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 the comments section below.
WHO WILL WIN THE BATTLE OF THE BELLY: THE PGA TOUR OR THE USGA?
Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: As the PGA Tour moves to Florida, our guest this week is Greg Stoda, sports columnist for the Palm Beach Post. Welcome, Greg. Just as our Michael Bamberger predicted, the biggest news to come out of the Accenture Match Play Championship was the announcement by Tim Finchem that the PGA Tour was opposed to the USGA's proposed ban on anchored putting. What do you make of the Tour's stance? And how do you see this thing playing out?
John Garrity, contributing writer, Sports Illustrated: First, congratulations to Michael for his astute forecast. I'm less successful with predictions, but here's how I hope it will play out — with the USGA listening to the tour pros and the club pros and scuttling the proposed rule change. They asked for comment, and they got it. There's no point in turning this into a grand schism that undermines the game.
Greg Stoda, sports columnist, Palm Beach Post: It's difficult to fool Bamberger, and the Tour's response was predictable. The guys who don't anchor don't seem appreciably bothered by the guys who do, so Finchem just decided to leave well enough alone. And probably will do so for the long term.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: The USGA has the game's soul in mind here. The PGA Tour, understandably, cares about fairness to those who are using it and matters of the wallet, too. As Finchem said today, and said it well, these are matters of opinion. I believe they are tests of one's golf orthodoxy. I think you should swing the club, as our forebears did.
Jeff Ritter, senior producer, Golf.com: I'm in the camp that believes anchored putting doesn't offer a clear-cut advantage. My guess is that, as Bamberger wrote, without the Tour's support, the USGA and R&A may lose this one, and anchoring is here to stay. Fine by me.
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: The tour is protecting its property, that is, its star players who use anchored putting. This opposition, plus the PGA of America's anti-ban position, will have to make the USGA and R&A reconsider whether the ban is doable. Maybe the USGA is about to realize that golf traditionalists are a small, outnumbered and possibly out-of-touch minority … nahhh.
Mike Walker, senior editor, Golf Magazine: The anchored putter debate has turned into a power struggle over who controls the game. The USGA and R&A should call the PGA Tour's bluff: some players might complain, but the Tour will abide by the ban. Tim Finchem will never allow a situation where his players could be called cheats. Incidentally, this whole situation is not helping golf dispel its image as a game for doddering twits.
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: It's a sad day. The blue coats have made mistakes but their motivation has always been to protect the game. All Finchem cares about is protecting the Porsche money of a couple dozen yippy journeymen. This is a troubling precedent and, much like the Citizens United court decision, its ugly impact will only become more obvious over time.
Eamon Lynch, managing editor, Golf.com There's nothing surprising in the Tour's stance. Finchem is employed by the players to represent their interests, and as Gary Van Sickle pointed out earlier this week, many Tour players don't like blue-blazered amateurs deciding on the tools of their livelihood. Expecting any other reaction from the Tour is akin to expecting the Teamsters to rise up against overtime. That said, the USGA and R&A seem to be in this one for the long war. Trial lawyers are the only happy constituency. If only the various bodies in this spat were as eager to deal with slow play, which has much more of a detrimental impact on the game for most of us.
Stephanie Wei, WeiUnderPar.com: I think the Tour is more concerned with its own self-interest than what's best for the game. How is this going to play out? USGA holds strong in language before deciding to 'revisit' the issue in the next four-year rule period…it quietly fades into the background and eventually out of thoughts/minds completely. I hope that's not what happens, but the other option is one that will also get messy: bifurcation of the rules.
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: In this case the USGA will be helped by its four-year Rules of Golf cycle, because by 2016–when the ban was supposed to take effect–the anchoring issue will have lost a lot of its sizzle and it will be possible for the USGA and R&A to quietly abandon the proposed change without losing their authority. I suspect that's what will happen.
KUCHAR, MAHAN AND POULTER: WHO WILL WIN A MAJOR FIRST?
