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.
WOODLAND WINS TRANSITIONS CHAMPIONSHIP
Mike Walker, senior editor, Golf Magazine: Let’s start with another entertaining finish on the PGA Tour. Gary Woodland overtook Webb Simpson down the stretch. Wild finish for Woodland with five birdies and three bogeys on the back nine, and a steely par putt on 18. What do you like most about Woodland’s game, and who of the three first-time winners so far this year (Woodland, D.A. Points, and Jhonny Vegas) has the brightest future?
Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: Woodland was terrific on the greens, as his clutch par-saver at the last attests, and I think his future is bright. The guy is clearly an athlete and a worker. That said, how can you not pull for Jhonny Vegas?
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: I loved watching Points, but the guy is a journeyman. You have to think the other two have more of a future. Woodland is long, and it looks like he can putt. Good combo.
Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Vegas has more flair, but I’ll go with Woodland. He has excelled on both coasts. His sand game needs a lot of work, but he’s really long with a solid putting stroke.
Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Long-term you have to like Vegas, because he’s got the longest horizon and he’s already won. But I like both Vegas and Woodland from the perspective that they seem to have a lot of game and on-course charisma.
Morfit: Not to get too Clark Kellogg on everyone, but I like to see a guy with a big body that can take the wear and tear of hitting balls and all the travel. Vegas and Woodland have that.
Ryan Reiterman, senior producer, Golf.com: Woodland’s calm demeanor kind of reminded me of a young David Duval when he was piling up wins. Judging by his post-round interview, you would never have known it was his first win. His game wasn’t pretty all day, but he gutted out a win with a hot putter on a tough course. Fun to watch.
Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Really liked Woodland’s tee shot on 17 after he made a mess of 16. Showed some moxie on the greens. I even liked the club twirl. But for brightest future, I’ll stick with Vegas.
David Dusek, deputy editor, Golf.com: The season is not even three months old, so to project the future on these guys is a tall order. Vegas started hot and seems to have a game that could be dazzling, but I agree with Cameron and think that Woodland looks to have a solid all-around game.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: My guess is Jhonny V is the one with the big, big future, because of his size and strength and the simplicity of his swing.
Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: It was fun to watch two newbies strung out on adrenaline and desperately trying to win. That said, the Tour is definitely back to being background music for most people, what with Phil and Tiger in the tank. D.J., Vegas, Kaymer — they just don’t move the needle beyond the scope of hard-core fans.
Herre: Gee, Rick, you’ve certainly changed your tune. I thought you espoused loving the golf for the golf, not for the stars.
Lipsey: I do love it for the golf, but I’m in the minority, at least among average sports fans.
Gorant: Of course they don’t move the needle, yet. Unless they arrive with a ton of hype, no players do until they start winning consistently. These guys just arrived on the scene.
Stephanie Wei, contributor, SI Golf+: My vote goes to Woodland. I’ve been watching him this year, and the guy is good. Hits it a mile. And he showed this week that he can putt, too. He is still learning to play the game. He was a Division II basketball player before transferring to Kansas to play golf. He didn’t play a competitive round on the national level until he was around 20!
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: They all look like world-beaters when they win. Woodland and Vegas both have futures in golf, and a chance to become very popular players, because they are big, big hitters. That has never gone out of style. Vegas has the smile to go with it; Woodland has the look of grim determination that he’s going to do whatever it takes to beat you. Two nice additions to the PGA Tour, and two players to look forward to watching.
Jeff Ritter, senior producer, Golf.com: The TV broadcast said Woodland didn’t miss a putt inside 20 feet on Sunday (17-for-17). I’ll say Woodland out-earns Vegas on the course over the next few years, but Jhonny makes up for it, and then some, on Madison Ave.
Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: It’s hard to choose between Woodland and Vegas. They both have solid golf swings and good temperaments. However I’m concerned about the bad bunker play that I saw from Woodland on Sunday.
GOLF TV RATINGS ON THE RISE
Walker: From all reports, TV ratings for golf are up so far this year. Of course, much of this increase is due to Tiger’s playing, since he was on sabbatical for this part of the schedule last year. But Tiger isn’t playing all the events. Has golf on Tour been more exciting this year, or is the increase just a strange quirk (bad winter in the Northeast, weaker competition from other sports, etc.)?
Dusek: There’s nothing like going against bad numbers from the year before, but the action has been great, and having Mr. Woods around is certainly a positive. If Woods and Phil Mickelson can turn their games around, ratings could really jump.
Bamberger: I don’t think there’s much Tiger effect at all. The ratings are up because the golf’s been so good, close to the end, with the contenders showing all sorts of range in terms of age and background and nationality and golfing style, from Mark Wilson to Vegas to Points to Woodland. Nobody out of the cookie-cutter.
