PGA Tour Confidential: WGC-CA Championship at Doral

PGA Tour Confidential: WGC-CA Championship at Doral

Ernie Els won his second World Golf Championship event on Sunday.
David Walberg/SI

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.

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: This Confidential is going to be like Hemingway prose: all verb, no adjective. Stellar victory by Easy. Not only did he control his ball well in the wind, but he putted like it was 1999. So, in this year of parity, a familiar question: Was this just one nice week by a battle-scarred veteran on the downside of his career, or is this the beginning of one last big run by a player who still possesses supreme talent?

Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Must admit I was expecting him to look a little shakier down the stretch than he did. I guess Charl didn’t really put too much heat on him, but still very solid for EE.

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: Ricci Roberts, who now caddies by committee for EE with Dan Quinn, told me last year Ernie was hitting it better than ever but just waiting for the putts to drop. I say he will get them to drop at one of the majors and win one last time. He loves the venues and he’s on a roll.

Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: As I have said before, this might be the year of 40-odd different winners. Els didn’t play great in the final round — really. He continues to battle that left shot, and there wasn’t much wind at Doral on Sunday. I don’t mean to take anything away from the Big Easy, but he’s not going to take the Tour by storm after one week of good play.

Ryan Reiterman, senior producer, With his putting stroke improved and his globe-trotting schedule cut back, you have to believe Els has one last run in him. He has too much to play for. He needs a Masters and a PGA for the career slam, and he’s three victories away from 20 PGA Tour titles. That’d be one heck of a career in the Tiger era.

Morfit: Good pairing for him on Sunday. He had to feel he had an edge, having been Schwartzel’s hero.

Shipnuck: Yeah, Els’s wife told SI that the playing partner is important to hubby. Not having to look at Tiger helps him, too.

David Dusek, deputy editor, For a long time, Ernie had a lot on his mind. Between the knee injury taking a long time to completely heal, coming out and talking about Ben’s autism, plus moving the family to Florida so Ben could get better care. That’s a lot for a professional athlete to live with.

Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: Could be that his son’s autism has helped him focus on what’s important in life, and that focus has carried over into his golf. He’s always struck me as an awesomely talented underachiever.

Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: I think that’s partly because he makes everything look so effortless with that swing.

Morfit: He still wants it though, especially at Augusta and Whistling Straits. Desire is big at his stage of the game.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Ernie looks like he’s for real. Of course, winners always do. Best part was he didn’t gaffe any short ones Sunday and look like he’s got the 40-year-old yips. Ernie’s run looks legit. Let’s hope it is. He’s popular with the public, the media and the fans. When Ernie wins, we all win. He’s just what golf needs.

Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I think the biggest factor in Ernie’s malaise was the scar tissue from those runner-up finishes to Tiger at the turn of the century. But the biggest blow was Lefty’s birdie at 18 at the ’04 Masters. Ernie was lost for a long time after that defeat. He looked and sounded a lot like Sergio does now. Good seeing Ernie win again.

Herre: Nice win by Els, but I am not reading too much into it. Don’t see him making like Vijay deep into his 40s.

Shipnuck: He looked way more relaxed than in recent years. Despite his nickname, Els was a pretty grumpy dude. A good attitude is key for him.

Dusek: If Els’ putter is solid, the rest of his game looks like it is still well suited for Augusta National. Long off the tee, high iron shots and better-than-average scrambling.

Shipnuck: This year’s Masters may be the most wide open ever. With all his near-misses there Els has to considered at least a darkhorse.

Morfit: What a gold mine of storylines we can look forward to.

Godich: It’s all about how he handles the pressure. He’s been so close before, and you know how badly he wants to win there.

Hack: I see no reason why Ernie can’t win at Augusta. He’ll take a lot of confidence, and he’s definitely playing for more than himself. You know that Phil will be in the mix one way or another, but I’m not so sure about Tiger, with the rust, the circus and the course changes.

Van Sickle: Can Ernie’s sometimes-shaky short-putting stroke survive the greens at Augusta? That’s a question we look forward to Ernie answering. When golfers hit 40, they tend to suddenly realize the finish line is in sight and they have time for one more stretch run if they really work hard. We’ve seen other golfers do this, notably Steve Stricker and Vijay Singh and Kenny Perry. I think Ernie is going to have a good year. Will that translate into three or four wins and a major or just a lot of high finishes? Either way, it’ll be good TV.

Shipnuck: I really hope one of these many under 30 studs wins at Augusta. Otherwise the endless hype gets a little tiresome. (Nevermind that we’re part of the problem…)

Herre: Enjoyed watching all the furin’ers this week. Kaymer, Quiros, Schwartzl — their games are all easy on the eyes.

Morfit: Every time I saw Quiros around the resort, he was smiling and looked like he was having the most fun of anyone. That’s almost as much fun to see as his huge drives.

