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.
WATNEY’S WIN AT DORAL A STAR-SPANGLED SIGNAL TO GOLF WORLD?
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: What say you, fellow Tour Confidentialists, after Nick Watney of the U.S.A. beat Dustin Johnson of the U.S.A. to win at Doral? Is there hope for American golf after all? Watney looked like a closer in the Mariano Rivera mold while Hunter Mahan closed the way Watney used to. Your thoughts please.
Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Not that I’m a xenophobe, but I counted seven of the top 14 sporting red, white and blue, with six of them between the ages of 22 and 32. The other guy was Tiger. As always with these trends, rumors of Uncle Sam’s death may have been exaggerated.
Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: Great to see one of the young Americans step up, but it’s going to take several more performances like Watney’s to convince me that our guys are on par with the Euros.
David Dusek, deputy editor, Golf.com: Nick Watney has been one of the better players that so-called experts like us don’t talk about enough, but I agree with Jim. It’s going to take more than one event to convince me that American golf is on the verge of a surge.
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: I’ve seen a lot of top 10s out of the Americans, especially Kuchar, but their ability to close comes and goes.
Stephanie Wei, contributor, SI Golf+: Nice change to see American flags on the leaderboard, but let’s get a few more wins up there from the young Americans.
Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Like the NFL (when it’s actually in business), the PGA Tour has become a week-to-week entity. Lots of parity, anybody can win.
Morfit: I don’t think any of the above players are all that reliable because I don’t think any of them are consistently good-to-great putters. Watney sure made a mile of ’em today though.
Van Sickle: You may have hit the nail, Cam. Instead of asking who the best American player is, maybe we should be asking who’s the best American putter? Watney was Sunday. Johnson wasn’t, Mahan surely wasn’t and Matt Kuchar isn’t. Maybe there’s still room for Steve Stricker.
WATNEY READY TO JOIN THE ELITE?
Van Sickle: NBC’s Johnny Miller raved about Watney’s clutch putting on the final nine, plus the fact that he’s gone from 146th in scrambling stats last year to No. 1 this year. That’s quite a reversal. Watney’s ballstriking hasn’t been questioned. His short game has. Is this the start of a run for Watney or just a hot week?
Hack: He hasn’t finished out of the top 10 in 2011. Looks like he’s already having a run.
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Watney’s top-10s speak to his talent and consistency. That Sunday finish may be evidence of a little more flintiness, which is all he has lacked.
Wei: It’ll take a few more good weeks with the short game to convince me. I’ve noticed that he has hot streaks (like at the Tour Championship last year), but Watney says he feels like he’s made strides with that and mentally he’s improved by working with a coach.
Morfit: Let’s hear it for golf superpower Fresno State! Great day for Watney. But my favorite moment was Maltbie accidentally bonking Dustin Johnson in the face with his headset.
Van Sickle: Maltbie also had a nice moment when he squared off with a stonefaced Tiger Woods, after a 66, and made him laugh with a question about the year’s first major coming up soon — the Tavistock Cup. Maltbie is an underrated treasure. Not many of these ex-players can pull off a decent interview, but Roger does.
Jeff Ritter, senior producer, Golf.com: The way Watney won today — rallying from two back, making a couple of long par-savers on the back nine and then making a 3 on the sinister 18th — makes me think he could be ready to join the ranks of the elite.
Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Dustin Johnson or Kuchar could have easily won today. All these guys are about equal talent-wise. Kuchar has a few years on those two, but right now I think he’s the most consistent player on Tour. I’m going to say that every week until he doesn’t finish in the top 10.
IN SEARCH OF THE NEXT MEDIA STAR
Van Sickle: On another front, neither Watney nor Dustin Johnson are dynamic speakers or play with a lot of emotion. Johnson has that Freddie Couples nonchalance that makes him look like he’s so cool that he doesn’t even care (but of course he does). Watney went to the hat-over-the-face move after he yanked his drive into the water Saturday at 18, and a couple of nice fist pumps after putts Sunday. Kuchar and Mahan are equally nonplussed. Can any of these guys, notably D.J. or Watney, became a real media star for the public?
Herre: I think Johnson can, for the reason Gary suggests — he’s the next Fred Couples, ultra cool, calm and collected and sort of stylish in a 2011 way.
Van Sickle: And don’t forget, Jim, that D.J. has what the people want: the long ball. Who doesn’t like standing right behind a tee box when he blasts a driver? It’s awe inspiring.
Shipnuck: Johnson’s game and athleticism and looks can make him a star, but the Couples analogy is perfect; like Freddy, D.J. doesn’t really care about the hoopla and image-making. He’d rather chill on his boat.
Wei: And throw back a few Miller Lites.
Dusek: Neither Johnson nor Nick Watney is going to come across well enough on camera or give snappy-enough quotes in the media center. Both can play damn well and I’m not knocking them, but they simply don’t have that quality that demands attention.
