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.
DONALD WINS MATCH PLAY
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Lotsa storylines in the snow-capped desert: Kaymer’s ascension to No. 1, Bubba’s emergence as a big-time player, another setback for Tiger. Let’s start with Luke, who was simply magnificent in victory. How good can this guy be?
Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: He’s been a match play stud for years now in the Ryder Cup and did great this week, but as with that Ryder Cup success I’m not sure we can draw any conclusions about stroke play. It’s wait and see.
Shipnuck: If that’s crooked, sign me up. Even when Donald doesn’t hit a good shot, he never seems to be out of position on a hole. Course setups, especially in the majors, are so penal that I believe ball control is more important than power. I can’t imagine Donald won’t use this victory as a springboard to become a consistent contender.
Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Luke’s precision is perfect for match play, and the U.S. Open. He basically gummed his opponents to death this week. I can see him picking off one major before all is said and done.
Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: Donald made 32 birdies in 89 holes, way more than anyone in the field. His gums are sharp.
Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Luke has been a good player for a long time. If not for a wrist injury a few years back, he might have won a lot more than he has. He’s definitely a real contender at Augusta.
Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: No surprise that he won the match play. He was a star at the Ryder Cup. I’m a little baffled why he doesn’t have the same results in stroke play. He hasn’t won on Tour since 2006.
Hack: I think he lacks the flair and length to contend week to week.
David Dusek, deputy editor, Golf.com: Luke also seems to have a great demeanor for match play. He knows what he can do on the course, and what he can’t. He has to know that if he plays his game and makes putts, he’s going to be a tough out for just about everyone. I think that can relax him somewhat because he doesn’t have to go through as much guess work as bigger hitters might.
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Donald rediscovered Tiger’s secret of golf: Don’t make bogeys, no matter where you hit it. In match play, that is exceedingly effective.
Shipnuck: Tiger and Phil aren’t done by any means, but it’s remarkable to me to contrast their games with Donald and Kaymer (and Westwood and G-Mac). Woods and Mickelson are all over the place, and their bad shots are truly horrible. The other guys make the game seem so much easier.
Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Tiger and Phil have 18 combined majors. The European quartet has two majors combined. I’ll take wild and 18 over accurate and two.
Shipnuck: Yes, they’re both such great scramblers and putters and competitors that when their long game is on they’re dominant. And I’d take the majors, too. I just think the sharp contrast in playing styles is pretty remarkable.
Dusek: With Tiger Woods seemingly a long way from playing great golf again, it’s hard to believe that the steady European players like Westwood, McDowell, Kaymer and possibly Donald won’t pick off at least two of the majors this season.
Herre: You have to be a bomber to win in the USA, and that’s where three of the four majors are played. Makes sense that Americans win more of them.
Ryan Reiterman, senior producer, Golf.com: So is he officially cured of “Luke Donald disease”?!
Shipnuck: Funny sidenote on “Luke Donald Disease”. The term (for profitable underachievement) was coined in a British paper, but it was coined by an American writer making a cameo. But yes, winning the Match Play means he’s been innoculated.
KAYMER RISES TO NO. 1 … BUT FOR HOW LONG?
Shipnuck: Lee Westwood’s reign at No. 1 is now over, for the time being. During his four months he won a big-money exhibition in South Africa and that’s about it. How long do we think Kaymer will be atop the ranking?
Van Sickle: I said it at the end of last year, and I’ll say it again now: Kaymer is the guy. I look for him to slowly pull away as the year goes on. He’s got the total game, a great attitude (he’s embracing this No. 1 thing, not running from it) and most of all, the desire.
Godich: I don’t think he’s going anywhere anytime soon. Today’s understandable letdown aside, he is a machine, so solid in all aspects of the game. He is also Jim Herre-like — sneaky long.
Dusek: I think it could be a while. He’s never done well at Augusta, but he came into this week with a chance to become No. 1 if he made the final, and he got it done. He’s got all the shots, is mentally strong and seems hungry. If he has a good Masters, I will take it as a sign that he won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.
Herre: I think Kaymer is getting better and better, and will be tough to dislodge. He played poorly on Sunday but otherwise was very impressive. I don’t see any weaknesses in his game, and he’s a worker.
Dusek: I talked with Kaymer for 10 minutes in New York two weeks ago when he made an appearance for TaylorMade. What I came away thinking was how mature he was. He’s very calm, very at ease. He laughed and seemed to be enjoying the experience of being a great player; almost the complete antithesis of Sergio Garcia, who I talked with at the same event.
Evans: When Kaymer visited the SI offices shortly after he won the PGA, I was surprised at how charming he was. His golf swing is wonderful, and this week I was really impressed with his putting. He has a combination of power and touch around the greens that’s right up there with Tiger and Phil.