Godich: The Match Play proved that you don't have to have Tiger and Rory playing into Sunday for the golf to be riveting. The event provided a formidable final eight, an outstanding final contested in difficult conditions and a worthy champion in Matt Kuchar. I was especially intrigued by the semifinal matchup between Hunter Mahan and Ian Poulter. All three of these players have popped up on the list of best players never to have won a major. Which of the three is the best bet to get one? And why?
Garrity: Until recently I would have said Kuchar, whose consistency and unflappability are perfectly suited to the majors. But Mahan's greenside play is so much better than it used to be that I don't see him going much longer without a green jacket or a claret jug or one of those other gewgaws.
Lynch: Mahan seems a more complete player, and has been tempered by his Ryder Cup traumas of 2010.
Shipnuck: Tough call, but I say Mahan. He may have risen to the exalted status as golf's best ball-striker and I think he's been hardened by his twin Ryder Cup disappointments (losing the deciding match in '10 and getting left off the team in '12). Muirfield and especially Oak Hill are ball-strikers paradises and I expect Mahan to get it done at one of those venues.
Morfit: I'd say Kuchar is the best bet to win a major, for two reasons. First, he's a ball-striking machine, a modern-day Jeff Maggert. Second, I don't think Kuchar has convinced himself that winning a major is the end-all, be-all of human existence, like so many others have, and I think that will help him when the pressure is on late Sunday afternoon.
Ritter: Just have a feeling this might be Poulter's year to break through, although Kuchar and Mahan are also both due for a major. Poulter seems to be building on his strong second half of 2012, which in addition to his astounding show at the Ryder Cup included a T3 at the PGA Championship and a win against a loaded field at the HSBC Champions. Kuchar's best shot is probably Augusta, while I like Mahan and Poulter's chances at Merion.
Walker: All three players are major-ready. Poulter's most likely to win one first. The T3 at the PGA Championship and win in Shanghai at the end of last year proved he's more than just a great match-play player. He can putt well under pressure and he has a, uh, positive self-image. Good recipe for a major championship.
Van Sickle: Kuchar's consistency and plodding, steady play sounds like the formula for winning a U.S. Open. He's got a Players and now a WGC. I think he's tough enough to win a major now.
Bamberger: Mahan, and at a U.S. Open. He's made for it. Fairways and greens and a good head, too, You could say the same of Kuchar. But Mahan has more ammo.
Wei: Kuchar probably because his game is all-around the most well-rounded. Can't count out Mahan, either, though They've both won at the highest levels, except for a major. For long term, I'd go with Jason Day, who has shown his intensity and talent on the largest stages.
Stoda: Kuchar gets my vote … and it'll happen this year. Let's say at the U.S. Open where his all-around skills will be put to best use. He's also always struck me as having a mean streak behind that almost-constant smile.
WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT RORY
Godich: It was another lost week for McIlroy, who a year after getting to the final was bounced in the first round by Shane Lowry. Rory's iron play was especially loose. Is anybody getting more concerned about the equipment change? And because we're so good at this kind of stuff, what advice would you give Rory?
Garrity: Rory has played only three competitive rounds since the season started, so I don't see how you can reach any sweeping conclusions about his game. Clearly, he's rusty, but he endured a long stretch like this last year, with the attendant weeping and wailing of most of us in the press tent. And he wound up winning his second major and taking Player of the Year honors. Advice for Rory? I'd pass along Satchel Paige's sound advice to avoid fried foods that angry up the blood.
Ritter: I was concerned about Rory's equipment change to begin with, which is why I predicted an adjustment period that lasts until June. Can't back off that one now. I think the problem Rory faces is new pressure from new places. Every bad round – heck, every bad SHOT – creates new questions and more pressure. "What about those clubs, Rory?" My advice: play more golf. All it takes is one victory for things to normalize.
Shipnuck: He's played exactly three rounds of golf this year – the sample size is too small to make the call yet. My only advice is to maybe add one more pre-Masters tourney. As we know, it's all about the reps.
