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.
Gorant: Okay, Tiger returns this week at Bridgestone. What can we expect?
Morfit: A lot of rust.
Lipsey: He won’t miss the cut.
Wei: He’ll beat last year’s four-day total of 18-over.
Evans: This is a no-cut event, and he gets to play on a golf course that he has ruled in the past. I think he shoots 280 and finishes four or five strokes off the winning score.
Morfit: I think that prediction is completely bonkers. I hope you are right.
Evans: It’s a prediction.
Godich: Flashes of brilliance, maybe even a nine-hole run at the end of a round that will have many pronouncing that Tiger is back! In the end, more missed short putts that he never used to miss and a T28.
Herre: I thought you’d never ask! I have a feeling Woods is going to come out strong, but the question is, can he put together four good rounds? I see him going low at least once, which will get everyone talking, but will the consistency be there for him to contend? Probably not.
Hack: I just don’t know what’s what with Tiger anymore, as if anyone ever did. Has he hit one bucket of balls or 1,000? Is it the knee, the Achilles or both? Does he even burn to be the world-beater he once was? The man could win by five, lose by 25, or finish somewhere in between, and I’ll just stand back and say, well, of course he did.
Godich: I’ll be most interested to see what he’s doing on the practice range.
Lipsey: I hope they pair Tiger with Adam Scott.
Wei: Throw in Jim Furyk, too.
Gorant: Do we believe that Tiger is really 100 percent, or were there other things that led to his seemingly sudden decision to return this week?
Godich: No way he’s 100 percent. But I think he wanted a tune-up before the PGA to get the rust off. That said, he’s got to play 72 holes, no matter how badly he might be hurting. Can you imagine the reaction if he WDs again?
Evans: Tiger will never be 100 percent. I doubt if he sees that as a goal. I think what he wants is to learn how to simply put four good rounds together.
Godich: Who would’ve thunk someone would be suggesting something like that about Tiger in, say, the summer of 2009?
STALLINGS WINS GREENBRIER
Gorant: Scott Stallings with a gutty playoff win after blowing the lead on the 71st hole. Does this kid have the stuff to be a regular winner?
Lipsey: His spunk and passion are terrific. I love that he has carried an Augusta National scoring pencil in his yardage book for two years, reminding him where he wanted to go.
Evans: I met Stallings back in March at the Transitions. He’s a very charismatic kid with a lot of self-confidence. When his game comes around fully, he will be a consistent player in the mold of Steve Marino, who incidentally still hasn’t won.
Herre: Hate to say it, but his win came out of nowhere. He had one previous top 10 and a slew of MCs before Greenbrier. Godich poked his head in during the playoff to say it looked as if Stallings was going to hyperventilate out there. He does look like the nervous type. Good going, though. Means a trip to Augusta next April.
Bamberger: A great opportunity to load up on Augusta National pencils and hard-collar shirts.
YANI WINS WOMEN’S BRITISH OPEN
Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Let’s get right to the action with the most important action of the week: Yani Tseng won her fifth major at 22 years old. What’s the ceiling for her? Who might challenge her?
Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: She’s the best golfer on earth. By a mile. Male or female. She won’t get near the props of many guys, including Rory, but she’ll win a lot more majors than all of them combined. Barring injury, a dozen majors, minimum.
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Five majors at 22? She’s on pace to win about 35 of them. Especially since the LPGA is going to five majors a year. I don’t see an immediate challenger for her. Michelle Wie and Lexi Thompson have the power, but they don’t have Yani’s touch around the greens. She played some very Scottish bump-and-run pitches at Carnoustie. It’s Yani’s tour now.
Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: She’s just going to keep piling them up. Most impressive to me is how relaxed she seems out there.
Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: With the extra major, Tseng could outpace Tiger Woods and put up some staggering numbers, but let’s see what the next few seasons bring. Tiger was the rare one to truly dominate for a long period of time.
Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: No ceiling for Yani, and no challenger on the horizon. I see a group of players getting wins here and there, but Yani is the dominant player in the world. We have finally identified the next Tiger Woods.
Lipsey: Having seen the LPGA at the Women’s Open, I can confirm: there is NO challenger. Lots of good sticks, but Yani is in a class by herself. She practices (on and off the course) as hard, and more important, as smartly, as Tiger.
Van Sickle: Odd thing about Tseng is, I don’t watch her and say, “Wow, she’s the best player on the tour.” But you see her results and her scores and say, “Wow, the rest of the LPGA just can’t play with her.” Is there such a thing as a stealth dominant player? She’s it.
Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Yani will best Annika’s 10 majors and rule the tour for the next five to seven years. She’s got power and touch around the greens. Paula Creamer, Stacey Lewis, an aging Cristie Kerr, Michelle Wie, Brittany Lang and Ai Miyazato are all contenders, but they don’t have Yani’s finishing power and consistency.
