Tour Confidential: How will the FBI investigation affect Mickelson's game? Plus, Matsuyama's potential and Bay Hill vs. Memorial

Tour Confidential: How will the FBI investigation affect Mickelson’s game? Plus, Matsuyama’s potential and Bay Hill vs. Memorial

FBI agents approached Phil Mickelson after his opening round Thursday. He closed with a 1-over 73 on Sunday.
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Every Sunday night, conducts an e-mail roundtable with writers from Sports Illustrated and Golf Magazine. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.

1. After reports that the FBI was looking at some of Phil Mickelson's stock trades, Mickelson said that he had done nothing wrong and that the situation would not affect his U.S. Open preparation. What impact will the FBI investigation and ensuing publicity have on Mickelson's golf?

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: It will improve it. A distraction for Phil is like giving Ritalin to a hyperactive kid.

Joe Passov, senior editor, Golf Magazine (@joepassov): If anyone can handle major distractions and still play terrific golf, it's Phil Mickelson. Between his wife Amy's physical issues, his own, the impending birth of a child (at the '99 Pinehurst U.S. Open) and a slew of other concerns, Mickelson has managed to plow through. His tongue-in-cheek humor displayed at the Memorial press conferences is a good sign that he can cope with the latest crisis. Perhaps this will serve as a sufficient — but not overwhelming — distraction to allow him to break through at Pinehurst, his multiple near-misses and the relentless, if understandable pressure to win taking a back seat.

Mike Walker, assistant managing editor, (@michaelwalkerjr): I believe Mickelson when he says he did nothing wrong, but his golf will suffer as the investigation continues. FBI agents showing up at a tournament after he plays a round of golf has to be unnerving.

Jeff Ritter, senior editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Group (@Jeff_Ritter): Off-course issues can sometimes help (see Rory last week) or hurt. But put yourself in Phil's alligator wingtips: If you've done nothing wrong, this is just a minor irritation and not the kind of thing that loses U.S. Opens.

Josh Sens, contributing writer, Golf Magaizine (@JoshSens): It won’t help. But how much it hurts depends on how the investigation plays out and how much hot water (if any) he is actually in. Mickelson says he has learned to buffer himself from off-course distractions when he’s competing, but life has a funny way of spilling into golf, no matter how great the player or how staunch his resolve. Maybe this will all blow over quickly. But, well, put it this way: I’m not taking Phil in my U.S. Open pool.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): Phil likes to beat long odds. It may actually help.

2. Memorial winner Hideki Matsuyama has been making a name for himself since turning pro last year, especially with his performance at the 2013 majors (T10 at U.S. Open and T6 at British Open). What impresses you most about his game?

VAN SICKLE: Matsuyama hits an awful lot of iron shots really, really close. That works on any course or any venue. He's for real, and tourney host Jack Nicklaus said he'll be a top player for the next 10 to 15 years.

PASSOV: Peter Kostis loves Matsuyama's rhythm, and I'm not going to argue. He's long, boasts a complete game and as evidenced by a few temperament issues, he's got serious competitive fire. Big props for his approach to the 72nd and the birdie putt, following a bunch of deflating holes.

SENS: Length, touch and a tough-to-ruffle temperament. Wait. That describes almost everyone on Tour. What I really love is that silky tempo, with the syncopated pause at the top.

WALKER: I like Matsuyama’s sense of the moment. He plays his best in the biggest events.

BAMBERGER: A putting stroke that I would — I can't even finish the thought.

3. The three best players in the world — statistically speaking — couldn't get it done Sunday. Henrik Stenson had a chance to close the No. 1 gap with a home game at the Nordea Masters in Sweden, but the third-round co-leader faded after a final-round 71. Meanwhile, Adam Scott and Bubba Watson couldn't get it done down the stretch at the Memorial. Does being a closer have any relevance anymore, or is the modern game simply about high finishes and big money?

VAN SICKLE: Being a closer does have relevance. Their failures show just how difficult it is to close and reaffirm just how otherworldly a sure-thing closer like Tiger Woods was.

PASSOV: I'm not going to go all curmudgeon and say that Jack, Arnie, Ben and Bobby closed all the time. There were plenty of times when they weren't able to get it done — though credit to Tiger. He always seemed to close successfully. But at a time in golf when we need a few to stars to fill the gap left by Tiger and his injuries, and by Phil with his issues, today's best are like phantoms, wispy, ghost-like figures who fade far too often. Don't Adam Scott and Bubba Watson have talent levels to match Vijay Singh and Tom Watson? Then why can't they win four or five times on Tour? I don't feel like any of these guys deserve No. 1 unless they can close more than twice a year.

SENS: It’s irrelevant to whether you can pay your mortgage. But it’s still important in the ways that matter most. Henrik Stenson won some $20 million on the course last year. You don’t think he would have traded some of those dollars to finish one place higher in last year’s British Open?

