Tour Confidential: What Does Tiger Woods’ Last-Minute WD Mean for His Future?

October 17, 2016

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. When last we convened, Tiger Woods had committed to play in the Safeway Open and was on the cusp of making his first PGA Tour start in 14 months. But four days before the start of the tournament, Woods withdrew, saying his game was not where it needed to be. What did you make of his surprising 11th-hour WD?

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: That for once he was really candid about where he is in his life: he’s not close and he knows it. It’s almost heartbreaking to see where he is, given where he was.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustratred (@GaryVanSickle): Johnny Miller said he wasn’t convinced Tiger would play give how gingerly Tiger got in and out of the carts at the Ryder Cup. Back surgery isn’t knee surgery, and knee surgery is no snap. Maybe Tiger is so used to being able to cobble together a game in a few days that he forgot that everything — his age, his body, his desire — is different now.

Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated (@MarkGodich): It was the sign of resignation. I guess Tiger was being candid last December when he said whatever he accomplished going forward would be gravy.

Joe Passov, senior editor, Golf Magazine (@joepassov): Pretty shocking, really. Even if Tiger approached this with the best intentions, it’s hard to believe that he would actually commit, then three days later, de-commit. I was truly looking forward to watching the greatest player of our generation play tournament golf again. It will have to wait.

Jeff Ritter, senior editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Group (@Jeff_Ritter): The bottom line is that he shouldn’t return until he’s feeling his best. Once he tees it up, the pressure and expectations all ramp up again. This is his chance to stay away and prepare for it. The memory of last week’s WD will quickly fade away, but if he returns and plays like a champ, it leaves a much bigger mark.

GODICH: He got gun-shy, Jeff. And when’s the last time we saw Tiger get gun-shy?

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@AlanShipnuck): Yes, it was the ultimate capitulation. I’m afraid the end is nigh.

2. Phil Mickelson contended at the Safeway but ultimately finished tied for eighth, four strokes behind the winner, Brendan Steele, meaning Mickelson has now gone 69 starts since winning on the PGA Tour, at the 2013 British Open. “It seems to be brought up every week,” Mickelson said of his drought. “But I’m confident it’ll happen if I keep playing well.” How many more times do you envision the 46-year-old winning on Tour?

BAMBERGER: Five, in the next nine years.

VAN SICKLE: I don’t know. He putted about as well as he could putt the last two years and got shut out. I’ll say three more in the next three years, but as a viewer, I’d love to see him knock down another dozen … and a U.S. Open.

SHIPNUCK: The gold medal in Tokyo, for sure. Everything else is a bonus.

RITTER: Oh, the wins will come. In fact, I think he has a great chance, in four years, to become the first 50-something to win a major – most likely a Masters or British Open.

PASSOV: The bigger point is that he keeps turning in quality performances on a wide variety of courses. After processing what he accomplished at the Open Championship this year – losing only to an all-time record score – and seeing him rack up additional top 10s, it would be foolish to suggest he won’t find the winners circle again soon. I’ll go with another four wins and several more close calls in majors.

GODICH: He’ll win four more times, and one of those victories will be a major — at the Masters. I know everybody wants to see him win the U.S. Open, but those opportunities have passed. It’s not unlike Arnie not winning the PGA Championship. Golf is a cruel game that way.

3. Last week Emiliano Grillo was named the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year (the 24-year-old Argentine had a win and 10 top-25 finishes last season). Of this year’s stout rookie class — which includes the likes of Bryson DeChambeau, NCAA champ Jon Rahm, former world No. 1 amateur Ollie Schniederjans, three-time winner Wesley Bryan and, of course, Andrew (Beef) Johnston — which player is most likely to make the biggest splash in 2016-17?

BAMBERGER: Splash? Beef. Win most money? DeChambeau. Win on Tour? Wesley Bryan. Kid’s a winner, and winners win at every level at which they play.

VAN SICKLE: I agree on Bryan. You win three times on the Tour in a single year and get the battlefield promotion, you can and will win on the big tour. They’ve all got enough game to to splash it up.

