PGA Tour Confidential: Tour Championship

May 24, 2010

Every week of the 2009 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.

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Welcome, gents, to Sunday Evening Quarterback, er, PGA Tour Confidential. Anyone know what happened at the Tour Championship today? I was too busy watching football. Kidding. We’ll get to the FedEx Cup madness soon enough, but Phil Mickelson came through with a superb victory today, so let’s start there. Given what he and his family have been through this summer, I think this is one of Phil’s greatest moments. Thoughts?

David Dusek, deputy editor, A fantastic win for Mickelson to be sure, and a reason for his fans to be optimistic for 2010. The off-season is long, but if Phil can putt anything like he did at East Lake, he’ll once again contend week-in and week-out.

Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Has to be one of his best moments as a pro, considering what he’s been through. My question is, does Phil get the headline or does Tiger’s $10 mil get the bold type?

Jim Herre, editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Plus: Phil gets the main head; Tiger the deck.

Dick Friedman, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: It was great to see Phil after his 66 on Saturday, burbling about his play, particularly his putting. Hope his radiant appearance means that everything is going well on the home front, too.

Hack: Say what you will about the quirky format — I don’t like the math — but Finchem and the Tour brass got Tiger and Phil playing into the third week of NFL season. That’s no small thing.

Shipnuck: During the previous so-called playoff events Phil didn’t have much fire, and I kept wondering why he was slogging through so many tournaments. Now we know. What a lift this must’ve given Amy and Phil’s mom and those close to them, to say nothing of Phil’s army of fans.

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: Very happy for Phil, who hadn’t done anything of note in so long it was tempting to wonder if he was done. Wonderful final round and intriguing as to what it may portend for 2010.

Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: It’s perhaps overstating it a little to say that it’s one of his greatest moments. But I agree that he proved today that his game has survived through all of the off-course issues.

Shipnuck: I just wish Phil had fixed his putting Monday morning at Bethpage, not this week.

Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Plus: It made me realize how much I missed him out there. Even if he didn’t win, having him in the field, firing at pins and draining long putts adds so much to the mix.

Shipnuck: OK, to the FedEx Cup. Tiger did just enough today to wrap-up the $10 million, but it was in doubt for much of the final round, and I found it morbidly fascinating to watch as the projected winner kept changing almost hole-by-hole. Now that the third incarnation is in the books, what’s the verdict?

Dusek: Once again, Tiger didn’t kiss the FedEx Cup when Tim Finchem handed it to him.

Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: How popular is the FedEx Cup? On Saturday afternoon in the Westchester grill room, football was on the main TV while the golf was on the secondary TV. I spoke to a few people and nobody was too interested in the FedEx.

Dusek: I’ll say this, FedEx Cup 3.0 was better than the previous two. But even Mickelson couldn’t help making a joke after his round. “Let me get this straight, I’m the guy who shot 65 on Sunday and won the Tour Championship, and Tiger’s the guy who gets the $10 million check? Just kidding.”

Herre: 100% better than the first two years, but if they must take a week off, do it after the Labor Day event.

Evans: As long as someone will pay for a playoff, I think we should have one. But it will never be perfect unless there is match play component. What real pressure did Tiger have coming into this playoff? It’s a joke to call it a playoff. In the NFL, you can go 16-0 in the regular season and lose in the first round of the playoffs.

Dusek: Sign of the Apocalypse: I agree with Farrell.

Gorant: I also thought this was the best incarnation — the season mattered, lots of good stories, long shots, favorites in the mix — but the points thing is still weird. It would be vastly better if you could just look at the scores and know who had to do what to win it.

John Garrity, contributing writer, Sports Illustrated: I agree with Jim that the points system is still bewildering; I didn’t even try to figure out what was going on today, even when they posted the “what if” scenarios on the screen. But I’m beginning to like those “projected finish” charts. They give the playoffs the trappings of election night, which is a hallowed fall tradition.

Herre: Good point, John. I was also getting into the habit of always checking the projected finish box. Makes the playoffs easier to understand and more fun.

Lipsey: Even with a perfect points system, fans won’t care much for the playoffs. They’ll like to watch Tiger and Phil, but they won’t care much who wins the Cup.

Shipnuck: The points race saved Sunday at the BMW, when Tiger was up a million but everyone was grinding to get in the top 30. And it was a good subplot to today’s runaway victory by Phil.

