PGA Tour Confidential: Woods falls short in Abu Dhabi, Snedeker wins at Torrey Pines

January 30, 2012

Every Sunday night, the editorial staff of the SI Golf Group conducts an e-mail roundtable. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in our all-new live Readers' Confidential or in the comments section below.

Charlie Hanger, executive editor, Tiger Woods came up short in Abu Dhabi on Sunday, but overall he played well and finished tied for third against a field that featured six of the top 10 in the world. Is this evidence that his comeback is progressing, or further proof that he no longer has the game to beat (and intimidate) the world's best players?

Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: You can't argue that it's not progress. That's the best he's looked in a long time, although the failure to deliver on Sunday is disturbing. In his post-round interview Rock said he was intimidated. Tiger just never really put the heat on him.

Shipnuck: It's evidence that Tiger can't yet control his golf ball — or maybe, himself — in the crunch. Two fairways and six greens in regulation on a course that's not very demanding off the tee is hardly progress.

Van Sickle: I'd like to say it's progress; Tiger had a chance to win on Sunday. But to go out on Sunday and hit two fairways and six greens was concerning. (That 72 was actually a hell of a score for hitting only six greens.) He's made progress, but he's obviously not there yet.

Have a question for Gary Van Sickle's mailbag? E-mail [email protected] or ask it on Facebook.

David Dusek, deputy editor, There is no doubt that Tiger is making serious progress and is going to win very soon. He made some good putts, his irons were more consistent and he seemed fairly even-tempered throughout the four days. I knocked him when he could only play one good round per event. That turned into two, and now three. I think he'll play four at Pebble Beach.

Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: Tiger was the best closer in golf history. He is not that player anymore. However, he played well for three rounds in Abu Dhabi, and that's progress. It's troubling that it was the driver — again — that cost him on Sunday. He just can't seem to get any consistency with that club.

Gorant: To be fair, though, two of those missed fairways were with the 3-wood, and at least three of them were in the first cut, just two or three feet off the fairway. Still, he looked sloppy out there.

Van Sickle: Tiger Woods vs. Robert Rock and the winner is… Robert Rock? It's a brave new world for Tiger.

Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Tiger said his issue was distance control: 3-woods flying 320, 8-irons going 180. We should all have such problems. At the end of the day, he just didn't hit it well enough to win. He knows that.

Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: As Woods always says, winning is the only thing. He hasn't won a full-field tour event anywhere in more than two years. Close doesn't count, especially for Woods.

Jeff Ritter, senior producer, It's probably a little of both. He's certainly closer to winning a full-field event now than he was last summer. But after hitting it straight all week he hits two fairways in the final round? Not a good sign. It's amazing he only lost by two.

Mick Rouse, editorial assistant, SI Golf Group: You're not going to win every tournament you play, even if you're Tiger Woods. You can't win unless you put yourself in position to win, and he did that. Rock just played better on Sunday. I don't expect it to take Woods much time to win again.

Ryan Reiterman, senior producer, Tiger didn't have his best and still nearly won. I'm still predicting 3 or 4 wins this year.

Shipnuck: He didn't make a bogey in two of the first three rounds and was pretty close to flawless during a Saturday 66. His problems are mental, not mechanical.

Lipsey: You're all missing the point. Woods had the title on the line and lost to the 117th-ranked player in the world. That's all that matters.

Mike Walker, senior editor, Golf Magazine: It's almost like Tiger needs to re-learn how to win. Based on his progress so far, I think he's going to figure it out.

Lipsey: Once the losing slide starts for great athletes, it's almost irreversible. Look at Federer. The odds are stacked against Woods regaining his winning ways.

Ritter: I still think he'll win twice this year, but I'd like to reserve the right to count the Isleworth Four-Ball Club Championship as one of those Ws if necessary.

Tell us what you think in the all-new readers' live Confidential or in the comments section below: Is Tiger's comeback progressing, or is he still far from ready for prime time?

Robert Rock, final round, Abu Dhabi 2012

Paul Childs / Zuma Press
Robert Rock won his head-to-head showdown with Tiger Woods for his second career European tour victory.