WALKER: The Memorial was a step backwards, but both Adam Scott and Bubba Watson are learning how to be closers. Bubba has grown from kind of a kooky guy to a consistent contender, and Adam Scott followed up a win last week with a good showing at Memorial and some bad luck hitting the flagstick on 15. By anybody’s standards but Tiger’s, they are both looking pretty solid.

BAMBERGER: Well, if you want us to remember you, you better close. Who finished second at last year's PGA? Damned if I know.

RITTER: Well, you can make a pretty nice living off back-door top 10s. But most guys, including those with Ferraris already in their garages, aspire to be great, and that still means winning.

4. Which event is better: Arnie's tournament at Bay Hill or Jack's tournament at Muirfield Village?

SENS: I’ll take Arnie’s for the greater drama of its closing holes, and for the way the players relate to the host. The guys might worship Nicklaus for what he accomplished on the course, but you sense they have more warmth for Palmer and a different sort of respect and gratitude for the ways he changed the game.

WALKER: Like the two players, Nicklaus leads by every measurable factor but Palmer wins on intangibles. The Memorial should have the edge – it’s on a more serious course with more serious competition — but I prefer the freewheeling spirit and early-season optimism of Bay Hill.

VAN SICKLE: Even though Muirfield Village is a little extreme — take the 16th hole … please! — it's a much better golf course than Bay Hill. As for fan parking and practice facilities and every other aspect of tournament golf, it's not much of a contest. The Memorial is way better.

PASSOV: Slight nod to Jack's event. The club, course and tournament were created to be Ohio's version of Augusta and the Masters and while it doesn't have the 5th major status Jack thought it once deserved, it's closer to that than Arnie's party.

BAMBERGER: Jack's. Better course, better field, better date.

5. College players using push carts at the NCAA golf championship were criticized on Twitter by, among others, Bo Van Pelt and ex-NFL player Trent Dilfer. The critics' feeling is that carrying your own bag is more macho than using a push cart. Where do you stand on the push-cart-vs.-carry-your-bag debate?

SENS: Frankly, I think it was un-macho of Trent Dilfer to win a Super Bowl by relying entirely on his defense, but I happen to agree with him on the push carts. They’re ridiculous-looking and able-bodied college golfers should not be allowed to use them in competition. That said, are they really an advantage? I find it much more convenient and relaxing to carry than push a cart, which can be a pain on certain kinds of terrain.

RITTER: I was anti-cart before visiting Scotland for the first time, but the wheels are ubiquitous over there, including at St. Andrews. Rolling your sticks around the home of golf has a funny way of making the cart seem just fine.

PASSOV: Boo to Bo and I'm dissing Dilfer, too. Push carts are celebrated in the U.K., where you see them regularly on many of the top 20 courses in the world. The walk is the thing, whether you carry, push, or engage a caddie.

VAN SICKLE: I forgot Trent Dilfer was a golf expert. The NCAA golf championship is now overloaded with rounds of golf since it went to match play. These players are often going 36 holes a day. There's not a thing wrong with using push carts.

WALKER: I keep my bag light because I like to carry, but do whatever you want, I won’t judge. The important thing is to walk whenever you can.

BAMBERGER: Push carts are where it's at! They should be allowed everywhere.

6. Shoprite Classic winner and new No. 1 in the world Stacy Lewis visited New York last week to announce a collaboration between the PGA of America and the LPGA, the venerable 59-year-old LPGA Championship is being remade as the KPMG Women's PGA Championship. The forecast sounds promising, but is it wrong to mess with the very identity of the one of the two oldest majors in women's golf?

VAN SICKLE: All I know is that Wegman's, one of the best sponsors the LPGA ever had and the reason the LPGA Championship still exists, isn't going to have a tournament any more because it can't afford a major. You do and do and do and this is the thanks you get.

BAMBERGER: Not at all. This can be a great thing for women's golf. Rock on, KPMG!

PASSOV: The LPGA Championship has serious history and a sterling list of winners, but it's always felt second-tier to me, compared to the Women's U.S. Open and even compared to the Dinah Shore/Kraft Nabsico. Venues were really mediocre in the early years; in the past two decades, they've been better (notably Bulle Rock in Maryland), but not famous or Top 100-type courses. So, too there has been a mish-mash of sponsors attached to the tournament name, making it confusing as to whether it was a normal LPGA event or the actual major. With NYC as home base, and top women in financial circles involved, I see this move as a huge positive.

WALKER: It’s an exciting time in women’s golf and the PGA of America has become one of the game’s most forward-thinking organizations. I think they can revamp the event while still paying respect to its history.

SENS: I don’t like the ring of it, but at least it’s honest. Name a big-time professional sporting event today that would survive without title-sponsor-size corporate investment. Personally, I’m already looking forward to the 2021 IBM Green Jacket Spring Invitational.

The Tour Confidential roundtable continues Monday on our new weekly show hosted by Jessica Marksbury. Tweet her your questions @Jess_Marksbury.