Tour Confidential: Will 2016 Be a Lost Year for Tiger Woods?

November 2, 2015

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. Tiger Woods announced on Friday evening that he underwent a follow-up back procedure on Wednesday, which comes after his second microdiscectomy he had in September. Have your 2015-16 expectations for Tiger changed since hearing the news of the latest surgery?

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: My expectations haven’t changed. I think Tiger will muddle along for the next 10 years or so, battling injuries, talking in the arcane way of his, playing winning golf, now and again and not very often.


Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): I suspended all expectations for Tiger after the first surgery in September, which was billed as “successful.” I’m curious why he needed a follow-up procedure. It may not be a lost year for Tiger but I would expect he would not be competing for six months after this setback.

Jeff Ritter, senior editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Group (@Jeff_Ritter): As ever, there are still many unknowns with Tiger. After his initial surgery, I felt confident he would make the Masters and, with a run of good health, maybe get back to contending by mid-summer. Now that’s he’s back to square one in November, all bets are off for 2016.

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Brendan Mohler, assistant editor, (@bmohler09): Nope. I’m not even sure why Tiger announced that he had another surgery. Is it an excuse if he comes up empty in 2016? Expectations were as low as ever after the previous surgery.

Joe Passov, senior editor, Golf Magazine (@joepassov): Well, yes. Rory McIlroy, commenting on the news, lavished praise on Tiger, both on his formidable mindset to overcome obstacles and on what he means to the sport, but ultimately Rory concluded that “it looks like a long road to recovery.” I said last week that Tiger stands alone in terms of his drive and talent–and that if Hogan could come back from life-threatening car accident injuries, that I liked Tiger’s chances here. A third back surgery, in a year however? Consider my expectations diminished–slightly.

Josh Sens, contributing writer, GOLF Magazine (@JoshSens): You know what minor back surgery is, right? It’s back surgery that happens to someone else. It’s always a big deal, and when you stack it on top of the swing issues and chip yips that Tiger has been dealing with, I don’t know how it can raise anyone’s hopes.

2. Rory McIlroy was only a shot behind the leaders heading into the final round of the Turkish Airlines Open but stumbled to a final-round 71 on Sunday and tied for sixth. He hasn’t won since the Wells Fargo in May. Are you concerned about his play?

BAMBERGER: Not at all. I had no emotional stake in Rory’s fourth round in the Turkish Airlines Open, and can’t imagine he had much more.

VAN SICKLE: It’s easy to forget in the wake of Jordan Spieth and Jason Day that nobody, not even the best players, win every time out or every time they’re in contention. Rory is playing his way back into a groove, or trying to. If we’re still wondering about Rory by next June, though, that’s a problem.


RITTER: No concerns at all. With the rise of Spieth and Day, I like a motivated Rory to rebound big next year.

MOHLER: Not one bit. Rory has played well recently, but he knows better than to peak at the end of the calendar year.

PASSOV: I’m not concerned about Rory’s results. True, it’s hard to see how he could get beat by a Victor Dubuisson, a guy who has been MIA for 18 months. It’s also tough to see a player of Rory’s stature shooting 71 when it counts, given everyone around him went low. Yet, I’m a history buff, and I know that Nicklaus and Palmer did the same thing many, many times. And 71 ain’t 76. As long as Rory stays in the hunt week after week, the wins will come.

SENS: Oh, yes. Terribly worried about Rory. I’m also concerned that he might not be able to pay his rent. Nah. Golf’s a fickle game, and Rory’s too good not to get back in the winner’s circle soon. At an event that matters much more to him than the Turkish Airlines Open.


3. In his new book released on Monday of this week, former Tiger Woods caddie Steve Williams said that he was treated “like a slave” by Woods. Is this classic overkill by a guy trying to sell books or are you genuinely interested in what Williams has to say about his ex-employer?

BAMBERGER: That’s an extreme phrase, and ridiculous, but I would still be interested to read the book in any ongoing, and likely futile, attempt to find out what the greatest golfer of all-time (as some would say) is, quote, really like.

VAN SICKLE: Being a caddie is not a luxury job like running a bank or supervising a convenience store. It is a hard-working job and a tough one and Stevie is inarguably the most successful caddie in golf history. You use the word slave in a sentence, though, and you’re risking political incorrectness and blowback. I’d be interested in what he had to say if he kept good notes and a lot of details about his rounds with Tiger. If this is just him vaguely remembering a few things, I’m out.


RITTER: So unlike Williams to make comments that are ostentatious and thoughtless. He’s trying to sell books, and he’s probably going to succeed.

MOHLER: Who wouldn’t be genuinely interested in details about the life of a guy who has always been so private? I’ll read almost anything Williams writes. That said, is his book turns out to be a dud, then it falls under overkill. He’s also at a disadvantage because Hank Haney already tried to make money off Tiger’s secrets–and succeeded.

PASSOV: Given the fanatical interest we all have in all things Tiger, it sounds very tempting to dip into the insidery take that only someone like Steve Williams can offer. I’m not going there, however. Steve Williams might go down in history as golf’s greatest caddie, but his ill-advised comments of the past (on both Tiger and Phil, among others) and his hacksaw-like demeanor DQ him as a credible source. Interesting, maybe, but one with an agenda. No thanks.

SENS: I’m always game for a gossipy tell-all, but “classic overkill” doesn’t begin to describe the idiocy of that analogy. It suggests that Williams’ near-comic narcissism has mutated into something more grotesque.