Hanger: It took Robert Rock nine years to win his first European Tour event, last year's Italian Open, and a little more than seven months to win his second, in Abu Dhabi this weekend. What's your take on Rock? Does he have the game to become a regular winner?

Gorant: He has the name and hair of a cartoon character. He can't be stopped! Actually, his final-round 70 wasn't exactly coming up big. He did just enough.

Shipnuck: Who knows? What's not in dispute is that he has the best hair in golf.

Rouse: Don't let Rickie hear you say that.

Herre: The most of it, for sure. I'm jealous.

Lipsey: Jimenez has more hair!

Hanger: Not sure we can give him the best hair award yet. We never get to see anyone else without hat hair, so it's not really a fair fight.

Rouse: Sometimes all it takes is one win to get you over that hump. I don't know if he has the game to be a consistent top 10 guy like Webb Simpson was last year, but he can certainly compete with the best of them when his game is on.

Hack: He definitely has one of the best names in golf. The guy should be an MMA fighter.

Stephanie Wei, contributor, SI Golf+: He's a solid player, obviously, and just like 50 other guys out there, he has the game to be a regular winner. The question is, does he have the mental game, and the short game? If today was any indication, he's got nerves of steel. One thing's for sure: he has amazing hair.

Hack: Definitely has one of the best names in golf. Guy should be an MMA fighter.

Tell us what you think in the all-new readers' live Confidential or in the comments section below: He's got the hair, but does Rock have the game to be a regular winner on Tour?

Hanger: Twenty-one-year-old rookie John Huh, who tied for fifth at Torrey, is an undeniably great story. He grew up in Korea, Chicago and L.A., had a cup of coffee at Cal State-Northridge and played the Korean Tour before squeaking through Q-school last year. If the proposed changes to Q-school were in effect last year, Huh would be plying his trade on the Nationwide Tour. Will you miss seeing these qualifiers making a splash on the big Tour, or do you like the idea of sending (nearly) everyone through the minor leagues first?

Shipnuck: Frankly, I'm having a hard time caring. The truly talented players will find their way to the Tour no matter what.

Dusek: I agree. If a player coming out of college is special, he'll burn it up on the Nationwide Tour and play in The Show the next season, or win three times and get a battlefield promotion. I have no problem with the PGA Tour starting the season before we flip the calendar.

Gorant: I have mixed feelings. There are a few cases in which it would suck. A guy like Rickie Fowler or even Bud Cauley not having a direct path to the Tour seems dumb, but golf could survive a year-long wait for John Huh. In the end, the cream will rise.

Van Sickle: The real story here is that the PGA Tour is scrambling to find sponsors to replace Nationwide. This plan is essentially a sales pitch to make sponsoring three Nationwide events more appealing. As for the new system, I'd like to know what the guy who finished 200th on the PGA Tour money list did that was so dazzling that he gets a chance at regaining his card while the best player from college golf or maybe the U.S. Amateur doesn't get a chance. There is no need for this change. If you want fairness, let everybody play six rounds and take the best scores. There is nothing fairer than the scorecard. The proposal is a terrible idea.

Lipsey: It seems like this is less about nixing Q-school than it is about the Tour looking for a way to try and drum up interest in fall Tour golf, which may or not be successful.

Herre: Q-schoolers doing well is fun, but rare. I don't get all the gnashing of teeth over this change. It's simply part of a plan to grow the Tour, probably in Asia and some day in South America. The PGA Tour has done a tremendous job growing its business. You have to make some changes now and then to do that.

Van Sickle: I can't wait to hear you change your tune when the next real star (like Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson) of amateur/college golf can't get a crack at the PGA Tour in his first year. And we still haven't heard the final details of how this is going to work. If it's anything like the FedEx Cup points system, that's a problem. Rickie Fowler wouldn't have made the Ryder Cup team with this rule in place. He'd likely have been sentenced to the Nationwide Tour that year instead.

Herre: Big deal.

