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.
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Lorena Ochoa regained her winning form on the LPGA, and nearly as big, Michelle Wie made a nice Sunday charge (even though it fell well short). What was bigger, Ochoa getting back to the victory circle or Wie making a good showing and building on her solid (but winless) season? I’d say Ochoa’s return was bigger this week, but Wie’s finish may prove bigger in the long run.
Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: My question: What’s up with Golf Channel showing a Presidents Cup highlight show in the afternoon and the LPGA event on Sunday night on tape-delay? The LPGA gets no respect.
Jim Herre, editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Plus: I agree, Rick. Pretty good LPGA finish, too. The Ochoa win is good for that tour, and Wie really made it interesting with a 31 coming in.
Dick Friedman, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: I agree with Gary that the Lorena win trumps the late Michelle charge. A sweet four-shot margin for Lorena should quiet the doubters — for now, anyway. Michelle came up for second, as they say in horse racing, which is nice, but everybody still wants to see that big first W.
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Wie has two more events left in ’09. I bet she wins one of them. Maybe both.
Lipsey: You hope she wins one, for your story!
Shipnuck: It would be good for the game, good for the LPGA, good for Shipnuck.
Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Ochoa is a closer and Wie is still trying to get into the winner’s circle. Next season expect Wie to win at least twice. But right now she’s a long way from Ochoa as a player.
Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: You get the feeling that once Wie wins the floodgates will open. She’s gotta get the first one though.
Herre: Remember when Ochoa first came on tour? She was anything but a closer. It usually takes time to learn how to win. We forget that in the age of Tiger.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Well, what Tiger did was tried-and-true: win at every level before going to the next level. In a pay-me-now world, fewer are doing that, although Kuchar took his time. (And too much time over the ball).
Van Sickle: Ditto Tom Watson, among others.
Shipnuck: I had a deep, meaningful conversation with Wie recently. She has, at last, figured out what’s been holding her back. The answer will be in my SI story, but trust me when I say she’s ready to win.
Van Sickle: I’ll take that bet, Alan, but I actually hope you’re right. It would be good for Wie and better for the LPGA and us.
Friedman: Maybe Wie put the pedal to the metal because she was scared that 14-year-old Alexis Thompson would win before she did!
Shipnuck: Wie has been through more than most players twice her age and somehow survived. She’s very strong mentally, and I think she showed that this week by going deep despite a bum ankle.
Van Sickle: Padraig Harrington was the all-time Avis of the European Tour, but he took those close calls and molded himself into a major champion. I wouldn’t compare Wie’s mental toughness to Harrington’s, but still, she has a lot of years ahead of her to learn what Harrington didn’t really master until his mid-30s. I like her chances.
Van Sickle: One big question about Turning Stone, where they couldn’t finish the playoff before darkness fell: Why was it even close? Why did they need a 6 p.m. finish on Golf Channel? That just doesn’t leave much time for a playoff, especially with Matt Kuchar and Vaughn Taylor playing like snails with limps. I can’t wait to hear the tournament officials try to justify why they couldn’t finish before dark. No excuse for it.
Lipsey: The later they finish, the more likely Turning Stone was to get fans to the slots?
Herre: I can’t believe how long it took Kuchar to pick a spot for this third shot on the second playoff hole. How would you like to be doing Golf Channel’s post-game show tonight? Guess they’ll spend a lot of time dissecting Tom Watson’s most recent one-shot loss in a major.
Bamberger: When it’s the bigfoots — CBS, NBC, ESPN — they always say TV controls the tee times. This time, I can’t imagine Golf Channel controlled the tee times. Not when they’re playing that far north in early October. This was a disaster for them. The playoff was (is) wildly entertaining, as it shows how ordinary these elite players can look when they get all sweaty and worried, just like us.
Van Sickle: I hope the LPGA’s coveted deal with Golf Channel doesn’t mean showing them on tape delay every week after the tape-delayed Nationwide Tour telecast and the live PGA Tour event.
Lipsey: Chamblee is strong as an announcer. Quick-footed, decisive, insightful, blunt. Wouldn’t be surprised to see him on a major network soon.
