Every week of the 2010 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.
TIGER’S BUSY SCHEDULE
Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: What a week in Harbour Town, our annual Masters chaser, a sweet departure from all that major championship pressure. While we all hail Jim Furyk and his second victory of the season, I can’t help but start with the surprising early commitment from Tiger Woods to Quail Hollow. Where is this coming from? Is this a favor to the PGA Tour? (Quail Hollow has now sold out its daily tickets for Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Don King would appreciate that kind of hype.) Is this the continued evolution of Tiger Woods, now channeling his inner Jay Haas?
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: Tiger knows he is in for a circus largely of his own making any time he tees it up. And when the circus comes to town, there are a lot of moving parts. Early notice gives him the best chance of being adequately protected, security-wise, with the happy byproduct of selling advance tickets. Thought it was interesting that Phil chose to commit immediately after Tiger did. Not sure if there was a message in that or not.
Hack: I thought the same thing: Tiger vs. Phil, part deux. It also seemed to indicate that Tiger is back for good. You know, Quail Hollow, The Players, Memorial, U.S. Open, etc.
Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: Good move by Tiger from a golf perspective. He’s heeding the advice of many of his peers — Brad Faxon’s in our pages for one. (Next we’ll see if he gives up the first tee time for practice rounds.) Plus, Woods needs to play, although I’m not sure doing so does his marriage any good.
Morfit: All I know for sure is I have no idea what Woods needs. Those pop-ups he was hitting on Sunday at the Masters were unlike anything I’ve seen from him. Very odd.
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: It’s got to be Tiger throwing tournaments a small bone by committing early. Since he now apparently requires extra security, events may need a little extra notice to make preparations. Once the tourney knows, it’s going to leak to the public that he’s coming, so he may as well make everybody happy (well, everybody who wants him to play) by committing earlier.
Charlie Hanger, executive editor, Sports Illustrated: I don’t think it’ll be a circus this time. He’s returned to the public eye already. I wonder if there’s much left to work on at home. May just be that he might as well play as sit around the house alone.
Morfit: I think we don’t know what it’ll be like at Quail Hollow. It isn’t Augusta, which is sort of like the make-believe world in that movie “The Truman Show.” The only thing Augusta National lacks is a bubble over the whole place, and I’m still not sure it’s not there. (The “Bootyism” plane may have been a clever special effect.) Quail Hollow exists in reality, and reality may hurt for a while.
Van Sickle: The tabloids (who still can’t be trusted) seem to indicate the marriage is irrevocably broken. You hate to rely on People magazine for the news, but if they’re right this time, Tiger may as well get on with his golf career.
Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: I think it’s more evidence that Tiger is trying. Obviously, we saw at Augusta that it’s hard for him to change his stripes (sorry), but he’s making an effort — waving to fans, signing autographs, answering questions.
Morfit: I said it in last week’s Confidential, and Peter Kostis wrote a column about it. You can’t just wake up a totally different guy after getting to be your previous self over the course of 34 years. Woods does seem to understand people want him to reform, and he does seem to actually want to reform. When he’s able to stop and think about it, he’ll be able to do it. But the visceral reactions to crappy golf shots will take the longest to change.
Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Wow! How bad a character is this guy that we give him credit for making an early commitment to a tournament? This is still his way of stealing the show and being a distraction and being a tour of one.
Van Sickle: I totally disagree. By committing early, he’s helping the event market itself. How is that possibly a negative?
Gorant: It’s not so much that we’re giving him credit as we’re recognizing this is a change from his normal mode and debating what that change means. I’ll mark you down as unimpressed.
IS GOLF HAVING ITS ALI-FRAZIER MOMENT?
Hack: What about in terms of the golf? Tiger commits to Quail Hollow and Phil right after. When was the last time the sport was teeming with so many stories? Anybody else seeing this as the summer of Ali-Frazier, er, Tiger-Phil?
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Quail Hollow is a big week for Tiger, golf-wise. He has to show he can control his swing after his rocky performance at the Masters. Right now Phil knows he can beat Tiger, and Tiger knows it, too. It’s never too early for Woods to reassert his dominion.
Van Sickle: For Ali-Frazier in golf, you need two guys playing their best at the same time. Phil’s play is pretty spotty, and a primary reason he and TW haven’t had a face-to-face duel in a major. It may never happen. And Tiger is still a question mark, although you have to think the Masters was a positive sign for him — some terribly sloppy play and he still finished fourth.
Shipnuck: This Masters was the first major Phil has won with Tiger in contention, and that was barely so. If their rivalry is going to really pop, they need to go head-to-head at Pebble and/or St. Andrews.
Morfit: I’m going to have to see more from Phil to be convinced that this will be some kind of monster year from him. He’s a different guy at Augusta. Will he be the same guy at Quail Hollow who did absolutely nothing coming into the Masters? I don’t know. I hope not.