Morfit: I'm concerned about the equipment change because all the talk about it is going to get into Rory's head, if it hasn't already. The Match Play was a lousy event for him because you can't really start slow and play your way into it. And I don't think the Honda is a great event for him, either, because it'll be so easy to measure his performance against what he did last year. And if he's that wild with his irons, he's going to hit a lot of balls into the water at PGA National.
Stoda: Concerned? No. McIlroy's too good not to figure out how to play with this new equipment. But it might take a year — a disappointing one, by his standards — to get it done. There's a huge difference between testing sticks and taking on the PGA Tour with 'em. And he'll get annoyed with the questions on the subject (see: this week at Honda Classic). He only lives about five miles from me, so I'd be happy to go to his house and ask him before he gets peppered at the pre-tournament group interview.
Walker: McIlroy just needs to play more. He'll adjust to the equipment and the heightened expectations, but it's hard to prepare for a golf tournament from a tennis event in Monte Carlo.
Lynch: He's played three competitive rounds with new equipment, and these were the first three rounds of his season. There's no reason for either wringing of hands or ringing of alarm bells. My advice to McIlroy: Ignore any of my colleagues who offer a view contrary to mine.
Van Sickle: Rory is just rusty from a long break. His takeaway was clearly off on a number of iron shots, an easy fix. He's going to have a long adjustment period because he changed everything at once. But right now, his swing is off. Fixing that is step one.
Wei: Keep doing what you're doing, kid. Don't read any what we're saying because we're just spouting opinions.
Bamberger: Rees Jones sized up the issue perfectly the other day: it's not the clubs, it's the pressure. I am sure he'll be fine. He was down last year for a spell and look what happened. I'm more worried about me than I am Rory McIlroy. Tuition bills and I'm shooting 90.
GREAT MOMENTS IN MATCH-PLAY HISTORY
Godich: Charles Howell III had the honor of sending Tiger home early. On the front nine, Chuck conceded a rather generous three-footer to his good buddy. The Golf Channel crew suggested maybe that was why Howell could never beat Woods. Later, however, Howell explained that he didn't want to make Woods angry because he was less dangerous when he wasn't riled up. Thinking such of this is one of the beauties of match play. I could go on for hours about my domination of Stoda on the golf course over the years. Tell me. What's your favorite match-play story?
Garrity: I covered the 1990 U.S. Amateur at Cherry Hills, where Phil Mickelson conceded a 30-foot par putt to his opponent on the first hole of a match before draining his own missable putt for birdie. Phil had that match won before it reached the second tee.
Wei: Two years ago when Jason Day wouldn't give Paul Casey any putts in their match and got into Casey's head a bit. Classic gamesmanship and it worked. Day still wouldn't give 3-footers because he said unless you're 100 percent from 0-3 feet, he wouldn't give you that putt — and nobody is 100 percent from that range.
Ritter: Cutting a hybrid from 202 yards to three feet to set up a winning birdie against Golf.com's Kevin Cunningham on our 20th hole in the office match play tournament. They will be talking about that one for years (and by "they" I mean "me").
Van Sickle: I like Brian Barnes taking down Jack Nicklaus in the Ryder Cup singles matches in the morning. A rematch was arranged for the afternoon singles and Barnes took him down again.
Bamberger: Seventeen, Phiadelphia Cricket Club. Grudge match against another writer. I'm one down. We're both in jail. I hit a career shot to an inch. This match is going level. He holes out to win.
Walker: Professional golf hustler Dewey Tomko told me that nobody can play well after they get off an airplane. (He thinks it's the change in air pressure.) Dewey'll send a limo to the airport to bring his mark to the course and then play a match for as much as the guy can afford.
Lynch: I played my boss, David Clarke, at Spanish Peaks in Montana a few years ago. I was one-down on 17 and in with 6. He had a 15-footer for three. I won the match. He asked our host how the putt would break, so I claimed the hole since he asked for outside advice. On the par-5 18th, our 36th hole of the day, he missed a two-footer that would have halved the hole with 9s.
Morfit: Watching Poulter play out of his mind at Medinah was fun. And I like the story (which I included in a piece last week) about Vijay Singh running into Bernhard Langer after they'd both won first-round matches at the Accenture, and asking, "What hole do you want me to send you in from tomorrow, Bernhard?" Langer just kept smiling and practicing his putting stroke, and he sent Singh home the next day.