Van Sickle: Fowler is one of the top three stars on the PGA Tour now. I think that is a big deal. Why would the Tour want to delay good players from getting to the show?

Herre: If you're that big a star coming out of college, you're still allowed seven exemptions, right?

Van Sickle: Yes, but Rickie waited to play in the Walker Cup in August. Now that the Fall series is disappearing, there are only three or four events left that a player could get in. If you turn pro after the NCAA championship in June, you might be able to land seven exemptions, but you'd have to get one almost every week.

Walker: In a perfect world, I'd keep Q-school the same, but if the Nationwide Tour is struggling and there's little interest in fall golf, I've got an open mind about the Tour's proposed changes.

Rouse: It's always makes a nice story when a guy like Huh (another great last name) pops up and makes a splash, but very few have any longevity. Maybe sending guys through the minor leagues will help identify players who can last on the PGA Tour.

Van Sickle: Why not move the Q-school stages up a few weeks and let the top 10 finishers there play in the three-event Nationwide series and have a shot at a PGA Tour card? If they don't make it, it's back to the Nationwide. At least it leaves the door open for a potential star-quality player (like Peter Uihlein) to win a card.

Tell us what you think in the all-new readers' live Confidential or in the comments section below: Should pro golfers be forced to spend at least one year in the minor leagues, or is the current system a better option?

Phil Mickelson, round 2, Torrey Pines

Jake Roth / US Presswire
Phil Mickelson shot a 77 in the opening round at Torrey Pines and went on to miss the cut.

Hanger: Phil Mickelson had a lot on his mind last week — his daughter was undergoing tests Thursday after having a seizure at school the previous week — and he missed the cut at Torrey Pines with a 77-68 start. Is there much to discuss about Phil after two starts in 2012, or do we need more data to assess the state of his game?

Shipnuck: It's amazing what Phil has had to play through in the last few years. I only expect him to play well at the Masters and U.S. Open, as usual.

Herre: One never knows with Phil. All the health issues he and his family continue to go through have to affect his play.

Gorant: Major pass for Phil this week. Afterward he said he felt good about his game. I'll go with that. We'll see this week.

Rouse: Phil's always been erratic, distractions or not; that's what makes him Phil. I wouldn't be shocked by his performance either way.

Hack: It's tough to assess Phil, who had his mind on his daughter this week. He'll be up for the majors as usual.

Dusek: I walked all 18 holes with Phil on Thursday and can attest that it was as ugly as 77 gets, but he gets a pass because of the family issues. His game was never based on consistency, but with all the stuff going on his life, I can't believe he can contend nearly as often as fans would like.

Tell us what you think in the all-new readers' live Confidential or in the comments section below: Are you concerned about Phil's slow start this season?

Hanger: What a crazy ending at Torrey Pines. Gary McCord said he was in the car when he heard about Kyle Stanley's triple on the 18th. He had to turn around to get back for the playoff! Does this strengthen Stanley's resolve or scar him for life?

Shipnuck: It's brutal. To make an 8 on the last hole to blow the tourney is a nightmare. To do it on an easy par-5 is inconceivable. Van de Velde salvaged a 7 on a much harder hole.

Hack: Minutes before the triple, Nantz and company were praising Stanley's caddie for guiding him through the tournament. That's why it's 72 holes, folks, or sometimes more.

Gorant: The real killer is that Snedeker's tee ball on the second playoff hole would have gone into the Pacific if not for the TV tower.

Herre: Scarred for life. Kidding. No one enjoys seeing someone spit the bit like that. Stanley actually hit a good approach on 18 but was unlucky. He's too good a player to let this destroy him. We'll be hearing from him again.

Hanger: Agree. All golfers have had heartbreaks like that, though most of us on much smaller stages, and we still keep going.

Gorant: Nah, I always birdie 18.