Lipsey: Great point about the next Tiger. He, er, she, has finally arrived, and funny, isn’t it, nobody’s noticing?
Godich: Nobody’s noticing?
Lipsey: Next week’s SI Golf+ readers won’t know what happened, for example.
Godich: Yes, they will, because GP readers get their news from other sources as well — like PGA Tour Confidential and Golf.com.
Stephanie Wei, contributor, SI Golf+: I don’t think very many people outside of hardcore LPGA fans noticed. I mean, did any of you guys tune in at 9 a.m. on Sunday?
Lipsey: If a man won his fifth major by age 22 we’d do a commemorative. A woman accomplishes that, and she doesn’t even get the lead story on Golf.com. Today’s lead story was the Greenbrier scoreboard. This isn’t a Martha Burk-led rally for equal rights. Just pointing out that women get treated very differently from men, especially in the golfing firmament, as Karen Crouse in the New York Times eloquently outlined in a story this week.
Van Sickle: Women get treated very differently from the men in golf because the levels of interest from the public are very, very different. It’s that simple. The WNBA players don’t get the same salaries as their male counterparts in the NBA, either.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: The most incredible thing to me about Tseng is that her putting stroke doesn’t look really conventional — it’s Billy Mayfairish, at times — but it’s so effective. (She’s a Stockton student.) The only thing that could stop her is boredom.
Gorant: It’s great that the women are getting the chance to play top courses, but Tseng shot 16-under at Carnoustie. Seems to me that if you’re going to play on a track with that rep, you want the full Car-nastie experience, but the women saw a much tamer course. Is it a case of condescending to the “fairer sex,” or just a miscalculation that came about because the women had never played there before?
Van Sickle: It’s debatable. Seems that Carnoustie did, indeed, identify the best player. So maybe it was a good mistake.
Bamberger: If the spring had been wet, the winning score could have been six over. Carnoustie’s truly nasty, normally. But it wasn’t normal last week.
Evans: The best players will always win on tracks that give up a lot of birdies. Carnoustie made sure that it got a top-notch winner with this easy setup.
Godich: I don’t think they wanted any embarrassments, yet when Tseng is hitting four-iron off a par-5 and still getting there in two, something is wrong. And was it me, or did they take the water out of play for the tee shot on 18?
Van Sickle: Seems like whenever scores are lower than usual in a major championship, the winner is pretty good and the leaderboard is pretty strong. Maybe there’s a conclusion to be drawn there, maybe not.
Bamberger: True, and especially true at Augusta.
Hack: The course was played at a touch over 6,200, which sounds awfully short. That said, any longer and Yani might have won by 15.
Van Sickle: WWJVFVD? What Would Jean Van de Velde Do?
Gorant: It’s not about the number so much, it’s about the experience. We didn’t see the pain and hear the whining we usually do when Carnoustie hosts. Definitely a kinder, gentler setup.
Bamberger: I think Hogan, Watson and Harrington were all way under par on their wins there, too. The whining is never from the winners. (Note: Harrington won at seven under, Hogan at six under and Watson at five under.)
A KINDER, SOFTER U.S. OPEN?
Gorant: Continuing a theme, Olin Browne won the U.S. Senior Open with a very un-Open like score of 15-under. On the heels of Rory McIlroy’s 16-under at Congressional, must we ask if the U.S. Open has lost its teeth?
Bamberger: It’s really a par-70 pretending to be a 71. That first par-5 was really a longish par-4. So in my book the winning score was 11 under.
Evans: The USGA cares about the “growth of the game” and all that jazz. And perhaps it sees easy setups that produce lots of birdies as a way of enticing people. But without a really tough setup, how can any course defend itself against the new technology? It seems odd that back in the 80s, when guys were playing persimmon woods and blades, the courses were much harder off the fairways and around the greens.
Van Sickle: It’s a weather-related coincidence. Heavy rain followed by high heat. The Senior Open leaderboard was pretty strong. So was Congressional’s. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with red numbers at the Open, but for the sake of its reputation, the USGA probably shouldn’t make a habit of it. That said, in the TV age, it’s all about presenting a compelling show. Birdies seem more compelling than pars and bogeys.
Herre: The course played plenty tough on Sunday, when it finally dried out.
Godich: Plus, this isn’t the first time the seniors have gone low at the Open. Fred Funk was 20-under at Crooked Stick just two years ago, and other winners have been double-digit under par.
Van Sickle: As Mark O’Meara answered the other day here in Toledo when asked if he thought Inverness was set up too easy: “Hey, we’re seniors!”
AK (SORT OF) RETURNS
Gorant: If things were soft elsewhere in golf this week, at least the Old White course got tougher. Nobody touched 59 this year, but Anthony Kim shot a 62. After struggling with an injury and bad play for more than a year, is A.K. ready to rejoin the “young guns” crowd? And where do we place him among the McIlroys and Fowlers and D.J.s of the world?
