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.
Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Fellow scribblers, editors and lovers of golf. It is an honor to be with you on such a historic week, when the No. 1 player in the world returned to the game after a long break and made quite a splash.
Three cheers for Lorena Ochoa.
Sure, there was other news this week. Tiger came back to the PGA Tour, Rory McIlroy continued to look like the real deal, and Geoff Ogilvy snatched his second win of the season, second WGC-Match Play event and third WGC event over all.
Any thoughts on when Tiger wins his first event of the year? I thought it would happen today. Tim Clark had other ideas.
Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Tiger doesn’t win until the Masters because it’s going to take him two or three more tournaments to find his rhythm. He’s like a great jazz improviser: he never repeats a performance, but when you watch him you know if he’s playing in the right key. He looked rusty at the Accenture, and it showed with his off-key distance control and tepid putting.
Jim Herre, editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Plus: Pretty much agree with Farrell — Tiger wasn’t particularly sharp. I got a kick out of the Golf Channel guys grading Tiger’s first round play. I think it was Rolfing who gave Woods a B+, and Zinger gave him an A. Wish I had a couple teachers as generous.
Hack: I guess it’s fair to point to rust, but he’s also been taken out early by Peter O’Malley and Nick O’Hern (twice) when healthy. I don’t think Tiger wants any sympathy. Had he won this week, we would have hailed it as the King returning to his throne. I think he just got beat.
Dick Friedman, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: It was like spring training. Some good swings, some bad swings. Would have been great if Tiger had been able to go even one more round to give everyone more of a look.
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Two things hurt Tiger’s return. One, the lack of course knowledge, which was aggravated by the conditions. The course is at a bit of altitude, and the ball was flying six or seven percent farther than usual. But when the wind kicked up, it was heavy, which you don’t expect in the warm air of Tucson. The most common denominator in Tiger’s bad shots was distance control.
Second, the greens. They were goofy. Tiger didn’t like them. No one did. And that didn’t help Tiger’s enthusiasm. No matter how good of a putter you were, you couldn’t hole much outside of 10 feet on those rollercoasters. It almost wasn’t real golf.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I’m right with Gary about Tiger and the greens. He didn’t like them, and he could never get it close. They say greens are to a golf course what eyes are to a portrait, and it’s a funny thing, why some work and some don’t. You could say that the Augusta National greens are massive and slopey, and they are, and you could say that the Dove Mountain greens are massive and slopey, and they are. But the Augusta National greens are among the most interesting in all of golf, and these greens were criticized even by the winner.
Asked to explain the difference, Geoff Ogilvy said, “The greens at Augusta look right. Most of them are built on the hill that they’re on, the slopes are natural. These look a little contrived.” Jack Nicklaus, the course designer, has of course done a lot of great things in golf. This Dove Mountain course, in my opinion, is not one of them. I don’t see the players eager to come back here year after year. Although $1.6 million to the winner could change a lot of opinions.
Herre: The Sunday telecast was brutal. Can’t imagine who would’ve sat through the entire show. They should go with the semis and an 18-hole final on Sunday.
Anne Szeker, producer, Golf.com: Eek, I sat through it all! The first 18 was pretty good, but the second I could have easily done without. Had it been a more big-name, Tiger-Phil finale, I probably would have loved all 36 holes.
Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Plus: I always felt like the Match Play was a nice change of pace for one week of the year, but I’m over it. Even when Tiger plays, the 36-hole drone is just killer. Give me another stroke play event.
Van Sickle: One interesting idea I heard a writer throw out in the pressroom was dividing the brackets into portions of the world. A bracket for the U.S., Europe, Asia and Other. Then the final four would be a United Nations showdown of sorts. Wacky, but interesting. The 36-hole match is deadly. No one wants to sign up for 8 hours of golf. Move the semifinal matches to Sunday morning, and have the winners play an 18-hole final in the afternoon. That way, you’ve still got four players — and many more interesting possibilities — going into Sunday.
Herre: Interesting TV week all around. Think we’ll ever see Faldo, Johnny and Zinger all in the same place again?
Friedman: Jim, I gotta think someday, somewhere, someone will make it happen!
David Dusek, deputy editor, Golf.com: Sorry, but I think a big part of the problem was not only 36 holes, but Johnny Miller too. It kills me to listen to him answer his own questions when he is tossing to Maltbie or Koch. He has opinions, and that’s refreshing, but it’s All Johnny, All The Time, and it gets old fast.
Gorant: Disagree. It’s definitely Johnny and the Johnettes, but he still works for me. Koch on the other hand is not my favorite. Hate the “that’s a good lesson for you folks at home” tips he’s always throwing in. If you see it, describe it. If I can glean something from that, great; if not, OK, but stop talking down to me.
Hack: Johnny at least could have stuck around Saturday night when the golf
ran long and NBC gave way to Golf Channel. Johnny was out of that booth
at 6:01 p.m. Eastern.
Herre: I’m a Johnny guy. Even after 20 years, he has an unpolished quality that I like. You can tell he’s going with the gut. Yes, Koch and Maltbie come off as sycophants, but I don’t know if that’s Johnny’s fault.
Friedman: I was shocked — SHOCKED! — that NBC didn’t allow the telecast of the Casey-Fisher match to run long!
Evans: I think Johnny Miller is self-righteous and a little too chatty about the swing, as if his perfect reverse-C was God’s gift to the game. Still, he makes the NBC telecast.
Hack: I like Johnny because Johnny, deep down, thinks he can walk right out of that booth and kick these guys’ butts. He has that athlete vibe that never dies.