Van Sickle: I’ve been touting Brandel for years. Who else could’ve given you the analysis on Kuchar’s swing makeover? Only someone who played with/against him on tour in the last decade. I don’t think it’s a reach to say he could do the job on any network as the analyst in the 18th tower, but given that he’s not a big name like Nick Faldo or Johnny Miller, he probably won’t get that chance. But he’s good and very versatile.
Herre: I think Chamblee would be great with Johnny on NBC. You can see Brandel’s growth as an analyst. Initially, he was a little too nice and was reluctant to make the hard call. Not anymore. He calls it like he sees it and wouldn’t be afraid to disagree with Miller.
Friedman: Yes, but maybe CBS should see him as a counter-puncher to Faldo, the way Koch and Maltbie and Pepper are to Johnny.
Van Sickle: Who’s had a bigger letdown, ex-Ryder Cupper Taylor or ex-Masters boy wonder Kuchar? I’m not sure you can classify either as a disappointment; Kuchar simply got too much hype too early while Taylor is more of a Ben Crenshaw type, a terrific putter whose ballstriking is inconsistent a lot of the time. I think they’re just playing to the levels they should play to. Neither is a future superstar, just solid pros.
Shipnuck: Frankly, it’s hard to get worked up about either.
Herre: Kuchar has to have the flattest swing on Tour. He’s an engaging guy, and fans love that Mickelson-like grin he’s always wearing.
Evans: Kuchar vs. Taylor typifies the malaise of this fall series. It’s boring and the golf is mediocre.
Hack: It ain’t Ali vs. Frazier, that’s for sure.
Lipsey: The winning score probably would’ve been the same if they’d held the Tour Championship there. The golf wasn’t mediocre. Guys shot 17 under. It might sound crazy or dumb, but it’s just as fun for me to watch the Turning Stone event as a FedEx event. Just watching Tour pros swing and sweat it out down the stretch is enough for me.
Van Sickle: How is it boring? Kuchar had to get up and down on the 72nd hole and chunked it into a bunker. Then he nearly holed the bunker shot. On the first playoff hole, Taylor stiffed it, then Kuchar drained a must-make lengthy birdie putt to force another hole. If that was Tiger and Phil, we’d be raving about how great this match-play situation was. Maybe the golf wasn’t great, but the playoff wasn’t boring!
Bamberger: I agree with Rick and Gary: this Fall Series golf is about survival, and I find that gripping.
Friedman: Agree. As I type, the 49ers are beating the Rams 35-0. I’d rather watch the playoff.
Hack: Didn’t they hand out $10 mil last week? No Tiger, no Phil. Season’s over.
Bamberger: The Fall Series is Spring Training for next year. With a strong fall, you make the club.
Van Sickle: If the Fall Series has a problem, it’s that the Tour tells you the season is already over. The winners get no FedEx Cup or Ryder Cup points, and no Masters invite. That’s bad management. The Fall Series should count as the start of the 2010 season — money list, points, everything. If it mattered, a few big names might tee it up in one or two events.
Hack: The Tour can’t throw everything into the FedEx Cup being the playoffs and then expect eyeballs on the Fall Series. It’s like the NFL’s Pro Bowl but without the star players.
Friedman: True. But playing-for-pride, let’s-see-how-the-kids-do, late-season games are part of the fabric of sports. The Reds and Pirates, both pathetic, played today in Cincinnati in the season finale and almost 21,000 people showed up.
Herre: The one thing that is at stake is World Ranking points, and that’s huge to many guys.
Hack: Won’t move the viewer much.
Shipnuck: Uh, there’s something even bigger: jobs. Top 125 is still up for grabs.
Van Sickle: The Tour doesn’t expect eyeballs for the Fall Series. As far as I can tell, the Tour can’t wait for these five tournaments to disappear permanently. It doesn’t have any interest in them. They’re not big extravaganzas for TV.
Lipsey: Would the Tour ever consider just shutting down after the FedEx Cup? The NFL is so popular partly because of the limited number of games. Augusta’s aura is built on privacy, giving fans only limited looks (restricted TV in the past, hard-to-get tix, etc.). Could the Tour grow by contracting the schedule?