Gorant: The guy has been like a train on the horizon for two years. He’s here now, and he’s so consistent someone’s going to have to play great over a sustained period to knock him off.
Lipsey: Seems like it’ll be a see-saw at the top with a group of guys bopping in and out of the top spot rather than having one guy dominate.
Shipnuck: The rankings are so volatile that three or four or five guys could be No. 1 this year. But long-term, Kaymer is the man.
Dusek: Kudos to Sir Nick Faldo for recognizing Kaymer as a future stud and bringing him to Valhalla in 2008 as a Ryder Cup spectator. He obviously saw the train coming way down the tracks.
BUBBA BECOMING ONE OF GOLF’S ELITE?
Shipnuck: OK, Bubba. He breathed a lot of life into this event. He has to be the most riveting performer on Tour, the way he shapes the ball. Clearly the guy’s playing great golf right now. But are we believers? Can we now call him a big-time performer?
Gorant: To me he’s been a happy surprise. He doesn’t necessarily make it look easy, but he’s so much damn fun to watch. And he has turned into a fun personality, too. His “Bubba had a good day…” interview was classic.
Van Sickle: No question that Saturday’s telecast turned Bubba into a full-fledged star.
Godich: I’m buying because I think Bubba truly believes in himself.
Shipnuck: “Caveman golf” is a term that gets thrown around on Tour: see ball, hit ball. Bubba simplifies the game so much, and he owns his swing. I think he’s legit.
Dusek: A big-time performer is someone who does at the majors what Bubba did in Arizona. Still, he has two PGA Tour wins in less than a year, he played well in the Ryder Cup and he had a strong showing at the Accenture Match Play. He could have won at Whistling Straits, and I think he’s on the cusp of getting into contention just about every week.
Lipsey: He’s big time, for sure. Seems like a John Daly without the vices.
Shipnuck: Of course, Bubba went brain-dead in the PGA playoff, going for the green out of the weeds in what was basically an impossible play. He has to prove he can think clearly and execute with a major hanging in the balance.
Herre: Does Bubba have to curve EVERY shot? In certain situations you need to forget about style points and play smart. I’m not sure he’s there yet. Still, he’s fun to watch. His game is so much different from anyone else’s.
Evans: People ask Bubba that question all the time. He always says that’s not how he plays the game.
Stephanie Wei, contributor, SI Golf+: It’s intriguing how he just plays by feel and natural talent. A few years ago, Ryan Moore was trying to describe how Bubba shapes the ball around trees, over trees, cuts corners, etc., and Moore himself wasn’t sure how Bubba did it — he just said it was fun to watch and incredible.
Evans: I think early on Bubba fell into the trap of feeling like he needed to “perform” and show off on the golf course. Now I think with his faith and a great support staff, he’s learning how to be a professional. He could always play golf, but those little things, like learning to relax on the golf course and block out everything else, are getting better with time.
SEARCHING FOR THE BEST AMERICAN GOLFER TODAY
Shipnuck: Europe now holds the top four spots in the World Ranking. Good for those boys, they deserve it. A semi-related question: Who is the best American golfer right now? I say Kuchar.
Lipsey: Definitely not TW or Phil. I go with Dustin Johnson.
Shipnuck: I’m as bullish as anyone about DJ’s future, but he’s been awfully quiet so far this year, and the West Coast is where he usually makes a lot of hay. He needs to get some momentum heading into Augusta.
Herre: I’ll go with Bubba, followed by Mickelson and Tiger. How’s that for a changing of the guard?
Shipnuck: Mickelson and Tiger? Dudes haven’t won anything in, umm, almost a year.
Godich: If it’s Kuchar, that pretty much sums up the state of U.S. golf. Plenty of nice finishes, but not enough wins.
Shipnuck: Stricker?! We’re talking about golf, not deer hunting.
Gorant: The Deer Hunter was a great movie. It’s Oscar night.
Godich: Stricker’s not exactly lighting it up either. I’ll go with Bubba.
Dusek: The same Stricker who lost to Matteo Manassero in the first round?
Wei: Tough call, but I’ll go with Kuchar. He’s certainly the most consistent these days.
Dusek: The American golfer who is playing at the highest level is Bubba Watson (who won at Torrey Pines), followed by Matt Kuchar, who hasn’t won but beat Bubba in a meaningless match today.
Evans: Kuchar is the most consistent American player. He’s got to show up at the majors to overtake Phil, Dustin and Bubba to be the best.
