GOLF.com conducts a weekly 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 by tweeting us @golf_com.
1. Justin Thomas picked up his fifth victory of the season by winning the Dell Technologies Championship on Monday at TPC Boston. So, with five wins — including a major — and a 59 and 63 to boot, where does JT’s season rank among the best of the post-Tiger era?
Jeff Ritter, digital development editor, GOLF.com (@Jeff_Ritter): Does Tiger’s five-win season in 2013 count as the post-Tiger era? Either way, since ‘09, when TW won six times but also got Yang’d, I’d slot JT third behind Spieth’s five-win, two-major 2015 season and Rory from 2012, when he won a major and the money title on both the PGA and European tours.
Joe Passov, senior editor, GOLF Magazine (@joepassov): Great point, Jeff about Tiger’s stellar 2013 season, which is too often overlooked as among the great ones, likely because he didn’t snag a major. We can’t overlook Jason Day’s 2015 season, either, which I think was better than what JT has done this year. Day won five times, including downing Spieth in a record-setting, 20-under-par PGA Championship win. He outdueled Bubba to take the RBC Canadian Open, won the Farmers at Torrey Pines early in the year and grabbed two FedEx Cup playoff events. Five wins, five great fields—and he was just one shot out of the Open Championship playoff at St. Andrews. Rory, too, with two majors in 2014, plus the WGC-Bridgestone at Firestone and the BMW PGA at Wentworth would rank equal to or better than Thomas’s 2017—but we still have two events to play.
Josh Sens, contributing writer, GOLF Magazine (@JoshSens): Good candidates from Joe and Jeff. If we’re granting extra style points for majors, we might also put Padraig Harrington’s 2008 campaign up there. He won the British and the PGA. Post Tiger? More like Tiger in post-op from knee surgery. But still impressive. We might also include a what-if season. As in, what if DJ hadn’t slipped down the stairs in Augusta?
Sean Zak, associate editor, GOLF.com (@Sean_Zak): I really don’t get as worked up about the 59 and 63 as everyone else seems to, but I do get excited about not just the wins but also the near-wins JT has had: T5 in Mexico, T4 at Jack’s event, T9 at the U.S. Open and another top-10 finish at the first playoff event. Dude has played big-time golf in just about every big-time event this year. That being said, he’d probably need another win to vault over the aforementioned Day, Spieth, Rory (x2) seasons.
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@alanshipnuck): These are solid entries. It’s hard to believe a year ago JT was just a talented tease and now we’re debating his place in the pantheon. It’s been satisfying to see him morph into such a big-time player. So much young talent in the game these days and Thomas is now in the front ranks.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I’m deeply impressed at the depth you all bring to this question. In terms of ranking Justin Thomas’s year in the PTE, I would only say that it is a reminder of Woods’s greatness, because he had no lulls. He came to play virtually every single time. You cannot say that of any of the aforementioned names, including Thomas this year. So much young talent in the game these days, as Alan says, and it is fun to see. It’s great to see. But it’s different. Justin Thomas is likely to be the Player of the Year without being the game’s best player. (Dustin Johnson, in my book, followed by Rory, then Spieth. Jason Day is somewhere in the conversation.) In the Tiger Era, Woods was the Player of the Year and he was the best player in the game, miles ahead of everybody else.
John Wood, caddie for Matt Kuchar (@johnwould): Boy oh boy, nothing to add here. I’d agree that Jordan’s 2015 campaign was the best. He won two majors and had serious looks at the other two. But JT’s year is a close second, with two events left. Michael, I absolutely love what you wrote. In the biggest events, with the best fields, TW won. And won, And won. Add up his major victories, his victories in world events, and The Player’s Championship, I believe the number is 34, which is absurd.
2. The 10 automatic spots for the U.S. Presidents Cup roster were locked up after the conclusion of the Dell Technologies Championship Monday. Charley Hoffman and Brian Harman are 11th and 12th on the points list and, of course, Phil Mickelson, at 15th, is among those lurking. Who should captain Steve Stricker select as his two captain’s picks on Wednesday?
