALKER: I’ll stick with major winner Keegan Bradley, but all four guys have the competitive fire that makes you think they'll have long, successful careers.

RITTER: Have to take Bradley since he's one major title ahead of the rest of that group. Spieth is intriguing, though. Besides Tiger and Phil, he's the player I'm most interested to watch this week.

PASSOV: Spieth is my pick. He's always shown remarkable maturity and has dominated at every level, yet showed the fortitude to come back from adversity when he flunked out of the 2012-'13 Q-School's second stage, leaving him with no Tour status. I'm wondering if Bradley's fight with the anti-long putter folks has distracted him a bit. Fowler has been a surprising disappointment, but he's hard to pick on, because he's so good with fans and so good for the game. Huh had a pretty decent year, though nothing special, and nothing says "star" about him right now. 

MORFIT: I'm going with Spieth. He's consistently in the mix now in a way that I've not seen from the others.

SENS: Spieth. He’s accomplished more at his age than the others and nothing about his progress has seemed forced or fluky. Fowler is the flashier dresser, but he didn’t get his first win until his third full year on Tour.  Bradley has a major and major talent, but a looming ban on anchored putting awaits him. As for Huh, great player. But isn't it fun to put a question mark after his name?

BAMBERGER: Spieth. He's younger and faster and better in most of the important categories, like ability to shoot low scores on Sundays.

6. Phil Mickelson has suggested he will play fewer events in 2014, following the lead of Steve Stricker, Tiger Woods and Adam Scott. What will fewer star appearances mean for the PGA Tour and its smaller events?

SHIPNUCK: Not much — the stars don't play them anyway. But it'll be a major bummer if Phil skips Pebble and/or Phoenix, since he's always the biggest name at these tourneys. 

VAN SICKLE: The PGA Tour continues to eat its young. The World Golf Championships made the lower-level Tour stops seem less, then the FedEx Cup made the WGC and all the regular stops seem less. Plus the FedEx Cup "playoffs" killed the summer schedule. Players are forced to play seven of 11 weeks from the U.S. Open on (two majors, four FedEx Cup, one WGC), thus making every other date on the schedule unattractive to the top players, and therefore to potential sponsors. “Less is more” sounds like a snappy argument unless you're out of the top 50 and suddenly can play only 22 events instead of 32. It's an alarming trend.

PASSOV: If he skips smaller, Tiger-less events such as Humana, L.A., Houston and St. Jude, they're in trouble. Here in Phoenix, where we have been without Tiger since 2001, we always say, "But at least we have Phil." Nobody moves the needle like Tiger, but Lefty is a healthy second.

RITTER: It's bad news for the little guy, but it's rare for high-wattage names play those events, anyway. Phil's entering his mid-40s, so a schedule cutback was probably inevitable. I just hope he doesn’t dump Scottsdale.

WALKER: Think about how few times Mickelson, Woods, Scott and McIlroy were in the same field this year. There is now a de facto Super Tour of the majors, WCG events, the Players, the FedEx Cup playoffs, and a couple other events like Quail Hollow and the Memorial. The Tour needs to start requiring the stars to play less-traveled events or we’ll have a permanent two-tiered PGA Tour.

MORFIT: It'll hurt, for sure, just because Phil moves the needle as well as anyone not named Tiger. But it's the right move for Mickelson. Given Scott's success, and Stricker's fine season, I'd be surprised if more guys don't do the same thing.

SENS: On the upside, more opportunity for fresh faces. But on the much, much weightier downside, paltry spectator turnout, dim TV ratings and greater dilution of a Tour lineup that already risks feeling watered-down.

BAMBERGER: The smaller events, like Colonial and Phoenix and San Diego and Hilton Head, are the heart of what the Tour has always been: a bunch of local businesspeople saying, “Let's put on a fundraising golf event — it'll be fun!” The Masters, with win-you're-in, is doing a great service to help keep these events relevant. So is the allocation of World Ranking points. To circle back to the first question, these events will always make for good TV, when the golf is bunched, because the players care. With a win, a player's status — social, financial, athletic — can change. So can his life. Plus, we know a lot of these old tournaments on courses we've seen for years. The Tour always wants to reinvent itself. Maybe it should consider just tweaking the things that already are working well, like these so-called smaller events. They ARE the Tour.
The PGA Tour Confidential debate continues Monday on our new weekly show hosted by Jessica Marksbury. Tweet her your questions @Jess_Marksbury.