Evans: Avid golf fans are watching the telecasts. I think over the long haul in any type of business you appreciate new customers, but the real valued customers are the ones who understand the brand and keep it stable through market instability.
Lipsey: No cookie-cutter? Save Vegas, this isn’t a United Nations melting pot of players we’re dealing with.
Bamberger: Luke Donald’s English. Mark Wilson is a bunter. D.A. Points had to play with a comedian. Watney’s a self-taught bomber. Jhonny Vegas is the American dream. I better stop. I’m in sensory overload. It’s too good.
Gorant: I know the networks like to shout about the increases, but when you look at the percentage increase and then calculate how many more viewers that actually translates to, you realize it’s not that big a difference. That means many small things can contribute — who’s playing, how close it is, rain in some part of the country, start times, what else is on, etc.
Hack: I think the increase speaks to Tiger’s return, a bad winter and HDTV.
Lipsey: Tiger’s the only person who really affects ratings.
Gorant: On a large scale, that at least used to be true, but a lot of things play into the smaller weekly, year-over-year fluctuations.
Godich: There are plenty of intriguing players out there, and they are backing it up with great golf. Tiger’s struggles might not be such a bad thing, either. I think many are tuning in and wondering, What will Tiger do next?
Herre: The Tiger factor can’t be overstated. People are curious. I get asked about him all the time, every day. People want to know why he’s not performing, if he’s finished, will he break Nicklaus’s record. Hate to make the analogy, but Woods is like Daly that way — as Mark said, people want to see what Tiger will do next, and they will probably continue to watch him for years to come.
Reiterman: Steve Sands mentioned on this week’s Grill Room podcast that Golf Channel’s being the exclusive home to the Thursday-Friday coverage, plus early coverage on the weekends, has probably helped too. Don’t think it’s a huge reason for ratings being up, but it’s probably one of the many factors.
Godich: Don’t buy it. This isn’t the first year Golf Channel has had exclusive rights or the early weekend telecasts.
Hack: I think the NBC-Golf Channel synergy has probably helped ratings. A former niche cable channel now has the backing of a major network.
Van Sickle: Golf Channel regularly has an alarming audience, numbers-wise. Why do you think they don’t put numbers out? It’s golf, a niche sport with a niche audience. And Golf Channel reaches a niche of a niche. Don’t think they’ve pumped the numbers up, but if you start from a low enough point, yeah, a percentage increase can look impressive.
SERGIO FINISHES T15 AT TRANSITIONS
Walker: One of the surprises earlier this week was Sergio Garcia, who was eight under after two rounds before stumbling through the weekend to finish T15. In the past 12 months, he took time off to play pro soccer (on the team he owns) and took himself out of consideration for the Ryder Cup (choosing to be a vice captain), and he hasn’t won on Tour since the 2008 Players Championship. Have we already seen the best we’re going to get from Sergio, or does he have the drive to become a top player again?
Wei: It was nice to see Sergio back on the leaderboard, but I’m not sure if he still has the fire. What struck me after the second round was his indifference to winning. He said that winning wasn’t the focus. “I just want to keep building confidence into my head, and these rounds obviously help,” he said. “If we go out there tomorrow and shoot another [good] round, beautiful. If not, that’s fine. I’ve just got to make sure that I keep building up.”
Gorant: Odd as it seems, that may be a better mindset for him. Especially now.
Godich: Sergio will have his moments, but I’m not holding my breath about a serious comeback.
Van Sickle: Sergio didn’t seem to be full of a lot of energy talking about his “comeback” early in the week. On Sunday, he admitted to a writer that he wasn’t playing well enough to win. In other words, he’s still a work in progress, like Tiger. I get the feeling Sergio is a lot further away than Tiger is to climbing the mountain again.
Godich: It’s a process.
Morfit: I think he could win a British Open.
Lipsey: Maybe a women’s British Open, if he played the up tees.
Van Sickle: The Open is four months away. That’s a long time. But Sergio didn’t seem to have any noticeable fire in him this week. Maybe that’s the byproduct of knowing your game isn’t there yet.
Godich: Or that it’s never coming back. And if he is ever going to win a major, he’d better have lapped the field as he comes down the back nine on Sunday. Otherwise, we might see a sequel to Monty at Winged Foot in ’06.
Evans: Sergio has too much God-given ability to be done as a top player. I think that he’s on the right track by not putting any pressure on himself. This fresh outlook could lead to some good play.
Dusek: I don’t think that scar from Carnoustie may ever totally heal. Until Sergio exorcizes his putting demons, he’s going to struggle when the pressure is on. He won at TPC Sawgrass in 2008 because he switched putters, got some advice from Stan Utley and got hot for a week. But remember, even there, after Goydos put his tee shot in the playoff into the lake on 17 and Garcia stuffed his shot in close, he missed the 5-footer for birdie.
Godich: He was being careful not to putt into the lake.
