Tour Confidential: Jordan Spieth is back again, Tiger, Phil and rules
Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors as they break down the hottest topics in the sport, and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com. This week, we discuss Jordan Spieth’s victory at the RBC Heritage, Tiger Woods’ next event, Phil Mickelson’s future, an odd rules incident and more.
1. Jordan Spieth is back. Again. Spieth made two eagles, shot a five-under 66 and parred the first hole of a playoff with Patrick Cantlay on Sunday to win the RBC Heritage, his first victory since last Easter, and his 13th PGA Tour win overall. Notably, it also helped him overcome a disastrous 18-inch missed putt a day earlier. Everything taken into account, what’s your assessment of the Spieth win?
Josh Sens, senior writer (@JoshSens): He’s been striking it well for a while now (to the amazement of some of us who can’t figure out how he’s making that awkward-looking pre-shot routine work so well) but was having an off-brand stretch with his putter. His putter came back this week. I think it’s also notable that this win came on the heels of his first missed cut at the Masters. GOLF.com’s own gambling prognosticator, Erick Lindgren, picked Spieth to win this week, saying he expected a prideful bounce back. I don’t discount that as a factor.
Dylan Dethier, senior writer (@dylan_dethier): This certainly wasn’t one of Spieth’s most dominant victories, but the roller coaster nature of the entire experience served to remind us that he’s the game’s most intriguing figure because he can hit shocking golf shots of every variety. The fact that he overcame such a subpar putting performance is a testament to his ball striking and hopefully a sign of more brilliance to come.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer: He backed into this win. He won with a par. But he won. He’s won more recently than Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau — even Scottie Scheffler. He won! He’ll be on the Presidents Cup team. He’ll contend more before the year’s out. He won on a good course with a good field on CBS. It counts.
Josh Berhow, managing editor (@Josh_Berhow): Backed in? Come on, Michael! I’ll give him credit for two front-nine eagles and a birdie on the 18th that was good for a 66 and, turns out, just enough for a playoff. This is the Jordan Spieth I think we’ll see from now on (and I’m pretty sure I said this after his last win) — a guy who is always grinding, always tinkering, always luring us in, always giving us reasons to believe. Then, just a week later, leaving us scratching our heads. It’s a roller coaster. It’s not for everyone. But when he finds it, it’s a blast to watch.
Bamberger: Well, good point, Josh — backed in is too strong, but pars don’t win many Tour playoffs.
2. Tiger Woods, whose return at the Masters marked his first play in over 13 months, will play in another event, though it may not be what you had expected. The JP McManus Pro-Am Twitter account tweeted on Thursday that Woods will be playing in the 2022 event, which is scheduled for July 4-5 at Adare Manor Hotel Golf Club, in Limerick, Ireland. It’s also just one week before the Open Championship returns to St. Andrews, Scotland, a short flight away from Limerick. Considering this news, and how Woods looked at Augusta, how do you see Woods’ schedule shaping up this year?
Sens: The majors and one or two more, including the Memorial. I would place the over-under line at five appearances for the rest of the season
Dethier: The PGA Championship (a good fit!), the U.S. Open (not so much), Memorial (he’ll hope they cut the rough), JP McManus’ shindig, the Open Championship, the Hero World Challenge and perhaps 1-2 others, like playoff events or the Zozo, depending on a whole bunch of things.
Bamberger: I don’t know. The McManus event and the Open — and maybe the Presidents Cup, where you don’t have to play very much at all, and your presence means a great deal. That’s about it. (Note: Everything I predict about TIger Woods is wrong. You can count on it, almost.)
Berhow: PGA, U.S. Open, JP McManus Pro-Am, Open Championship, Presidents Cup, Hero. I want to say the Memorial, but gnarly rough and a renovation since Tiger has last played it might make him think twice, not to mention it would make three events in a five-week span if he plays the PGA two weeks before it and the U.S Open two weeks after it. I think he’d be a great addition to the Presidents Cup team; he might not play in many more and he doesn’t have to play a ton of sessions. Here’s hoping he’s healthy enough to put together a handful of starts this year.
3. Woods, various outlets reported, also has submitted his entry for the 2022 U.S. Open — as has Phil Mickelson. When do you foresee Mickelson making his next start, and how much are we likely to see him in competition this year?
Sens: The question is where: on the PGA Tour or in one of Norman’s LIV Golf events. So much conjecture at this point. Has he been suspended? Not sure how any of us can know Phil’s sked when he himself might not know it. If I had to guess, I’d say a couple of times.
Dethier: He’ll play the PGA Championship, right?! It’s tough to imagine that Mickelson wouldn’t show up to Southern Hills to celebrate the crowning achievement of this stage of his career. With that said, there are extenuating circumstances here, so it’s tough to know anything for sure.
Bamberger: My guess is he’ll play the Open at the Old Course — because how can you not? Other than that, I’m with Josh — he likely doesn’t know himself.
Berhow: It’s hard to imagine him not defending a PGA Championship title. The first one back will obviously be the toughest for him, but after that, I think he can eventually get back to a pretty normal Mickelson-like schedule, if he wants one (and is allowed one). But I’m not ready to bet any real money on where exactly we’ll see him next because there are just so many layers here it’s impossible to predict.