Van Sickle: Ending the season early leaves the door open for a rival, whether it’s some kind of four-week, would-be world tour or a made-for-TV tournament series. That’s why Deane Beman made sure to blanket the calendar with events, to blunt any opposition. There’s no competition out there on the horizon right now, but what if some rich Korean sponsor coughed up big money for three or four $10 million purses in November or December and lured Tiger into playing? Suddenly, there would be competition.
Lipsey: Dubai tried this year, with the Race to Dubai, but got whacked by the recession.
Van Sickle: Presumably the global recession won’t last forever. If it does, golf is the least of our worries. The point is, the fall schedule offers a window of opportunity for someone. For three or four $10 million events, would Tiger ax a couple of early season tour stops from his schedule? I’d worry about that if I were the commissioner, so I’d want to strengthen the Fall Series events. It is in the tour’s best interests. Not to mention that if they fail, the playing opportunities for the rank-and-file top 125 will be irreparably reduced.
Herre: What’s the over-under on Greg Norman talking about his separation from Chris Evert at the Presidents Cup this week?
Van Sickle: What’s more shocking: that Greg and Chrissie have split or that Chicago lost badly in its Olympic bid? I’d say Greg and Chrissie. I hope sordid details aren’t forthcoming.
Shipnuck: What?! I can’t wait for the sordid details!!!!!
Bamberger: Norman won’t say one word about it, and none of his players will, either.
Friedman: If those two crazy kids can’t make it, there’s no hope for any of us!
Van Sickle: I don’t see him being able to dodge the subject all week. If he’s smart, he’ll make a two-sentence statement and ask that the subject be closed. Ignoring it completely just won’t work. Good PR says, take control and make the pre-emptive strike.
Herre: Like Letterman? Creepy.
Bamberger: Gary’s right. You say the bare minimum, and you say you won’t be talking about it.
Friedman: Happens to all magazines. When I was at People and we did couples stories, we were often doing a split story within a year!
Van Sickle: It has to suck to have your domestic dispute carried across the globe under the guise of news, as Greg and Chrissie probably will. That’s the price of fame, I guess.
Evans: It always seemed to me more like an extended prom date than a real marriage.
Friedman: I disagree. At first it seemed like they were soulmates, two people who could understand what it was like to be at the pinnacle. But maybe two Type A-pluses can’t coexist.
Herre: The decision on whether golf will be played at the 2016 Olympics will be made on Friday. Too bad about Chicago, but Rio and South America deserve a chance. Maybe they’ll have to build a suitable golf course from scratch.
Bamberger: Ty Votaw and his people were preparing for Rio all along. They likely will build a course. It would be a big commission for the architect who does it, likely for free. I’d love it to be Crenshaw, but he doesn’t like moving dirt. Fazio or Nicklaus would be my guess.
Van Sickle: The course doesn’t have to be in Rio. The LA Olympics proved that event sites could be 40, 50, 80 miles away and still work.
Van Sickle: Moving on to the Presidents Cup. While the event lacks significance, the team match-play format seldom fails to deliver exciting golf, so I always look forward to it. That said, who’s the favorite? I have to give the U.S. the edge. The Internationals don’t have a lot of hot hands. The U.S. does, and Mickelson’s revival in Atlanta could be a difference-maker. Plus, the American side has a better group of putters overall, and that is the key to match play success. I’ll take the Americans by three points.
Bamberger: I think they will love playing for Fred, love playing for Jay Haas, love playing with M.J. hanging around, love being in San Francisco. The U.S. by a point.
Herre: Plus Harding Park is a fun venue and will add to the event. They’re psyched about the Prez Cup in San Fran. As for the result, simply going on track records, it’s hard to pick against the U.S.
Van Sickle: How about a Man of the Match and a Disappointment of the Match?
I like Phil with his revived putting stroke as the U.S. star. I’ll go with Ishikawa as a disappointment, only because he may have been picked for this team two years early. I fully expect Ishikawa to play Tiger in singles, giving the Japanese media (and TV) what they want.
Evans: Adam Scott will go undefeated.
Friedman: I think the Adam Scott pick will backfire.
Van Sickle: Well, Scott didn’t look totally lost at Turning Stone. He shot eight under, tied for 35th.