Herre: We’ll see flashes from Sergio, but we’ve already observed him for years and, I think, drawn this conclusion: He’s too flawed to become a major force in the game. That’s not to say he couldn’t win a major championship, but the putting and the personality are likely to keep him from true greatness.
Godich: Sergio told me everything I needed to know when he accepted that Ryder Cup assistant captaincy. He is just hanging on, trying to stay connected to the game.
Hack: Sergio needs to have his mind “feeling beautiful” to contend. That’s how he put it years back. He’s sensitive that way. He’s all emotion. Whether it’s his soccer forays or dating life or homesickness, I feel like he needs a lot of good things happening off the course for him to play better on it.
Lipsey: He should take a mind lesson from Daly and learn to just let it rip, thoughts be damned.
Bamberger: T’aint the big swings, t’is the wee ones.
Lipsey: Same thought process on greens as in fairways.
TIGER’S FUTURE AS A PITCHMAN
Walker: It wouldn’t be PGA Tour Confidential without talking about Tiger Woods. He was all over television this week to promote his new video game, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12. On Jimmy Fallon’s show, Woods looked stiff even by his own wooden standards. Post-scandal, he seems determined not to show any personality at all. He doesn’t even appear on the cover of his own video game. The question: Is Tiger’s career as a corporate pitchman over?
Dusek: Woods has obviously taken a huge hit as a pitchman, but if I’m running EA Sports and have Augusta National and the Masters in my video game, that’s better than having Tiger Woods on the box yet again.
Herre: Woods’s appearances were cringe-worthy. Wonder what was going through Tiger’s head when Fallon thanked him for providing a year’s worth of material?
Wei: Tiger took it pretty well. After all, he laughed through the whole thing.
Herre: Yeah, laughing on the outside.
Morfit: That was something. Tiger was smart just to sit there and smile because the clip would’ve gone viral if he’d gotten up and left, or even protested.
Gorant: Or reached across and broken Fallon into four pieces, like he probably wanted to.
Bamberger: Tiger just has to keep quiet, stay out of the tabs and win several majors. People will be beating his door down again, just like the old days. Spoiler alert: virtually everything I have ever tried to predict about Woods for the past 15 years has been wrong.
Gorant: If he wins the deals will come.
Ritter: I agree. Just one major victory could be enough for him to write the comeback story, and for the endorsements to pour in again.
Evans: The problem with Tiger is that he wanted it both ways. He wanted to be the boring establishment golf guy with friends like Mark O’Meara and John Cook to get credibility in that world. But he also wanted to be like Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley with the girls and the casinos. So he’s been in an identity crisis for a long time. I think if he wants to become a big-time Madison Ave. guy again he needs to embrace one of those faces and not try to negotiate them both.
Hack: I marvel at the way Nike uses him in its latest ads. He’s there testing clubs, just Casey and Glover and Wiesy and AK. He’s sweating. He hits a drive. “That’s better, much better,” he says, as if the swing before wasn’t so good. Makes Tiger seem so human and vulnerable and regular, just like all the other players testing clubs. A strange ad campaign.
Bamberger: Good observations, Damon, but I think it’s a smart campaign. Anything to make him seem sort of human is good right about now.
Godich: He’s human, all right.
HOW SLOW CAN THEY GO?
Walker: If you were watching the final round of the Transitions Championship, it was impossible not to notice the, uh, deliberate play of Webb Simpson. How big a problem is slow play on Tour? Is it worse than ever, or are people just complaining more? And what can/will the Tour do to speed things up?
Reiterman: I hope the next featured pairing is J.B. Holmes, Webb Simpson and Kevin Na.
Gorant: The funny thing was that the announcers kept pointing out how, after a few close calls, Simpson said, “next time I’m in contention, I just have to slow down.” You’re already slow and then you slow down more? He could have made J.B. Holmes twitchy.
Bamberger: It’s … worse … than … ever … and … is … killingthegamefast.
Wei: Everyone should watch Brandt Snedeker and Matteo Manassero and mimic their pace of play. I timed them yesterday on the 18th tee. From the time they put the tee in the ground to when they hit, it took them 21 and 20 seconds, respectively. And, they walk fast.
Evans: The money is too big on tour for there not to be slow play. Players are not going to rush themselves with super-fast greens, a lot of wind and too much information from their caddies. Is slow play worse than ever? Probably. What can the tour do? Let the players use rangefinders and reduce the fields to 125 players.
Godich: Amazing that Simpson seemed to play at a nice pace as he moved to the top of the leaderboard, then slowed to a crawl after he got there.
Hack: Exactly. I kept thinking, “Even a chop like me knows you need a dependable pre-shot routine.” Webb was all over the place.
Wei: One thing I’ll say about Kevin Na is that he sure is consistent. I’ve never seen someone execute such a painfully tedious preshot routine with such precision. Even on two footers!