Evans: It seems anti-climatic and a waste for Tiger to claim $10 million and another Player of the Year trophy when he went 0-4 in the majors.

Morfit: Giving Tiger an extra 10 mil is like giving a free membership to George Clooney.

Garrity: That’s true, but the 10 mil seemed to make some of the contenders’ hands shake and legs wobble coming down the stretch. So it was money well spent.

Shipnuck: Indeed, the FedEx definitely means more to the lesser-lights. Stricker and O’Hair both made some bogeys coming in, and you have to figure the payday was a factor.

Anne Szeker, producer, Was it really the $10M? Or just regular ol’ tournament jitters? Steve Stricker stumbled at the end there, but his “ya know, whatever” response to the FedEx Cup points question from Jimmy Roberts after his round made me think it was the farthest thing from his mind.

Herre: The $10M is about what TW would have made in appearance fees had he played four straight in Europe or Asia.

Shipnuck: I agree that TW doesn’t need the jing, but it was interesting to see him rally in the middle of the back nine. He looked awfully flat out there for most of the day. In the abstract he may not care about the FedEx Cup, but he sure as hell didn’t want to give it away with a weak Sunday.

Lipsey: In 50 years, will anybody really talk about who won the FedEx Cup? Not likely. Yeah, fun to watch big guys play, but there’s only one reason they played: $$$$. And money never makes history in golf.

Gorant: If it’s still around in 50 years, people will care. Lasting that long will mean that the FedEx Cup is working and over time it will gather weight. The PGA Championship wasn’t considered a major until some journalist suggested the idea of the Grand Slam to Palmer in the ’50s. The British Open almost went out of business around that time.

Dusek: If the PGA Tour didn’t hype the FedEx Cup Playoffs so much as the ultimate goal for all the players, but rather as the end of the season, maybe we’d enjoy it more. We all like the idea of Tiger, Phil and Padraig playing more meaningful events after the PGA Championship, and the FedEx Cup gives us that. It fails to meet the PGA Tour’s hype, but that doesn’t mean it’s valueless.

Shipnuck: It wouldn’t be Confidential without our weekly deconstruction of Tiger. That crashing hook off the first tee today looked awfully familiar — he hit the same miserable shot on Sunday at Augusta and Thursday at Bethpage. (There was another one early of the final round at the Players, too.) Those big misses seem to sap Tiger of his confidence and embolden everybody else. Is that the lesson of 2009, that’s he’s human?

Lipsey: Humans don’t win six events the season after having a knee rebuilt.

Dusek: Maybe the surgeon who worked on his knee implanted a tiny chip of Kryptonite in his leg?

Shipnuck: Six quality wins coming off knee surgery is indeed a great season, any way you slice it. But when I think of Tiger’s 2009, what stands out is his MC at the British, the Yang beat-down and Woods’s 72nd-hole miss at the Barclays. If he had let the FedEx Cup get away today it would have been the Grand Slammed.

Herre: Was impressed with Tiger’s putting again this week, even though he said he was “confused” by the greens at times on Saturday. As long as he rolls it the way he did the last couple starts, he can hit it off the world from time to time and still win.

Gorant: Great as the year was, gotta think that it was a disappointment to him.

Lipsey: We’re all cynical, half-empty seers. Six wins is six wins.

Evans: I predict that as Tiger’s business interests and family grow, he will give up his PGA Tour membership in five years and play an international schedule built around the majors. The tour should have an R&D staff on the payroll to develop ideas to keep Tiger interested in the Tour.

Shipnuck: How about a tip of the cap to Kenny Perry, who says he’s planning to head into semi-retirement on account of a waning desire to grind it out on Tour. If he had held off Tiger today, he might’ve had a change of heart, but today’s ugly round probably only makes Perry more certain of his decision. It was a nice run for ol’ Kenny.

Dusek: Maybe it means that in the back of his mind, he thinks that Augusta was his last shot at a major. With Valhalla’s Ryder Cup in his rearview mirror, and a pickup truck filled with cash, he’s earned the right to play — or not play — on his own terms.

Herre: Interesting similarities in the putting styles of Perry and Padraig Harrington. With their wide stances, they both look rock solid over the ball. Maybe a lesson there for us amateurs.

Friedman: On Saturday, Kenny Perry shot a 64. And what did Johnny Miller want to talk about? That Kenny’s plumb-bobbing was plumb wrong! Sheesh! Where’s the love?!