Evans: Phil probably checks out until Pebble Beach. Emotionally, I don’t think he can sustain the momentum for an entire year. I don’t think he cares that much about winning at Quail Hollow or anywhere else except at the majors. It’s no accident that Amy was at the Masters, where Phil needed her to be when he wanted to play his best.
BEST PLAYER IN THE WORLD
Hack: Well, let’s just have at it then. Who is the best player in the world today? Is it Tiger? Phil? Y.E. Yang? Furyk?
Morfit: There is no obvious No. 1 at the moment, but Tiger’s as good a place-holder as any.
Herre: I’m sure Dan Jenkins would vote for Y.E. Yang.
Van Sickle: Somebody would have to knock the king off the hill, and so far that hasn’t happened. Phil winning at Pebble Beach might do it, though. At the end of the year, I think it’ll still be Tiger. What makes us think Phil is suddenly going to be a changed man just before he hits 40, that he will start contending week-in and week-out and playing consistently when he never has before? I’d like to see some Phil-Tiger showdowns as much as the next guy, but there’s a reason it hasn’t been happening.
Hack: I’m going with the right-handed left-hander. You have to knock out the champ, and I think Phil delivered the knockout at the Masters. Ali lost fights, Babe Ruth struck out, and Tiger got beat.
Evans: I say Phil because he won the last big tournament on a world stage.
BRIAN DAVIS CALLS THE PENALTY
Hack: What did everybody make of Brian Davis and the penalty? I know it’s golf and players call penalties on themselves, but it was amazing to see how quickly he called Slugger White over to tell him something was wrong. I know I shouldn’t be impressed, but I am. Guess I’m too used to watching Rasheed Wallace arguing foul calls.
Van Sickle: TV did a lousy job of explaining the penalty. Viewers had to be confused. I was.
Herre: Faldo wouldn’t shut up! You could make out the conversation Slugger White was having on his handheld — whenever Faldo wasn’t talking over what was being said. Poor job by CBS.
Hack: I thought the camera work was pretty strong, though, and Brian Davis was compelling in his own right. Quite a big difference between his conversation with Slugger and Michelle Wie’s with the LPGA officials at La Costa.
Gorant: Come on, there can’t still be anyone willing to go the “golfers are honorable by their nature” route? I’m sure the knowledge that their every move is televised and a few thousand rules mavens are watching with their phones in hand motivates some of the self-reporting.
Herre: For a journeyman who has never won on the PGA Tour, Davis was impressive. I don’t think even the armchair rules officials would’ve picked up on his error.
Morfit: In the end it was much ado about nothing, right? Doesn’t Furyk win the playoff on that hole even if Davis doesn’t touch a loose impediment? Weird scene down on the beach, though. I thought I’d clicked on the Clamming Channel.
Evans: Not sure what to make of Davis not finishing the hole after all that overly officious professionalism and honesty. It was funny to see Slugger White tell Furyk that he still had to putt out after Davis shook his hand.
JIM FURYK’S PLACE IN GOLF HISTORY
Hack: Is Jim Furyk entering a new realm right before our eyes, from consummate grinder to one of the top 6 or 7 players of this era? He’s already a lock for future Ryder Cup captain. What more does he need to get into the Hall of Fame? Is he there already?
Morfit: Seems like he’s there already. Fifteen wins including a major, Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup steamroller. And if he’s not in already he seems likely to win anywhere from one to five more times on the regular Tour.
Hack: With 15 wins, including a major, he’s in Freddie Couples territory. And doing it in the Tiger era has to count for a little, too, no?
Gorant: No credit for the Tiger era. There are more events then ever, and Tiger only plays in a handful of them.
Evans: Right. How many of those events did he win with Tiger in the field? That’s going to be a barometer in the coming years to measure careers.
Van Sickle: There have never been so many limited-field events, either. Fewer players to beat, though top players, means easier to win.
Herre: Furyk needs to win at least one more major and get to around 20 Tour wins — he’s at 15 — to make the HOF.
Gorant: Fifteen wins and one major puts him at the doorstep of the Hall, but maybe not quite in yet. In my mind he needs another four wins or another major. Of course, Gary mucked all that up by single-handedly getting Larry Nelson in.
Shipnuck: Not there yet; 20 wins probably gets him in, like Davis Love. But as many times as he’s been there it’s amazing he has only one major. Another one would definitely help his cause.
Evans: Furyk is a great player in the Hubert Green-Larry Nelson-Lanny Wadkins sort of way. He’ll win a lot of tournaments and do it with his wonderfully idiosynchratic swing, but he won’t get the credit he deserves because he didn’t do it as stylishly as some others.
Van Sickle: I don’t think Brian Davis handing Furyk a playoff win due to a weird ruling in a hazard bumps Furyk into the Hall of Fame. He’s going to need another half dozen wins, including a major, to get there. Since the number of legit candidates will be starting to dwindle over the next six-eight years, though, he’ll probably get in through attrition even if he doesn’t win much more. Who else will be left to vote for in 2018?