RITTER: Wes Bryan does have the look of a player who’s ready to win now. And Beef is one win away from a new level of fame. If he can adjust to the growing circus around him, he has a great shot at it.

GODICH: I’ll take Jon Rahm for $800, Alex. Rahm hasn’t won yet, but he’s been the most consistent on the PGA Tour from the moment he turned professional. I also love the way he earned conditional status, playing his way on Tour with sponsor’s exemptions, something DeChambeau couldn’t do even after tying for fourth at Hilton Head.

SHIPNUCK: I like Rahm, too. He absolutely mauls the ball and has a great touch. And unlike the other guys on this list, he’s below-the-radar and can just play without all the hype and distractions and external pressure.

PASSOV: Beef has a golf game that can back up the happy hype. I just hope the marketing distractions don’t interfere too much. For pure success, however, Jon Rahm is my pick. The former ASU All-American and world’s top-ranked amateur has the length and the swagger to be a top player. I’m looking for two wins this year from Spain’s Rahm-bo.

4. Se Ri Pak marked her retirement from competition at the LPGA event in her native South Korea last week. Pak won 25 times on the LPGA tour, including the 1998 U.S. Women’s Open and four other majors, and blazed a trail for Koreans in the women’s game. (“There isn’t a player on tour — both the men’s and women’s tour — that has not been affected, at least indirectly, by Se Ri,” Christina Kim told Golfweek.) How would you characterize Pak’s influence?

BAMBERGER: She is incredibly underrated. Had one of the most rhythmic, powerful repeating swings the game has ever seen. Grew up in front of us. Learned perfect English. Inspired many thousands of girls, all over the world. A Hall of Famer’s Hall of Famer.

GODICH: Spot on, Michael.

VAN SICKLE: Pak was to women’s golf in Korea nearly what Arnold Palmer was to golf in America. She was the game, she was the reason Korea is the epicenter of women’s golf globally. And like Palmer, she was always there for whoever needed her — fans, fellow players, media.

RITTER: Maybe the Korean dominance we see on the LPGA today would’ve happened regardless, but Pak was a guiding light for thousands of young golfers in Asia, and as Michael said, golfers around the world. She had a huge career and massive impact.

SHIPNUCK: It wouldn’t have happened without her, Jeff – she was a one-woman revolution. It was emotional watching all the farewells because Pak has always been a delight to deal with: funny, down-to-earth and a fierce competitor. She always seemed quite regal to me and she deserved that queenly sendoff.

PASSOV: We all seem to be in agreement here. Se Ri didn’t have the King’s charisma, but her influence on what became a golf-mad country was certainly comparable. That first U.S. Women’s Open win at Kohler’s Blackwolf Run was unforgettable and I once heard of a fan survey taken at an LPGA event in Korea around 2004 where fans responded they’d rather watch Se Ri play than Tiger Woods. That says something.

5. The Central Florida Expressway Authority board has proposed renaming a stretch of an Orlando-area highway the Arnold Palmer Expressway. What else — either inside or outside of golf — would you like to see rebranded in homage to Palmer?

BAMBERGER: My PGA Tour press credential. I don’t think I’d get stopped so often.

VAN SICKLE: The Arnold Palmer Channel. I’d definitely watch Golf Channel more with his name in the title.

RITTER: A line of drivers, irons and especially putters seems like a no-brainer. And how about a prop plane?

GODICH: Let’s start by considering what Arnie would want. Less is more, I’d say. So how about a silhouette of his swing on the PGA Tour logo (as the NBA did with the Jerry West dribble)? No name, just the image of that unforgettable corkscrew move. After all, he pretty much created the PGA Tour.

SHIPNUCK: Bingo, Godich. Palmer should be the Logo, just as Jerry West is. He already has airports and hospitals. Let’s do something golfier!

PASSOV: Maybe a new PGA Tour award that recognizes that player who has done the most to boost the Tour’s popularity. Or else make an Arnold Palmer the official beverage of the World Golf Hall of Fame.