Ritter: I loved the guts Harman showed at the U.S. Open. Pair him with Phil to round out the squad.
Passov: Phil did exactly what he needed to do in Boston this week to convince captain Stricker that he was rounding into form. Given the experience and locker room lift Mickelson brings, let’s go with him—and with Charley Hoffman. Eleventh is more deserving than 12th for that final spot, and while both Hoffman and Harman might be deserving for various reasons, it just seemed like Hoffman was in the hunt early and often at every major. He’s due for a spot on a U.S. team.
Sens: Maybe I’m getting jaded in middle age, but I’m having a hard time getting too worked up about this decision. If we’re going with TV ratings and gallery interest, you’ve got to go with Phil. But I’m hoping Stricker abides strictly by the numbers and picks Hoffman and Harman. It appeals to my sense of fairness, and my interest in seeing a couple of fresh faces in the format.
Zak: I’m not into handouts and I’m also not into one-tournament overreactions. (Sorry, Uncle Phil.) Hoffman has been sooo solid! Just one missed cut in his last 19 events, so he’s earned it in my book. As for the last slot, give me the much-less volatile Jason Dufner, who has plenty of experience, as if that’s even necessary to beat the little brother Internationals.
Shipnuck: Phil is mandatory. I like Harman’s fight and Hoffman’s firepower so I’m happy with either of them. I can’t abide talk of Dufner – this was his final chance to impress Cap. Stricker and he barfed up a 75 and a 77.
Bamberger: Part of the purpose of the Presidents Cup is to develop American talent for the Ryder Cup. On that basis, between Hoffman and Harman, I’m going with Harman, who looks like he could be around for many years to come. Then the choice becomes Harman or Mickelson. I think Stricker’s sense of fairness will make him want to take Hoffman and his political astuteness will direct him to take Phil in the end. With apologies, to Mr. Hoffman, I think Stricker will take two lefties. I’m with Jeff.
Wood: Phil and Charley. I would pick Phil regardless of what he did in Boston. Unless you are in those team rooms, unless you are inside the ropes during the practice rounds, you can’t have any idea how valuable Phil is as a teammate. With so many rookies (all very talented and ready for the stage of a team event), having Phil and his 42 wins, 5 majors, and the experience of being on 22 teams is worth it no matter how he’s playing going into the event. He’s confident, fun, keeps guys loose and gives out important advice without being heavy handed.
3. GOLF Magazine unveils its 18th biennial ranking of the Top 100 courses in the U.S. and World later this week. Pine Valley has owned the top spot in the ranking since 1985. Is there any course that should knock it off the top? And if so, which one?
Ritter: This one is tough because Pine Valley is ultra-private and I, like most of the golfing world, have only seen it in photos. It’s tempting to knock PV off its pedestal for St. Andrews, the home of the game, an unparalleled experience and the ultimate in inclusivity. On Sundays it’s used as a public park, where locals walk their dogs and take photos on the bridge! How can Pine Valley top that?
Passov: My explanation as to why Pine Valley has been No. 1 for all these years is because it contains the greatest collection of individually great holes, in terms of what they look like, how they play, and how they’re sequenced with each other as the round unfolds. The Old Course is an ideal contender, as evidenced by its top-four ranking for many years, but if another course might one day ascend, it would be Cypress Point, which has been No. 2 in the world since 1991. If the criteria for best course in the world would be how overwhelmed your senses are in being on a golf course, Cypress gets the nod.