Friedman: On a day when the action is not pulsating, you need Johnny, or a Johnny type. Hey, at least he showed some musical expertise by nominating Glen Campbell for Greatest Guitarist. Glen is probably the greatest studio guitarist ever!
Hack: I think the biggest story of the week was Rory McIlroy. His composure was incredible. Then you add the comments of his peers, and it’s like they are all just waiting for him to become a star. Who wins a major first, Rory or Sergio?
Herre: I need to see more of Rory before making that call.
Hack: Am I going overboard on Rory? I figured Carnoustie, Dubai and this week in Tucson were a pretty good body of work. He’s getting some great swings in some big tournaments. He just has that look to me. It’s early yet, but I think he’s going to be a force.
Evans: He’s performing well because no one has any real expectations of him. Wait until he gets a Sergio Garcia or Adam Scott tag as a great rival to Tiger, who was quick to point out that Rory was not of his generation.
Hack: I think that’s just the point though. Rory is not of Tiger’s generation, so he doesn’t have the scar tissue of an Els, Garcia, etc.
Herre: I know this much — Rory is a great kid. Unspoiled, down to earth, just enough ego. He’s going to be immensely popular with the fans and the other players.
John Garrity, contributing writer, Sports Illustrated: I think Rory’s for real, but I try not to let a player’s youth blind me to his ultimate stature in the game. It’s how good you get, not how fast you get good.
Van Sickle: We’ve only had the smallest taste of Rory. You saw what Ernie said: Rory is a future No. 1. And Ogilvy said he’ll soon be the second-best player in the world. Plus, at 19, he’s not yet as good as he’s going to be. I hope he doesn’t get spoiled by the fame and riches. He’s a very nice young man with manners and personality. He’s a normal kid from a small town, the kind of person who is a pleasure to interview.
Reiterman: I read an article on Rory’s agent, Chubby Chandler. He says they’re taking a long-term approach with Rory. Not signing him up for every endorsement that comes across the table. They just want him to focus on golf and not on too many corporate outings. Good to see he has people looking out for him who are not just trying to make a quick buck. Tiger’s father took the same approach.
Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Any agent who says what Chandler says is full of it. It’s always been, and always will be, about one thing: $$$$. Look at Rory’s Website. He’s got six big sponsors listed. Heck, the fact that the kid’s site touts his bag, his history, his swing tips, a blog, news, his schedule, and a link to his agent’s website all show that it’s about the money.
Evans: I think Rory is adorable in a Little House on the Prairie and The Waltons sort of way; Great for family time on Sunday after church. A world-beater with a tenacious spirit and Q-rating? Well, I’ll have to pray on that one.
Hack: Is Geoff Ogilvy the second-best player in the world? Is he the first?
Friedman: Well, he putts well on slow greens (like this week) as well as fast ones. Seemed like he couldn’t miss a medium-lengther all week.
Garrity: Ogilvy is certainly the best player in the world since I topped off the anti-freeze in my car, but his two PGA Tour wins this season match his career high. I don’t think you’re a world No. 1 until you win a bunch of tournaments in a calendar year — or until the hostess recognizes you when you walk into P.F. Chang’s.
Herre: There’s a lot to like about Ogilvy, although his game is somewhat one-dimensional. He does putt beautifully and has awesome balance.
Hack: But if that one dimension is a repeatable, dependable swing, what’s not to love? The guy seems ultra-cool on big stages (he’s worked on his temper). Winged Foot, Doral (stopping Tiger’s winning streak), this week (during Tiger’s comeback). The guy isn’t afraid of the big moment.
Van Sickle: Ogilvy is a slight enigma because at his best, he looks a potential best-in-the-world player. But he hasn’t been able to play at that level on a regular basis, and a few disaster holes in majors have kept him from contending for a second major title.
Reiterman: He made par from a cactus!
Dusek: Ogilvy is the most under-appreciated talent in the world. He’s just so laid back that it doesn’t look like he’s trying hard. But his swing is unreal, he putts well on fast or slow greens, as Dick noted, and he is clearly not intimidated on the big stages.
Herre: Agreed — Ogilvy is a cool customer and his swing is lovely, but he looks to me like a player who hits the same shot over and over, and needs to be in perfect synch to do it. I don’t see him winning with his C game.
Hack: What did everybody think of Phil beating Tiger to the range on Tuesday morning? Probably would have been a bigger deal if they had met in the Match Play, but I thought it was tremendous. Too bad both of them flamed out early.
I thought, when Tiger went down, that Phil was ready to make another statement.
Evans: Phil thinks he can become Tiger by lifting weights, wearing tight shirts and flat-front pants, hiring Tiger’s teacher and getting to the range at sunrise. What’s next?
Herre: Thought it was kind of weird. Why would Phil want to get in the middle of that mob? If he was trying to send a message … Well, please.
Van Sickle: I can only assume Phil thought Tiger would go out on his usual barely light tee time and be out of the way. But it is curious that he would even come close to getting in that mix. I think he got surprised.
Hack: I think Phil was definitely trying to make a statement: “I’ve just come from LA, where you haven’t won and where I’ve won twice. I’ve been here since daybreak. Game on!” I probably think Tiger got a kick out of it, in a “Dude, you can’t touch me,” kind of way.
Dusek: Damon, I completely agree. I sat 10 feet behind Phil and Butch Harmon for half an hour and listened to what they were working on. It was all mechanics, keeping his right shoulder down and being less rotational. Phil was grinding. Everything was a fade: 8-irons, 3-woods, drivers. Everything was hit from right to left, and he kept saying, “Man, I love that miss. If I miss like that I can live with it.”
Evans: Damon, I think you’re doing a George W. Bush-on-Putin — I saw his soul.