Lipsey: How about Perry, Mr. Nice Guy, firing his caddie through his agent? Maybe there was a reason to axe him like that, but it sure doesn’t seem so country nice.

Shipnuck: KP actually has an edge to him, though it’s carefully concealed by his aw-shucks demeanor. That’s what made him a prolific winner. He was hardened enough to step on the other guy’s neck, unlike a lot of other Tour players.

Herre: That edge surfaced at the 2004 Ryder Cup, when Kenny was PO’d after Hal Sutton played him in only two sessions.

Herre: Great to see Phil draining some bombs again. Phil used to be one of the great long-range putters. First Michelle Wie and now Mickelson. I bet Dave Stockton’s phone will be ringing off the hook.

Dusek: Interesting to hear Mickelson thank Butch Harmon, Dave Stockton and then Dave Pelz when he was interviewed on NBC. He then thanked Stockton again a few moments later.

Shipnuck: Stockton is exactly what Phil needs — a guy who preaches feel above all else. Mickelson is one of the most instinctive and natural players of all time, and he shouldn’t get bogged down with too much information.

Herre: Stockton and Pelz are polar opposites. Stockton teaches players to use The Force, Luke. Pelz is more of a scientist.

Lipsey: Phil didn’t start winning majors until he hooked up with Pelz. Can’t take that away from the guru.

Dusek: Agreed. When Team Phil descends upon major venues to do recon, a lot of people think it’s a smart move. Those info-gathering missions have been successful, and they’re pure Pelz.

Garrity: I could be wrong, but I’ve never had the impression that Phil was learning technique from Pelz. He’s gone to Pelz for course management ideas and data mining — what are the percentages for the flop vs. a pinch chip, when do you risk short-siding yourself in a bunker, where are the absolute dead zones on a green. I could see him consulting both Pelz and Stockton without there being any real conflict.

Gorant: The mikes caught Phil and Bones talking on a tee box today, and the decision, as Phil phrased it, was to hit “the Pelz cut.” So I think he definitely influences certain types of shots that Phil hits beyond just analyzing the course.

Shipnuck: For those of you forecasting the end of the Lorena Ochoa epoch, she finished a strong second today, making 20 birdies and an eagle along the way. I’m gonna predict she’ll win her own tournament next month and then take the Tour Championship, clinching P.O.Y. honors. In case anyone cares.

Lipsey: Feel bad for them, but the LPGA’s slide into the abyss continues. The FedEx Cup had the unintentional consequence of further pushing the LPGA to the sidelines.

Hack: I’m not forecasting the end of the Ochoa era, but I’m not celebrating any of her second-place finishes either. The No. 1 player in the world (for now anyway) must be held to a higher standard.

Shipnuck: Good point. But I don’t think of this runner-up finish as a return to glory, merely a prelude. When Lorena runs off a couple of W’s, that’s when we start celebrating.

Herre: Anyone care about who gets the LPGA commish job?

Dusek: I don’t think the fans do. I’d be shocked if you asked 20 golf fans who the interim commissioner is and one could name her.

Evans: As I have said before, the LPGA needs a women-centered marketing strategy more than it does any single person. It needs a winning strategy that targets women. Pete Rozelle and P.T. Barnum couldn’t save the LPGA in the shape it’s in now.

Dusek: The person who saves the LPGA Tour is Michelle Wie. When she starts winning, the LPGA returns to the general sports fan’s radar.

Herre: Frankly, I’m surprised that Donna Orender reportedly is interested in the job. Always thought she was going places. Could see PGA Tour Senior VP Jon Podany in the job. He’d be a steady hand.

Gorant: I think that’s more of referendum on the future (or lack thereof) of the WNBA.

Friedman: As perilous as the condition of the LPGA might seem, Donna Orender might see it as a lifeboat compared to the state of the WNBA. The NBA, which owns the WNBA, is in hazardous waters. It’s about to lock out its refs, and a league-wide lockout looms for 2010-11. Half the teams reportedly are in financial straits. The point here is, David Stern and Co. may decide that the WNBA is not worth keeping afloat. Besides, for someone like Orender, if you take over the LPGA job at a time like this, it seems like there’s nowhere to go but up. And if doesn’t work out, you can always say that Bivens made such a hash of the situation that nobody could save it.