Shipnuck: Except Pebble is way more golf course than CPC and much more spectacular, too. I love Pine Valley but how many shots do you stand over and your heart is pounding and your fingers tingling? Fifth tee for sure, the drive on 7, the approach to 13, maybe the 14th tee. Pebble is a non-stop thrill ride, demanding so many heroic shots. And some of the inland holes are criminally underrated — the stretch from 11-14 is awesome, demanding strategy and precision, and no one even talks about those holes because those on the ocean overwhelm the senses, to coin a phrase. Put it this way: if you had one round left to play before the rapture, would you want it to be in the buggy wilds of New Jersey or the cliffs of Pebble Beach? Easy choice for me.
Bamberger: There are no bugs at Pine Valley, Alan. There are 18 truly great holes. The list is flawless. Not that I’ve seen it yet.
Zak: I haven’t been around the block that much. I haven’t played St. Andrews or Augusta or Pine Valley or Pebble, so there’s a grain of salt for ya. Anyway, last month I had the most enjoyable round of my life at Pinehurst No. 2 and that I believe was largely because three relative hacks (myself and Ritter included!) played our entire round without even the faintest concern of losing a ball. We made birdies, pars, bogeys and far worse and were challenged on every single hole. We capped it with a beer on the porch behind the 18th as the sun set on Payne Stewart’s statue. Is it the greatest course in the world? I don’t know, but it’s pretty damn good.
Sens: I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily “better” than any of the courses listed above, but I’ve never been more charmed by a course than I was by Barnbougle Dunes. All the great shots and vistas you could ever ask for. Plus wallabies! It also passes Ritter’s populist sniff test: you don’t actually have to be a captain of industry or directly descended from the Mayflower to play it. And then there’s Cruden Bay. Get one of the friendly local members on your bag as a caddie. Have a few drinks together after. As Chevy Chase used to say, that’s as much fun as you can have with your pants on.
Wood: Not having seen Pine Valley, it’s impossible for me to comment. I love Pebble Beach. I love Augusta National. Both have the advantage (along with Pine Valley I assume) of having fantastic pieces of land to work with. I think the best design we play all year long is Riviera. Anyone who fancies themselves a course designer should have to spend a week there and figure it out: how a course on a small, unremarkable plot of land — tipped out at about 7,300 yards — holds up year after year to every advance in professional golf. It’s just brilliant.
4. Put on your course-rating cap and rank your personal top-five courses in the U.S.
Ritter: Among courses I’ve either played or at least walked: 1. Augusta National, 2. Kapalua, 3. Pebble Beach, 4. Manele GC, 5. Pinehurst No. 2. But I will defer to Mr. Passov’s expertise in this area.
Passov: The best course in the U.S. is Pine Valley, but my favorite is Cypress Point. After that one-two punch, things get tougher. I’ll go with Pebble Beach at 3, Shinnecock Hills at 4 and Augusta National at 5, with Oakmont and Merion (East) a whisker behind those five.
Zak: No course catches my attention better than Augusta. We’ll put that at No. 1. No course challenges like Oakmont. We’ll put that at No. 2. I’ve already adored Pinehurst, so we’ll put that at No. 3. No course has made me more nervous than Whistling Straits, so that can be No. 4. Round out the top five with my favorite deal in the world at Bethpage Black. As you can tell, that’s a biased list, but I’d play any of them and no others for the rest of my life and would be plenty content.
Sens: Cypress Point, Pinehurst No. 2, Merion East, Los Angeles CC North, and the front nine at Pacific Dunes, played twice.
Shipnuck: 1. Pebble 2. Cypress 3. National 4. Pine Valley 5. MPCC Shore
Bamberger: Personal top-five? Taking that word to heart, as in where I am happiest to be: 1. Bellport 2. N.G.L. 3. Pine Valley 4. Philadelphia Cricket (Wissahickon) 5. Philadelphia Cricket (St. Martins)
Wood: 1. Pebble Beach 2. Augusta National 3. Riviera 4. Shinnecock 5. Cypress Point
5. Stacy Lewis broke a three-year winless streak by coming out on top at the Cambia Portland Classic on Sunday. The day before the tournament started, the Houston-area resident pledged to donate her entire winnings toward Houston relief efforts as it recovers from Hurricane Harvey. Now she’s handing over a check for $195,000. Has there been a better Hollywood ending this year than this one?