Herre: For more on Quiros, check out this week’s SI Golf+.

Gorant: Four years ago Schwartzel was touted as one of those can’t miss kids, but he never really got chewed up by the hype machine, maybe because he didn’t play much over here, but I think it helped him develop his game.

Shipnuck: It’s always the media’s fault when young players don’t develop.

Van Sickle: Charl never got a lot of hype, also, because he’s very quiet and about as un-colorful as you can get. Having written a sidebar about him in ’07, I can attest to that first-hand. He’s a tough write. And we were a couple of years early on the call.

Dusek: I love that Dan Hicks said this is a coming out for Schwartzel, then a minute later mentioned that he won the first two events on the European Tour this season. I guess results outside the United States aren’t important or legitimate.

Van Sickle: Yeah, typical American blinders. What he means is, HE doesn’t pay attention to results outside the U.S. Like a lot of people.

Shipnuck: We do possess the Ryder and President’s Cups, but it seems like all the exciting young talent is from overseas, except Mr. Layup, Rickie Fowler.

Godich: With all due respect, when Matt Kuchar is carrying the flag at Doral…

Van Sickle: Alan’s right. It won’t be long before the cliche storyline will be the same one taken from the pages of the LPGA — why can’t the Americans win? The simple answer is, it’s the U.S. against the world now as golf has gone global, and we’re badly outnumbered.

Evans:: Don’t buy what they tell you on TV. The U.S. has a ton of a great talent. The success of a handful of South Africans and Europeans doesn’t mean that America needs to start rebuilding its junior programs. Numbers-wise and consistency, the rest of the world is no match for the U.S. And don’t pay attention to the World Rankings, which favor players who play international schedules.

Dusek: So ignore the fact that going into Doral, Europe had six players ranked in the top 10 and 20 players in the top 50?

Van Sickle: Excuse me? Forget the Ryder Cup against Europe. The U.S. could have a pretty tough match just against England. Or Australia. Or South Africa. Probably not Fiji.

Shipnuck: Farrell is correct that some random Asian tourneys get too many points. I think the World Ranking has gotten much more sensitive and accurate. Don’t count out our boys. The last few Cups the U.S. has had great chemistry and played better than their individual parts.

Van Sickle: Sorry, Alan. I forgot what a big backer of the U.S. teams you have historically been.

Shipnuck: Well, Mrs. Pavin did ask me to be her Valentine via Twitter!

Herre: Wonder if Captain Corey has spoken with Azinger yet?

Herre: I think Brad Faxon is a nice upgrade for NBC. He isn’t bashful and was dissecting the shots before Johnny had a chance to open his mouth.

Dusek: Anyone who gets between Johnny Miller and a microphone is a friend of mine.

Van Sickle: I disagree. Johnny is still better than anybody else out there. I’m in favor of Faxon jumping in instead of Dan Hicks anytime, though.

Evans:: Johnny Miller is the best golf analyst in the world. Period. Not always likeable but he’s very good.

Gorant: I thought Faxon was a little shaky, shouting for putts to go in and talking over other people on a lot of putts. Most can be chocked up to rookie mistakes. Sure he’ll get better.

Van Sickle: Definitely some nerves. I loved it when he signed off before a break by saying, “Hurry up and get back here to see what’s going to happen…” or something like that. Like we were the ones going away. He’ll polish his delivery through experience. He delivers a lot of knowledge and unlike the rest of the NBC crew, isn’t afraid to offer an opinion before Johnny weighs in.

Shipnuck: No question Fax is an upgrade. Love his insidery knowledge. Now all he needs is a voice coach to lose that nasally accent.

Herre: No way — he’s a proud New Englander.

Shipnuck: I love “Raja” Maltbie, and I’m not alone. If you walk near him on the course he get tons of love from the gallery.

Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: How do you not love a Tour player who won a tournament and then lost the check (when they gave real checks) in a bar, as Maltby once did.

Van Sickle: Would love to see Roger have a bigger role on a regular basis.

Evans:: Roger is a bit player and he loves it. Everybody can’t sit in the booth. Once you get a bigger role you lose your connection with the players. Right now Roger is one of the guys when he is off camera.

Van Sickle: Roger should sit in the booth instead of one of the other guys in the booth, was the point.

Shipnuck: OK, we can’t avoid Tiger any longer. Let’s say he comes back for Bay Hill. Does that make his poetry reading — when golf seemed so insignificant — now seem insincere?

Godich: I think it does. How does a guy who announced last month that he wouldn’t rule out missing all of 2010 not make it to the end of March without teeing it up?

Van Sickle: Yes. Especially the part about the urgency of giving his reading Friday during Accenture when it turned out he was a free man and back at Isleworth pounding balls about 10 days later.

Evans:: Not at all. The only person who can judge his sincerity is Elin, who is not naïve to the reality that she is married to a guy who plays golf for a living. He can’t stay at home forever looking remorseful and pitiful.