FAVORITE MOMENTS FROM MATCH PLAY
Shipnuck: So much happens during Match Play week that it’s tough to recall some of the fun stuff. What’s your favorite moment of the week? I’ll go with Paul Casey’s stink-eye to Jason Day when forced to putt out an 18-inch putt. Second choice is watching Fowler give Phil the back of the hairbrush. Too bad Rickie lost the next day — that coulda been a defining performance.
Lipsey: Tiger’s drive into the abyss on the first extra hole against Bjorn and his shockingly wobbly post-match interview.
Mike Walker, senior editor, Golf Magazine: I vote for Mark Wilson’s rally from two down with three to play to beat Dustin Johnson. Also, it was nice to see Y.E. Yang show signs of life.
Herre: I was talking about this with Gary — whose Match Play story will appear in this week’s first-ever PGA Tour Confidential standalone issue of SIGOLF+ — earlier today: Once you get to Saturday’s telecast, the Match Play showcases one thing magnificently, and that’s how SLOW some of these guys play. Geesh, hit the ball already!
Van Sickle: Rickie’s two eagles to beat Phil were pretty darned cool. You had to like Bubba Watson’s gutty comebacks, plus the way he made sure Holmes dropped on the right line on the 19th hole. Thomas Bjorn delivering a private message to Tiger after beating him ranks up there, too. If you’re a sadist, you can throw in Hunter Mahan muffing a pitch shot. I also liked Bubba tossing a snowball at somebody after they started the consolation match today.
Evans: My favorite moment was Tiger being consoled by Thomas Bjorn after their first round match. All Tiger wanted to do was run to his plane, but Bjorn basically held him hostage to tell him how he hoped to see him get his game back. Sad.
Godich: After getting accustomed to watching these guys shape shots around trees and between branches, I have to admit that I loved to watch all those shots that resulted in unplayable lies. Maybe they got a sense of what it’s like for us hacks.
Wei: Americans baffled by Martin Kaymer’s neck wear, and Rickie Fowler going bonkers earlier in the week.
Dusek: This event is one of my favorites every year because it’s so unique and personal. Seeing Ian Poulter walk into the desert, alone, with his hands on his hips after losing in 19 holes to Stewart Cink was amazing. Both guys were grinding like steel workers on the range and in the practice green Monday and Tuesday because neither wanted to lose that one. Cink lost in the next round, but you could tell Poulter, the defending champ, was pissed.
Wei: I’m still a little baffled by Day’s bragging about playing mind games. Aren’t you supposed to keep gamesmanship tactics to yourself for an advantage?
Herre: Yes, poor form by Day. He must be popular in the locker room.
GAUGING INTEREST IN THE MAYAKOBA
Shipnuck: Johnson Wagner is the King of the B’s, having beaten Spencer Levin in a playoff in Mexico. We all get paid to follow the game, but be honest: how much of this tournament telecast did you watch? I didn’t see a second.
Herre: Can’t say I watched, either. Did see where they had 13 sponsor’s exemptions. Mexico doesn’t seem to be a popular destination these days.
Godich: Next question.
Wei: When I saw things were close, I actually tried to tune in, but the telecast was on tape delay. (It came on at 7 p.m. ET from what I could see online.) Johnson and Spencer whipped the rest of the field.
Shipnuck: I went to Mayakoba a couple years ago and it’s a great place. I know Finchem is trying to placate the Tour’s middle-class but these satellite events are so meaningless. It’d be like playing the NCAA tourney and NIT on the same days. Time to pull the plug.
Lipsey: Why? Sponsor pays, players play, who cares about anything else? What’s the problem?
Shipnuck: To paraphrase Phil from a few years back, it dilutes the product.
Lipsey: That’s why Finchem, not Phil, is commissioner. Players want money, and Finchem delivers it.
Gorant: If a tournament falls in the woods and no one hears it, how can it dilute?
Walker: “Full many a flower is born to blush unseen, And waste its sweetness on the desert air.” Let ’em play. It doesn’t hurt anybody.
Shipnuck: Is Walker quoting Tupac?
Dusek: I thought it was Ted Knight.
Wei: I’m OK with these opposite-field events. They give lesser-known players the opportunity to collect an extra start and make some money.
Lipsey: If Phil weren’t a kajillionaire, but rather lived in a condo and flew commercial, he’d be darn happy to have events like Mayakoba.
Evans: I didn’t watch much. It came recorded on the Golf Channel an hour or so after Johnson Wagner beat Spencer Levin in the playoff. It was a good tournament. Levin, playing his seventh week in a row, is finally ready to be a star after showing some promise at Shinnecock in ’03. Wagner won this week, but I think Levin is the one to watch for the rest of the year.