Morfit: Seems like the HOF criteria is hopelessly muddled. There are too many outliers and special cases to be able to figure out who gets in and who doesn’t. How many regular Tour events is a major worth? What about winning a bunch in Europe or Japan but never or only once on the PGA Tour? (Colin Montgomerie and Isao Aoki, respectively.) I don’t put much credibility in it.
Van Sickle: Especially with Chi Chi Rodriguez and his seven wins in the Hall.
Evans: Chi Chi was the greatest shotmaker ever to play the game, and the best entertainer. That’s why he’s in.
Van Sickle: Somebody tell Ben Hogan that the great Chi Chi Rodriguez was a better shotmaker. And Byron and Sarazen and … come on!
COUPLES HALL OF FAME CREDENTIALS, OR LACK THEREOF
Van Sickle: I don’t see Fred Couples as current Hall of Fame material, either. As talented as he was, and still is, do you think 15 wins and 1 major are anywhere near what he could’ve or should’ve achieved?
Morfit: Even Couples doesn’t think so. His back issues kept him from fully realizing his potential. So did what he calls “the twitches” with the putter.
Hack: I can’t know what it’s like to play with that back, but the 98 Masters should have been his (or Jack’s).
Evans: I think we got as much out Freddie as he could give. Had he tried too hard to be a grinder and work out and do all that golfy stuff that makes you great, he wouldn’t be enjoying himself at 50 like he is now.
Evans: Couples is not a Hall of Famer unless he has a Hale Irwin career on the Champions Tour.
Van Sickle: Nothing Fred Couples (or anyone else) does on the Champions Tour is going to change my opinion of his Hall of Fame worthiness.
Morfit: Interesting point. Should the Champions Tour count toward the HOF? If so, what about the Nationwide Tour?
Hack: I think the Champions Tour can push a borderline case in, but it would have to be an Irwinesqe run.
Evans: No way the Nationwide Tour counts. How many guys are in Cooperstown from the minors?
Hack: Crash Davis?
Herre: Champions tour, yes. Nationwide, no.
Van Sickle: What about amateur golf? College golf? Junior golf? Asian Tour golf? There is no one answer, but senior golf, with its closed shop and traditional 78-player fields and no cuts, isn’t going to count. Anyone voting Dana Quigley into the Hall for his remarkable Iron Man streak? Or Jim Colbert or Dr. Gil Morgan for their little runs? Didn’t think so.
Hack: No, but I might send Quigley’s putter or spikes to the Hall as a nod to his longevity!
WHAT’S WRONG WITH SERGIO GARCIA?
Hack: El Nino is suddenly El middle-aged hombre. What happened to that bubbly 19-year-old chasing Tiger and smashing shots from tree roots, a guy that Scott Hoch said was the best long, straight driver of a golf ball since Norman? Word is, Sergio has changed to a weaker grip. All that gave him was 67-77 and a MC at Harbour Town. Have we seen the best of Sergio?
Van Sickle: You can’t write off anybody in golf when they’re one technique change away from possibly being successful. Sergio had already been battling the putter, though, so a swing problem was just what he didn’t need. Paging Butch Harmon…
Morfit: Sergio will be back. One thing we learned at Augusta is that you can’t keep talent down for long. Let’s say Garcia gets his grip figured out and wins the Players — in two weeks we’ll be seeing him in a new light. The guy is still only 30, right?
Shipnuck: Seems like he’s light years away from winning the Players.
Evans: When he did win, it was the Tigerless Players, I remind you, as he noted himself in his victory speech.
Van Sickle: Hey, he had to beat Paul (The Wee Ice Mon) Goydos for that title.
Herre: Who changes from an overlap to interlock halfway through his career?
Evans: Bob Estes did it, if that’s any consolation. Bob had a 10-finger grip.
Shipnuck: No consolation whatsoever.
Hack: Sergio’s had the Pig Pen dark cloud over his head since Carnoustie. Amazing that he’s about three or four golf shots from having three or four majors. Dude’s got the blues.
Morfit: The dark cloud thing seems true. And grumpy golfers don’t win. Of course grumpy golfers may simply be hitting the ball terribly and know it, which poses a chicken-and-egg question. Are they playing bad because they’re grumpy or vice-versa?
Evans: Sergio definitely seems to have a confidence problem. I think he’s down on himself because he feels like he’s an underachiever. Perhaps his expectations were too high from the outset, when he was that 19-year old kid at the PGA Championship.
Hack: I watched him for a few holes at Innisbrook. Looked like a golf course was the last place he wanted to be.
Van Sickle: We talk about Ernie Els having Tiger trauma, but Sergio probably has a much worse case. And unlike Els, he was never a great putter in the first place. That’s what you need to win multiple majors.
Morfit: Ernie also sounded totally defeated at Augusta. He was going on and on about how a lot of great players went their entire careers without winning there: Weiskopf, Miller, Trevino. At various times all of these guys succumb and are driven crazy by the game.
Evans: I don’t know if playing golf with house money is driving these guys crazy. Trevino sleeps just fine without a Green Jacket.