Herre: Seems too soon to me, but who knows what’s really going on at home. I could see Tiger dipping a toe in at the Tavistock Cup, skipping Bay Hill and Houston to work on his game, then returning at Augusta.

Dusek: Unless Elin and he have had “the talk” and settled on what their family situation is going to be in the future, it looks really bad for him to return to golf so soon. However, if she’s satisfied with where things are — and the army of therapists we can assume he’s worked with are satisfied — then going back to work is more acceptable.

Lipsey: I love Tiger the golfer, and never cared about Tiger the person until he gave us reasons, and more reasons, to care about Tiger the person, who comes across as more insincere with every move he makes. I mean, hiring a former presidential spokesman? C’mon. Tiger is a golfer.

Evans:: That’s a very cynical take. Hiring Ari Fleischer is only a sign that Tiger understands that he still needs guidance.

Shipnuck: His people have so bungled the public aspects of this scandal I don’t think it’s a bad move to get more advice. But Ari’s handling of McGwire doesn’t inspire confidence.

Dusek: Interesting to note that Fleisher’s PR company is partially owned by IMG.

Lipsey: Get advice, but why do you have to pay for it? He’s got a mom, friends, a wife (well, maybe she’s AWOL for advice), etc.

Van Sickle: Rick is right on. Somebody who needs a grade-A spin doctor looks like someone with something to hide, which is how he’s looked ever since he stiffed the Florida Highway Patrol. Wonder what’s coming next for Tiger?

Herre: Redemption is a common theme in sports. Tiger will get his opportunity.

Hack: With all due respect to the Big Three, do we really know who class acts are in sports? I mean, do we really know? Sometimes it seems like the more majors or titles somebody wins, the classier they get. Gray hair seems to raise the classy level, too.

Shipnuck: Golf is who he is. Playing again has to be therapeutic. But the circus is going to be so intense I think more and more Augusta makes sense. Don’t forget how invisible they made Martha Burk during tournament week.

Evans:: You can’t compare Martha Burk to Tiger. Martha, as you know, never got inside the gates of the club. Not once.

Shipnuck: My point is that CBS/Augusta has a long history suppressing controversy.

Lipsey: I’m sure CBS is already grooming every staffer on what will and will not come out of their mouths at Augusta, just in case.

Dusek: I asked Paul Casey this week how he’d feel if he were paired with Tiger when he makes his comeback. Casey said that he’s always liked playing with Woods, but probably wouldn’t be too keen in this case. “The sort of scrutiny will be on a level that we’ve never witnessed before. But they won’t be watching me.”

Lipsey: I’d be shocked if any Tour player ever again is excited to be paired with Tiger. Publically, the players will offer quiet praise and support. Privately, I bet they’d rather have Tiger and his antics and self-obsession go away, though the money part is hard to part with.

Herre: Rick, I think mild-mannered Steve Stricker made that clear this week when he said Tiger returning at the Masters would be a huge distraction for the other players. Pretty strong statement.

Evans:: I’m sorry for Stricker. He better get ready for that distraction. It’s coming!

Van Sickle: On the plus side, the sooner Tiger returns to golf, the sooner we start writing about what he does on the golf course and cease writing about his previous antics (barring any more revelations). And if he does win a Masters or U.S. Open, the media will jump back on the race to 18 again and quit focusing on the marriage problems … if he’s lucky.

Lipsey: The worst part is Tiger will say little or nothing all week, when he’s back, but the rumors will fly like bees in a hive. I hope Augusta grants credentials to TMZ and Radar, who’ll surely apply. Indeed, we should ask them if they’ve applied.

Godich: How long does it take to ask the first non-golf question? Or will every media session start with, “I will only answer questions about my golf game.”

Van Sickle: Number two is the correct answer.

Lipsey: It’s so darn sad that it’s come to this with Mozart, because, gosh, what he does with the golf ball is so damn fun to watch.

Evans:: Why is suppressing controversy a bad thing unless you work in the press? Augusta National is not impartial in this process. The club will protect him throughout this process and spend money to do it. There is something endearingly super-masculine and American about Tiger’s marital failings. What we’re mad about is how he has handled its aftermath.

Godich: Huh?

Lipsey: Endearing? Now I never imagined that word would be used to describe Tiger’s actions. Not even his mistresses say Tiger was endearing.

Van Sickle: There is nothing endearing or American about Tiger’s marital failings. You must be joking.

Evans:: He cheated. He got caught. The cover up is worse than the crime. Like Watergate. Tiger has a lot of women. Sounds like a fun story in the locker room, but at the expense of a family. So we shouldn’t be so sanctimonious like this doesn’t happen and won’t happen again on our wonderfully pious golf tour.

Godich: You need to stop.

Evans:: Sorry guys, not endearing. Just reckless.