4. Justin Thomas won the CIMB Classic on Sunday, becoming the third different high school class of 2011 grad to win this season. Excluding Spieth, which of this bunch – which includes Patrick Rodgers, Emiliano Grillo, Daniel Berger and Ollie Schniederjans, to name a few – are you most bullish about?

BAMBERGER: I couldn’t say who is the most promising, but I am amazed that so much young talent could emerge at the same time. To borrow a friend’s phrase, there’s never been a shorter apprenticeship to getting to the Tour.

VAN SICKLE: I’ve been on the J.T. bandwagon since I wrote about him at the PGA Championship. He’s got more scoring shots than the other guys and he got to the Tour before the rest of them. Rodgers and Ollie may be formidable, too, but they’re at least a year or more behind Thomas in getting acclimated to Tour life. They’re all pretty good, this could be one of the best “classes” in modern Tour history.


RITTER: Berger was ROY but it seemed like Thomas hung around the most leaderboards. Good to see him breakthrough. Big things are ahead for him.

MOHLER: I’m most bullish on Justin Thomas, and that’s only because Spieth’s stock is already so incredibly high. Thomas was a factor more often than not during the 2014-15 season and he’s faced a kind of pressure that most of those other names haven’t.

PASSOV: I’ll jump on the bandwagon with Justin Thomas. His freakish talents–15th in driving distance, sixth in birdies in 2015, as soaking wet, he’s 145 pounds–portend greatness. Yardage misjudgments, mental mistakes and an inability to throttle down at the proper time seemed to vex him in 2015–at least when I was paying attention–but this good pal of Jordan Spieth is poised for a Spieth-like breakthrough in 2016.

SENS: Thomas. Once he fine tunes the wedge game to complement his power, he’ll have the kind of field-lapping potential you see from some of the rarest talents on Tour.


5. PGA Tour pro John Peterson used a ‘Happy Gilmore’ swing on his first hole of the CIMB Classic on Sunday. He was in last out of 77 when the round started. Was it a disrespectful move in a PGA Tour event or all in good fun for a guy with no chance of winning?

BAMBERGER: WWJD. (What would Jack do?)

VAN SICKLE: If it gets him attention and helps build his “brand identity” then maybe it was a good move. But messing around on the course, no matter what your position, is always going to be a bad look. See Bobby Clampett hitting trick shots off his knees as a marker a few decades earlier.

RITTER: I like players who have fun but the Gilmore move was a little bush. Doubt he ever pulls it out again.


MOHLER: This was one of the coolest moments I’ve seen in golf in a long time. The game needs more of this. It’s refreshing to see golfers not taking themselves so seriously, especially when they’re out of contention in a fall series event. They hit a ball around a field and get paid big bucks. What’s not fun about that? We should welcome more displays of fun, not shun them.

PASSOV: How does Adam Sandler play in Malaysia? Peterson’s gesture may have been amusing, but it may have been wasted if fans have never seen the movie. I’m a little torn. As a PGA Tour professional, you’re charged with giving it your best effort, period. OK, though, let’s be honest. You’re also an entertainer–or at least a performer–and those who witnessed the stunt will never forget it, even in its abbreviated form. I’m gonna grin and say, that was pretty cool.  

SENS: No matter how much significance we try to infuse them with, professional sports are entertainment. Nothing wrong with a guy giving the fans a laugh. It’s certainly a lot less disrespectful than Steve Williams invoking slavery to describe the hardships he endured on Tiger’s bag.

6. Gary Player turned 80 on Sunday. What’s your favorite story or most memorable interaction about the Black Knight?

BAMBERGER: Winning at Augusta in ’78, by a shot over Hubert Green, Tom Watson and Rod Funseth, shaking those arms when it was over. That was a Masters.

VAN SICKLE: Player said he once called Ben Hogan on the phone to ask him something about golf. Hogan asked what clubs he played. Player proudly answered, “Dunlap.” Hogan said, “Then call Mr. Dunlap,” and hung up. Years later, Player thought it was pretty funny.

RITTER: Every encounter with Player has been memorable and special. He is charming and sharp, and I’m constantly amazed by his boundless energy. The times when I’ve seen him demonstrate his strength and fitness — like the opening tee shots at Augusta, or a set of 20 crunches on our office carpeting — probably stand out the most.

MOHLER: I had the pleasure of attending a Gary Player Invitational at GlenArbor in New York in October, an opportunity for to shoot a lot of video and spend time with some big names besides the Black Knight himself. Last week I was able to speak with Mr. Player on the phone for about 30 minutes, the first few minutes of which he spent thanking me and the crew for attending his event. It was flattering that he remembered all five of our names–not to mention that he thanked me before I could thank him. It was OUR pleasure, Gary, not yours.

PASSOV: I first saw him play in person in 1971 and remember clearly his final-nine 30 to win the 1978 Masters at age 42. Yet it’s his commitment to fitness, his unequaled frequent flyer miles and his unmatched platitudes (“This is the finest course of its kind in the world!”) that resonate most. I saw him give a clinic at L.A.’s Industry Hills in 1982 where he told the crowd, “Use more legs in the swing, less arms, because the legs are stronger. That’s why we walk with our legs.” And as proof, he popped into position and began walking on his hands. My ultimate Gary Player moment is one I’ve only seen in highlight reels, when he slammed a 9-iron 150 yards from the rough over a massive willow tree on the 70th hole at Oakland Hills that helped seal the 1972 PGA Championship. It completely embodies his “never give up” competitive persona that carried him to a Hall-of-Fame career.

SENS: When he offered to meet up with me and teach me how to make one of his green protein smoothies. Uh, no thanks Gary. But I’ll take a bunker lesson.

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