Ritter: It’s the feel-good story of the year, and maybe several years. Fantastic of Lewis to make the pledge, but then to go out and win the event? Awesome stuff. And great for KPMG to match her donation. This is our sport at its absolute best.
Passov: Stacy Lewis was already one of golf’s true class acts well before she teed off in Portland. Her wit, drive, intelligence and doggedness in overcoming the physical issues she had endured made her one of the LPGA’s better stories. That’s why it’s been so frustrating with her many near-misses over the past three years, and why it’s incredible to have her break through in such a heart-warming fashion. Massive kudos to Stacy and to golf.
Zak: The world works in mysteriously great ways is about all I can say here. This was such a cool story to follow from start to finish, and as Joe said, couldn’t have been accomplished by a better person in the game. Stacy proved again how great she is as a player and a person.
Sens: With apologies to this tear-jerking finale, Lewis scripted the best ending I’ve ever seen.
Shipnuck: All credit to Lewis — what she did was inspiring and amazing. There were so many other cool stories that came out of the golf world in the wake of Harvey, it’s been gratifying to follow all of them.
Bamberger: Has there been a better Hollywood ending this year than this one? No. Not in golf. Not from Hollywood, either.
Wood: No. Such an amazing gesture.
6. Tiger Woods posted a video last week of him chipping, saying he was cleared by the doctor to begin such activities. We have now been Tiger-less in majors for the past two calendar years. Pull out your crystal ball and predict when, or if, we will see Tiger return to tournament play in 2018.
Ritter: And so begins another edition of (cue the theme song) Tiger Watch. As with all previous Tiger comebacks, there is no rush here. If he’s only chipping balls, the prudent play may be to skip next year and continue a slow build toward 2019. Or, if his back simply can’t handle it, shift into an emeritus role. I’d love to see him healthy and playing again, but he has nothing left to prove on the course.
Passov: I really should wait for Josh Sens to weigh in on the “Tiger Watch Fatigue/Speculation” angle because he always nails it. I’m always on record as a big Tiger fan and an incurable optimist about his prospects, but at what point is this Lucy pulling away the football just before Charlie Brown kicks it—every time? My Tiger crystal ball is on the shelf and collecting dust. Let’s let him come back — whenever it’s right — and watch the ratings needle move to the right.
Zak: I need Tiger. I need him not. I need Tiger. I need him not. That’s what these last few years up brief ups and extremely ridiculous downs have been like. Now that the end has seemingly never been closer, I’m convinced I need him again. I need to see who he’s paired with on Thursday at Augusta National in early April and I need to see him birdie the 2nd, 8th, 13th and 15th. I need to see him make the cut and toss in a beauty approach to the 11th on Saturday, making the players behind him start to get excited, too. I need it, but I just don’t know that six months or so will be enough time.
Sens: Very kind of you, Joe, but I’m not sure I have anything profound to add. Like Baywatch before it, Tiger Watch has definitely jumped the shark. Beyond the long road back he has on the physical front, let’s not forget about the other elements of disrepair. The search for a new swing. The yippy chipping. The fragile mental state. Even if we do see him in a major next year (and I doubt we will), will he have even a distant crack at contending? Of making the cut? I’m in no great rush to see Tiger tee it up in a ceremonial role, and I doubt Tiger is either. If you’re waiting for the return of Tiger, as in the real Tiger, you’re waiting for Godot.
Shipnuck: I hope he doesn’t come back. It’s been too painful. Let’s just enjoy what Tiger was, and what he gave us. That’s enough.
Bamberger: I think he’ll play first at Honda and in all four majors, but I am very poor at this sort of thing.
Wood: I just miss Joe LaCava, so get your butt back out here Tiger.