Stoda: It's true that I've never beaten Godich. It's also true that he has never conceded a putt of any length beyond a foot to me or anyone else that I know of. That's my favorite match-play story, and I'm sticking with it.
EUROPEANS DO IT BETTER?
Godich: Aussie Marcus Fraser made headlines when said that the European Tour was every bit as good as the PGA Tour. "Yeah, we don't play for as much money, but the fields are just as strong as the PGA Tour," Fraser said. I say that's nonsense. What say you?
Bamberger: Crazy talk. But fun.
Shipnuck: Depends on the time of year. Europe is indeed be stronger in January, and late-May, parts of June and July, and right before and after October. But if you look at the entirety of the schedule, the U.S. has deeper fields, tougher venues and more tournaments bringing all the top players together.
Van Sickle: The European tour is as strong at the top but I think the PGA Tour still has greater depth. A more pertinent reaction might be, Who's Marcus Fraser?
Stoda: Ask the Internationals who make a living on the PGA Tour what they think, and the rebuttal of Fraser will be clear and complete. It's all about D-E-P-T-H.
Garrity: The leaderboards are just as strong across the pond, but I don't think the Euros have caught up in terms of field depth. Every player in a typical PGA Tour field has already won at the highest level or is a reasonable bet to contend sometime during the season.
Lynch: Remember that the four majors and all WGC events also count as European Tour events too, so Fraser could have a point. Move beyond those events and both Tours probably have a fairly equal number of stops with a quality field. The reality is that the top players have carved out their own global tour based around majors, select events and appearance money, regardless of on which continent or under whose umbrella the event is played. That is the strongest, deepest and wealthiest "tour" in business these days, and it doesn't even have a name.
Walker: The talent level is deeper on the PGA Tour, but outside of the elite guys, it's not much better. The Euro Tour guys usually acquit themselves well at these events.
Morfit: I think the top of the Euro tour fields is as strong, which is one reason why Europe wins the Ryder Cup every two years, but I don't think those fields are as deep. I believe the World Ranking confirms this.
WHAT'S THE BEST TOUR STOP IN FLORIDA?
Godich: As the Tour heads to Florida, which event in the Sunshine State do you most look forward to? And why?
Garrity: My hand is always up to cover the Honda Classic, because then I get to read Mr. Stoda's daily dispatches in the Palm Beach Post. I also like to belly up to the counter at Hamburger Heaven, stroll through the lobby of the Breakers Hotel without the requisite coat and tie, and look up old friends from my '64 graduating class of Palm Beach High School.
Ritter: Probably next week's Honda, where Rory defends and Tiger returns to the scene of last year's final-round 62. Hey, they'll both play at least 36 holes this week, right?
Shipnuck: Doral. It has a great field, a fun risk-reward course and to me heralds the beginning of the run-up to Augusta. Plus South Beach is a great place to blow through an expense account.
Stoda: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Doral has the WGC banner going for it. But give me the Honda. It has a terrific field again this year, McIlroy as the defending champion, Tiger Woods signed up … and I can ride my bike to and from the course.
Morfit: The Honda will be fun this week, just because all the South Florida guys play it, thus ensuring a pretty great field. Also, MacArthur Beach State Park, a short drive from the course, is a beautiful spot for a hike or a jog.
Bamberger: Honda. I brought shorts to Tucson and they never came out. I have high hopes for next week.
Walker: Bay Hill is my favorite Tour stop: good crowds, great atmosphere and the consummate host.
Van Sickle: The Honda Classic had a thrilling finish last year with Rory withstanding a 62 by Tiger. They're both coming back. Maybe we'll get some kind of rematch.
Wei: The sunshine. And I love that you can drive from one venue to another in less than 3-4 hours. My favorite is probably the Honda Classic because I enjoy the agony that the intimidating Bear Trap can cause. I hope it's windy Thursday-Sunday!
Lynch: The Masters.