4. In one of the more bizarre rules scenarios you’ll see, Harold Varner hit a tee shot near an out-of-bounds area at the RBC Heritage, then asked a fan to check whether a ball was his. Varner confirmed it was — and then things got really interesting. A rules official was called over. Varner said the man moved the ball from inbounds to out of bounds while checking. But the man said he didn’t, Varner said, and the rules official sided with the man. Whew! What’s your read on how the situation was adjudicated?
Sens: If things went down as Varner says they did, that’s a very strange way to go about things. The foundations of the rules are underpinned by the idea that you trust the player. It flies in the face of that principle if Varner’s word was discounted.
Dethier: Yep, Sens is spot on here. It was tough for us to see the entire exchange, but it certainly didn’t feel like a satisfying conclusion to the ruling. Varner wound up missing the playoff by a single shot on Sunday, and I think he has a legitimate gripe, if it went down as he described.
Bamberger: Agree with all Josh Sens says, but here’s something even more basic: DO IT YOURSELF. A central tenet of golf is self-reliance. Fans do look for balls often, but you never hear of a player or a caddie ASKING fans to look for balls. If a fan does find a ball, the player typically steps right in and takes over — it’s the player’s job to identify the ball and proceed from there. In other words, how did it ever get to the situation where it was the “fan’s word” over the “player’s word”? If the fan moved it, was there a way to determine if it went from inbounds to out of bounds? Lacking confirmation, you had to presume the ball was out of bounds. That is the rules official protecting all the other players. Even saying “it’s mine” based on the fan’s description is odd to me. It sounds like yours, but until you put your own eyes on it, in the spot where it lays, you cannot know. The golfer is collecting evidence: Is it my ball, and where is it? It’s not a crime scene, but the player is in charge of it, and the player’s job is to make sure it doesn’t turn into one.
Berhow: Yes, weird that they took the fan’s word over the player’s. But, as Michael said, that’s not an issue if Harold or his caddie goes over there themselves. Sure, there was a lot going on and some odd circumstances, but this one’s also a bit of bad luck.
5. According to a report from Sports Illustrated, in the latest news from the upstart, Saudi-funded golf league, the LIV Golf Invitational Series now says that players do not have to join as members, and that amateurs will be invited for its 48-player tournaments. With the first tournament set for early June, how do you see the first few events shaking out?
Sens: A lot of buzz around them but without the viewership to match.
Dethier: Vague curiosity mixed with apathy from fans — and jealousy from Tour pros when they see exactly who is walking away with all that cash. The one-off nature of the events will make for some interesting potential waiver requests with the PGA Tour, though.
Bamberger: You would not be inviting amateurs if you have 48 name pros. BUT inviting amateurs is a good way to start the recruitment process. Payday over legacy, etc. The first few events don’t matter. The first few years do. I think the Saudis are playing the long game here.
Berhow: I think, initially, there will be a bunch of interest from fans and fellow players, and I’m curious to see which big(-ish?) names are the first to sign on, and if that creates any sort of minor domino effect among other pros who: 1) won’t have to be the first to dip their toe in; and 2) see some other guy bring home a massive paycheck. Although one quick question: Do we know if we can watch this on TV yet?!
6. Patrick Cantlay, ahead of the RBC Heritage, opined on the various reasons why younger players are finding success early, then added this: “[Davis Love III], I don’t know how many years this is for him on Tour, but it’s got to be near 30 and he’s still playing this week past 50. I would be surprised if we saw a lot of kids of this generation do that into their 50s. The competition seems more fierce and so it takes more out of guys, more out of their bodies, more out of their preparation, more from a time perspective, and so the careers get hotter and shorter. And I think you’re seeing that in all sports. And there always will be exceptions, Tiger still being able to win majors in his 40s. [Tom] Brady being able to win Super Bowls in his 40s. So there will always be exceptions, but I think in general, as a rule, careers will be shorter and guys will play better younger.” Do you agree with Cantlay?
Sens: “Hotter and shorter” hits the nail on the end. So many factors — injuries, burnout, huge paydays — encourage that shooting star phenomenon. In short, Cantlay is spot on.
Dethier: He’s hitting on the contradiction here, isn’t he? On the one hand, we’re seeing Stewart Cink, Phil Mickelson, Brian Gay and others win in their late 40s and beyond. We’re seeing Tom Brady play into his 40s and Rafael Nadal stretch the limits of a tennis career. And yet we’re also seeing guys peak and then flame out. Careers can’t be getting longer and shorter at the same time, so which is it? It seems like some golfers are able to take care of their bodies better than ever and take advantage of institutional knowledge and mastery of skills — a la Brady — to extend their careers. But it’s tougher than ever for golfers not named Scottie Scheffler to get hot and stay hot. As a result, if you’re a PGA Tour pro playing well, savor that moment! But make a 20-year plan, too.
Bamberger: I do agree with Cantlay. He’s speaking broadly, and broadly it’s hard to argue with it. If you really love the game and love the life and your body holds up and your skill holds up, you could have a wildy long career like Brian Gay and Phil Mickelson. Cantlay might be one of those people. But can you imagine Bryson and Brooks and many others still dialing up all that intensity at 43? I cannot.
Berhow: Yes. But at the same time, one thing I have always thought about is that most pro athletes retire from their sport and … play golf. So what do golfers do when they retire? Well, probably play golf. Might as well keep getting paid for it, if you can still hit it around pretty well. But yes, I think we will see top-tier guys play less on the PGA Tour as they get older than what we see now, but I also can’t imagine any of them skipping majors if they are qualified and think they can compete. Did I answer the question?