Morfit: I could see Mahan playing to the media. In a press conference at Doral last year he started talking food and kind of went into a Food Network-announcer mode, cracking everyone up.
Wei: I agree with Cam. Mahan is sneaky good with the media. He’s sort of come into his own in the past year and become more confident in speaking situations. His caddie, John Wood, told me on Friday that he’s gotten more comfortable in his own skin, and he’s in a good place in his life (got married in January) and with his game.
Gorant: D.J. definitely has a chance to be a star. Got sort of a young Clint Eastwood thing happening. Watney not as sure.
Evans: No chance. Bubba has the only chance of being a media star of the present crop of good players.
Wei: Bubba’s act has gotten old. Anyone else notice that he’s pretty condescending to the media?
Van Sickle: Agree. Don’t see Bubba wearing well in the long run. But then, I still hold it against him that he begged his way onto Ellen’s show.
Dusek: I couldn’t disagree more. As Gary pointed out with Johnson, Bubba’s game is inspiring, he’s won recently and he’s endeared himself to a lot of fans. I had a great chat with him at Doral before he had to withdraw.
Evans: Bubba is fine with the media. I met him nine years ago at Q-school and he hasn’t changed one bit. He’s a goofball with a good heart.
Mike Walker, senior editor, Golf Magazine: Dustin Johnson already has that star quality. He’s cool, he hits it a mile and fans just instinctively pull for him. But beyond D.J. and Fowler, it’s hard to imagine casual fans getting excited about Watney, Kuchar, Mahan.
Van Sickle: In some ways, Fowler and D.J. have already been ordained as the next stars.
Wei: For what it’s worth, I saw a fan on Tuesday at Doral dressed in all orange like Fowler. Pretty sure he wasn’t trying to make a fashion statement.
Walker: Fowler fan or escapee from the Dade County Correctional Facility?
Morfit: Are you sure it wasn’t just a lost Tampa Bay Buccaneer?
IS KAYMER STILL A WORTHY NO. 1?
Van Sickle: Does this week’s finish change your view of the world rankings at all? Is Kaymer still king of the hill until somebody takes it away?
Hack: Not sure there is a king. Lot of princes and dukes, maybe.
Herre: I added Watney and pushed up Johnson a couple notches. And Mickelson fell to the bottom of my ballot. [The next SI Golf Ranking will be published Tuesday.]
Morfit: He sure bonked this week, but I gotta give him one or two off-weeks. Let’s see what he does at Augusta.
Evans: The impostors will be exposed at Augusta.
Dusek: I was impressed a few weeks ago when Kaymer took advantage of a chance to grab the No. 1 ranking by making the final of the WGC-Accenture Match Play. He hung around the top of the leaderboard, as a No. 1 is supposed to, until the weekend. I think he’s the man until someone steps up.
Shipnuck: Kaymer’s still No. 1, but Donald and Kuchar are looking more and more like real threats.
Van Sickle: So what about Phil? I’m getting tired of hearing that he’s just gearing up for the Masters. The man is playing Army golf (left-right-left) far too often, which isn’t anything new, but he’s not holing putts like the Phil of old. I don’t mean just this week, but for quite a while. I hope he hasn’t hit that age where the putter starts to go, but I’m starting to wonder. What about Phil?
Evans: I agree with Butch that Phil is just biding his time until Augusta. As long as Phil’s not losing confidence in his putting, he’ll be fine.
Dusek: On the Tuesday of a World Golf Championship week, instead of playing a practice round, Mickelson was at Augusta National with Jim Mackay, scoping out the subtle changes made by the club. That confirms to me where his mind has been all season. I also think that’s a dangerous game to play because very few players can flip a switch and go from inconsistent play like Phil’s to major-winning form. If I’m a Phil Fan, I’m pretty concerned.
Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Agreed. I don’t think you can just flip a switch when the calendar hits April.
Van Sickle: On the other hand, Phil has played Doral for 20 years, and it hasn’t changed all that much. He didn’t need another round there. Augusta, of course, is different every year. But point well taken, Dave.
Herre: Phil’s like Tiger in this regard: He has been center stage since Day 1. In Phil’s case that’s more than 20 years, counting the time he was a star amateur. That’s forever and has to take a toll.
Hack: Phil is all about the majors now, and I guess it’s hard to blame him. He has a chance to finish his career as a golfing immortal (on the level of a Trevino or Tom Watson), and only the majors can take him there.
Shipnuck: Yeah, we know Phil cares only about the majors, but playing rubbish for three months is no way to prepare.
Morfit: Phil seems diminished, and I’m guessing that’s from the psoriatic arthritis, a chronic condition in which the body attacks itself, and not from being 40.
Walker: That would be a shame. He had a spring in his step and was talking about 50 wins at Torrey. That feels like a lot longer than six weeks ago.