Herre: Many of the players have taken the position: If I’m in contention, ef ’em, I’m gonna play as slow as I want. And the Tour really isn’t doing a darn thing about it. The solution is obvious, but for whatever reason the Tour refuses to go there.
TIME TO TERMINATE THE TAVISTOCK?
Walker: The Tavistock Cup — the two-day battle of multimillionaire Tour pros playing for billionaire property developers — is a turn off for many as emblematic of conspicuous consumption and entitlement, especially in difficult economic times. Is it time to pull the plug on this event, or are critics OD’ing on class envy?
Gorant: Don’t see the correlation. What sports event doesn’t fit that description? I think it’s just an easy target that some cranks have chosen to focus on to make themselves feel righteous. How does it differ from all the pro-ams and corporate outings that go on every other Monday-Tuesday of the year? As far as I can tell the only difference is that those aren’t televised. Lots of money goes to charity out of the proceedings. I believe a total of $6 million over the years.
Bamberger: It’s a Silly Season event in the season of serious golf. Who needs it? People trying to sell greater Orlando real estate. They should bag it.
Evans: The Tavistock is bad because it’s played the week of a real tour event. That’s the only problem that I have with it. If you’re the Transitions people, you couldn’t be happy about having them take attention away from your tournament.
Lipsey: Bag it? Who cares if a developer puts up millions and pros come to play. No skin off anybody’s back.
Herre: I’ve always wondered what’s in it for the players. The Tavistock Group must spend millions to make this happen.
Wei: I enjoyed the back-and-forth between Poulter and Lawrence Donegan over the most overhyped interclub match in the world. Poulter kept emphasizing charity. Well, you know what, if the players just drove to the course instead of taking a chopper, wouldn’t that have freed up more money for charity?
LPGA SEASON KICKS OFF WITH FOUNDERS CUP
Walker: Events in Japan have made any criticism of the LPGA’s Founder Cup (with all proceeds going to charity) sound tinny (at least to my ear). Do you think the event was successful in terms of attracting attention to the LPGA’s first U.S. event of 2011, and if you were LPGA commissioner, what in the world would you do to raise the LPGA’s profile in a crowded sports landscape?
Dusek: Any money raised to help the people of Japan is worthwhile, but March Madness dominated the sports pages and remotes this weekend. I doubt it raised the level of awareness about the LPGA Tour one bit.
Evans: Mike Whan needs to attract sponsors with a reasonable price point for LPGA events, and not sell the women dreams of being multi-millionaires like the men. The WNBA gives women a place to play pro ball. That’s a good goal for women’s pro golf.
Bamberger: Really, really hard to get attention this week with the real world where it is and the basketball tournament. I think it could be a big positive if they give it a chance to develop. Raising the LPGA’s profile? For starters, and that’s all it would be, I’d try to get the events on seaside courses and classic old courses as much as possible, give more people more reasons to go watch. I’d actually get Trump way more involved.
Lipsey: Trump attracts money and attention, two things the LPGA needs. Bring on the Donald.
Walker: Yup, Trump’s a born showman, and that’s just what’s needed.
Wei: The good news is that the LPGA got an extra week of TV time (if anyone was watching, look forward to getting the presser about the ratings). I commend the ladies for their selflessness and support of the event despite not receiving a paycheck.
CHOOSE YOUR PGA TOUR PRO LESSON
Walker: Before we go, earlier this week, SI’s own Farrell Evans got an impromptu golf lesson from Martin Kaymer on the driving range at Innisbrook. If you could get a lesson from any PGA Tour player, who would you choose and why? Me, I’m going with a short-game lesson from Mickelson. It would be like shooting pool with Willie Mosconi.
Wei: I’m still laughing that Martin insisted Farrell had a better position at the top than he did. What did Jim Suttie say about that, Farrell?
Evans: Suttie thought that Kaymer gave me a “player’s lesson.”
Lipsey: Putting with Brad Faxon.
Bamberger: Tiger Woods, because I haven’t had any luck getting a one-on-one with him any other way. I do wonder if the interlocking grip, used by Woods and Nicklaus and so few others, is the way to go. I’m in a 35-year slump with the Vardon.
Gorant: With my swing, it would have to be someone with a lot of patience and a good sense of humor. Maybe Pat Perez?
Hack: I’d go with a long game lesson from Ernie Els; I love that tempo. We are about the same build and have combined to win three major championships.
Dusek: I’d love to get a lesson from Geoff Ogilvy on tempo and balance. The guy hits it a mile but never looks like he’s trying, and when his swing is done he’s a statue. It amazes me every time I see him swing.
Wei: I could watch him hit balls for hours. Plus, he’s eloquent, so he could explain things well.
Godich: Bubba Watson. I too know how to move it 50 yards right or left. Just need to get the control thing down.