Herre: A.K. still has a ways to go, but he’s making progress. Sixty-two on Saturday, 74 on Sunday — that’s a mixed bag. Maybe the final step is learning to close again. Still, I think he could be a key player for the U.S. in next year’s Ryder Cup. He has a big game and can dominate when he’s right.
Van Sickle: A.K. isn’t on the radar until he starts winning something. A final-round 74 at Greenbrier was not part of his plan. He has to play his way back onto the list of the promising twenty-somethings.
Godich: He’s on his way, but he’s not there yet. His chance to win at the Greenbrier was set up by one spectacular round. The way he played today has to be a setback. I’ll be interested to see how he bounces back.
Lipsey: A.K. has SERIOUS game, as explosive as anybody’s, but I wonder if he’ll ever get it back?
Evans: He’s a streaky player. He’ll win and shoot 62s, but he can also miss cuts and shoot 80.
Ryan Reiterman, senior producer, Golf.com: When he’s on, he’s one of the best players in the world. His complete dismantling of Sergio at the ’08 Ryder Cup is still one of the most impressive displays of golf I’ve ever seen. Hopefully he can get back to that level soon. Who wouldn’t love to see Rory and A.K. battle it out in a Ryder Cup?
Godich: I still remember when Sergio tried to take a questionable drop out of a ridiculous lie. A.K. looked at him incredulously, then said something like, “Just do what you have to do.”
Bamberger: I don’t know why I say this, but you don’t feel that any of them have that desperate drive to be great, but Tiger has changed our notion of that concept so radically.
Godich: Maybe there’s too much money out there, so there’s not the incentive to play every week. I’m in an eight-team rotisserie league. Each team has 10 players. This week 20 of 80 players teed it up at the Greenbrier. Twenty! That has been a common theme this year. I wonder if these guys are hungry enough.
Lipsey: That’s the problem. Nobody out there is hungry. They’re all so rich, living on caviar and foie gras.
Evans: Rick, I hope that you are joking. The PGA Tour has fewer millionaires than any major sport. It’s a fact.
Godich: Not when you’re talking about the percentage of players.
Evans: The rule of thumb out there is that you don’t play more than four weeks in a row. Guys know their bodies.
Godich: Funny, but before the days of exercise trailers and personal chefs, guys used to play week in and week out.
Lipsey: They needed to play all year to make, maybe, half of what Stallings made for winning this week. It took a lot more 68s to build a mansion and own a jet in the old days.
Evans: But the quality of golf was not as good back then — especially the quality and consistency of the ball-striking. And most guys were done basically by the time they were in their early 40s.
Godich: The equipment and the technology weren’t as good, either. I remember when a slew of guys had to Monday-qualify to get into that week’s event. Could you imagine that in this day and age?
RORY’S TWITTER TUSSLE
Gorant: Moving to off-course action, Rory McIlroy got in a little Twitter spat this week with Golf Channel announcer Jay Townsend. Personally I liked it because it made him seem human in a way that once again separated him from Tiger, who would never say anything impolitic in public. But is social media a disaster waiting to happen for all those golfers out there typing away?
Bamberger: I completely agree. He’s alive! I love it. And Jay is, too. I caddied for him once, in Europe. He’s a very bright and insightful golf guy. He probably hit a nerve.
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: I was surprised by Rory’s tantrum. Great kid, but that’s Townsend’s job, no?
Godich: I would’ve liked it more if he would have found a way in his reply to laugh off Townsend’s critique.
Lipsey: Nice to see some fight in Rory, even if his comments were totally rude and impolitic. He’s young and will learn manners, but hopefully his spunk will never wane.
Herre: I think the entire episode made McIlroy look small. Why get into it with a TV guy? You’ll never win that fight, especially when the fight is public. Rory never should have shown his rabbit ears.
Jeff Ritter, senior producer, Golf.com: Social media disaster can strike anyone with a Blackberry and two thumbs. The clash with Townsend really isn’t a big deal, but it would be a shame if that event marks the end of the open, accessible Rory McIlroy.
Evans: First of all, if Tiger had done what Rory did he would have been castigated in the media. And being defensive and angry toward the media doesn’t get you credit for being human. Millions of people use Twitter every day, and most of them know exactly what they are going to say. Rory was wrong and should have kept his mouth shut. If he’s that thin-skinned, he’s going to have a tough time in this business.
Hack: I didn’t like the “shut up” part of Rory’s tweet, or the bit about Jay’s opinion not mattering. Struck me as rude. Felt like he could have made his point to Jay without those parts. Sadly, Twitter lends itself to that kind exchange and will continue to do so.