WOODS RALLIES TO FINISH T10
Van Sickle: Let’s step into the Tiger Corner. Woods hit some wild shots in the early rounds, really wild. He couldn’t buy a putt, either. Sunday he posted a pretty 66. Tiger called it progress. Are you buying? I think it’s just a matter of time for his ballstriking. It’s his putting that I’ve wondered about. Did that 66 take a little edge off the pressure on Mr. Woods?
Shipnuck: It’s a process, Gary. He’s close. It’s not easy creating new motor patterns. It is what it is.
Van Sickle: Are you moonlighting as the voice for Tiger’s website?
Ritter: I watched part of Tiger’s Wednesday practice round, and he spent a lot of time squinting into Sean Foley’s video camera after errant shots. I thought he looked lost. On Friday I watched him hit two Looney Tunes tee shots: one was a topper with his driver that went 122 yards and failed to pass the women’s tee, and the other was a skyball with his 3 wood. I mean, these were TERRIBLE shots. After all that, he still found a way to shoot 66 on Sunday and finish T10. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I actually think he might win soon.
Van Sickle: Love it, Jeff. You went from Looney Tunes shots to “he might win soon.” Crazily, I don’t disagree.
Gorant: It’s clear that Woods needs more competitive rounds to work it out, which our esteemed colleague M. Godich has been preaching for months.
Dusek: I’m not buying. Lots of pros drop seriously low scores now and then, but I think Tiger has a long way to go before he’s a real threat to contend on a week-to-week basis again. He won’t be one of my picks at Augusta National.
Wei: He wasn’t exactly in a pressure situation, either. He finished while the leaders were still on the front nine.
Evans: As long as he keeps this tired, limited schedule, he’s going to keep racking up 65s at Isleworth and beating John Cook in games of HORSE on the range. I bet you he plays well at the Tavistock Cup.
Wei: It’s one good round. I’m not making any bold statements until I see it for at least two!
Morfit: It gives him a week or two and some positive mojo heading into Bay Hill, for what that’s worth.
Godich: One round isn’t going to convince me, especially a round in which he wasn’t in contention. Can’t wait to see how he responds when he is in the hunt.
DID DORAL DELIVER BIG-TIME EVENT?
Van Sickle: I saw a few stories about the crowds at Doral being down again, and blame was put on the $50 ticket prices that come with being a WGC event. Seemed like there was a little more atmosphere Sunday. As a big-deal WGC event, notwithstanding a somewhat tense finish with some decent players involved, did the Cadillac Championship deliver what it was supposed to? Or did you find it wanting as a tourney?
Shipnuck: Good leaderboard, good finish, adequate venue. Solid B+.
Van Sickle: I’d agree. I also like the way Doral’s 18th hole somehow seemed scarier than ever this week, if that’s possible. You could see lots of players playing away from the water. That’s why I liked D.J. and Watney ripping clutch drives down the middle at the end. Manly shots.
Morfit: I found it wanting. The Euros have made the WGCs even more important than the Players, or at least Westwood and McIlroy have, but I find the Players more compelling.
Evans: Doral was a great event. Cadillac and the players put on a good show. What did we want from these guys? It was a good golf course with a great field.
Herre: Pretty good show after Thursday’s storms, and Doral played tough on the weekend. Not sure that on-site attendance is much of a measure for success, anyway.
Dusek: The best place to watch almost ANY sporting event is on the sofa in front of an HDTV.
Walker: I’m sure the Woods-Mickelson-McDowell group helped sell some extra tickets as well.
Gorant: I found the event itself enjoyable, but how that relates to getting people out to the course I can’t say. All the big names were there. Weather was mostly good. A lot of players in it to the end. What else does it take?
Dusek: The WGC events are supposed to bring the best players from around the world together for more non-major events, so in that regard it was a success. That said, I didn’t feel a lot of buzz out there or sense it was there when I watched the end on TV. I’ll agree with Shipnuck, B+.
Wei: I give it a solid A-. There were young, big names battling it out and it wasn’t decided until the last hole. Great weather for the most part, too, except for those with allergies.
PREDICTING THIS WEEK’S TRANSITIONS
Van Sickle: It’s on to this week’s Transitions Championship at Innisbrook. Make your pick and say why: I’m going with the chalk in the NCAA tournament and at the Transitions. Kaymer is in the field. He’s going to win it. I also like former winner K.J. Choi, who always plays well at Innisbrook.
Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Tommy Gainey.
Herre: Love the Copperhead course. I’d rank it over Doral and Bay Hill.
Van Sickle: The Island Course there may be even more fun to play for us average hacks.
Gorant: I wanted Adam Scott, but he’s not playing. I like Bill Haas to pick up where he left off earlier in the year.
Morfit: David Duval. Guy’s been very close this year, and I liked the way he finished at Riviera.
Evans: Spencer Levin.
Wei: I’ll take the course. Love Innisbrook. Played a junior tourney there when I was 13 or 14 and it still has a special place in my heart.
Dusek: I’ve got no idea who is going to win, but I’ll be curious to see how Peter Uihlein plays.