Van Sickle: CBS analysts completely dropped the ball by supporting Stanley's decision to lay up in regulation at 18. He should have blown his second over the green; the stands are a free drop. And if you go for the green in two and hit the water, you take a drop and hit your fourth shot on. In Stanley's defense, his third shot was a beauty, but it took a severe backward bounce and spun into the water. Bottom line: if Stanley goes for the green in two, he'd be holding the trophy right now.

Lipsey: That hurt. Hopefully he bounces back, and soon. Such talent, but memories like that are hard to shake.

Van Sickle: Stanley is a stud. He once won the Southern Amateur by holing a 50-foot birdie putt to beat Mike Van Sickle. Mike was OK with that until the next day, when he learned that the Southern Am winner also won an invite to Bay Hill. Then he was ticked off!

Rouse: Can he come back? It depends on his mental toughness. A guy like Rory can implode (Masters) and come right back to win (U.S. Open). It's a case-by-case situation. Time will tell.

Dusek: He won't be scarred for life — he's too talented and confident — but the next time he's on the first page of the leaderboard on Sunday, he'll have to ignore a little voice in his head.

Tell us what you think in the all-new readers' live Confidential or in the comments section below: Will Stanley rebound from this brutal loss at Torrey Pines?

Brandt Snedeker, final round, Torrey Pines 2012

Carlos M. Saavedra / SI
Brandt Snedeker won a playoff at Torrey Pines after Kyle Stanley made an eight on the 72nd hole.

Hanger: What about Snedeker, who is back from hip surgery and has had his share of heartbreak, most memorably in the 2008 Masters. Does he have a major win in his future?

Herre: I've always liked Snedeker's game. If he can stay healthy I think he'll be consistently successful.

Ritter: He's been close at Augusta before. Who knows? If he goes into Sunday four shots back, maybe this is the year he pulls it off.

Hack: I love Snedeker's attitude and fast play as much as his game. He'll always be on my short list at the Masters because he has a little Ben Crenshaw in him. He plays golf with his heart and putts like a dream.

Van Sickle: He's not the first guy you'd take in a fantasy draft, but he has a knack for hanging around the lead near the finish. That's a good recipe for snagging a major. He's a good clutch putter, too. You have to love that.

Wei: Love Snedeker's game, fast play and demeanor. Very classy what he said in post-win interview, too.  His putting has tremendously improved under pressure…I just remember how he held up again Luke Donald to win at Hilton Head in the playoff. With that in mind, I was pretty confident he was going to beat Stanley.

Tell us what you think in the all-new readers' live Confidential or in the comments section below: Do you view Snedeker as a major contender?

Hanger: This group has proved to be less-than-stellar at predicting golf tournament winners, so I think we should try another sport. Who are you picking in the Super Bowl, and which metro area, Boston or New York, is a better golf town?

Gorant: You kiddin' Me? New York and New York.

Hack: Tough to beat Belichick twice in the same season: Pats 27, Giants 24. (Though the Gronkowski injury has me concerned). Golf in Nueva York.

Hanger: I like the Patriots, but I think you're right — the New York area gets the nod for golfiness.

Van Sickle: Pats get revenge. And if Westchester County and Long Island count, then Noo Yawk is the hands-down winner. Although I think the relatively new Boston Golf Club by Gil Hanse is fantastic.

Herre: I loved the Boston fans at the 1999 Ryder Cup. I think they intimidated the Euros and helped sweep the U.S. to victory, but as a golf town I have to go with New York. The diversity of courses in the Hamptons, New Jersey and Westchester is tough to beat. Pats win the Super Bowl, though. Quick throws by Brady will expose the Giants' linebackers and secondary.

Walker: You high-society New Yorkers can have your private clubs. I'll take Francis Ouimet, the 1999 Ryder Cup, and the great public courses on Cape Cod. Oh, and the Patriots.

Rouse: Patriots, but New York for golf, especially Chelsea Piers.

Dusek: I think the game will be close, but I'll take the Patriots. As for the golf, New York and the tri-state area blow greater Boston out of the stadium.

Tell us what you think in the all-new readers' live Confidential or in the comments section below: New York vs. New England: Golf courses and the Super Bowl. Who are you taking?