Tour Confidential: What Can We Make of Tiger Woods This Week?

August 24, 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 shot three rounds in the 60s before a triple-bogey on Sunday derailed any hopes of winning the Wyndham Championship and extending his season into the FedEx Cup playoffs. What do you make of his week? What’s the main takeaway: him being in serious contention for the first time in two years or failing to break par on Sunday when it mattered most?

Eamon Lynch, managing editor, (@EamonLynch): This may be Tiger’s new reality: he has the undoubted ability to play sublime golf and shoot impressive scores, but playing around his weaknesses (either off the tee or around the green) is not likely to be a winning strategy. Most of the week when he was faced with short game shots Tiger opted for an airborne option — a flop shot or semi-flop — that allowed him to take a fuller swing. Guys with the chip yips can still execute those shots without flinching. When faced with a required chip shot on Sunday, the yips were exposed anew. Hank Haney made the astute point after the Masters that having the yips does not mean that one yips every time the opportunity presents itself, but the fear and possibility is there. That’s painfully evident in Tiger’s game. In many ways he is much improved since his awful start to the year, but the chipping issue remains and seems more psychological than technical.

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@AlanShipnuck): If he had made 18 pars today it would feel more like progress, but the triple bogey that took Tiger out of the tourney was so wretched it has to leave more scar tissue. And it’s further proof that the chip-yips live inside of you like a sickness, just waiting to bloom at the worst possible time.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: He’s making slow progress to a place he has never been before: one of the top-20 players or so in the world, able to win now and again.

Jeff Ritter, senior editor, SI Golf Group (@JeffRitter): Given what Tiger had shown this season, I was completely shocked to see him in contention through the weekend. That was real progress. He still has more work to do to handle Sunday pressure, but it was an encouraging week. It left me thinking that he’ll win a Tour event somewhere in 2016.

Josh Sens, contributing writer, GOLF Magazine: (@JoshSens): We’ve been squinting for so long in search of a silver lining around Tiger’s dark cloud…and my eyes are tired of the strain. I suppose if I slipped on the rosiest of glasses, I might be able to see this as substantial progress. But I suspect that that would only be a figment. Flashes of good play in a low-wattage tournament, but nothing sustained…looks to me like more of the same.

Jessica Marksbury, associate editor, Golf Magazine (@Jess_Marksbury): My takeaway is that Tiger still has yet to put four great rounds together. But, more optimistically, there’s hope, and lots of it. It was so exciting and actually quite unexpected to see Tiger get back in the hunt again. And just think—if he had just carded a good round, not a great one, he’d have won. And he’d be headed to the Barclays with more hype than ever. Bring on the Masters!

Joe Passov, senior editor, GOLF Magazine (@JoePassov): How can this week be perceived as anything but a huge positive for Tiger? No, he didn’t get it done on Sunday, but neither did the guy who was leading by two, nor did the other guys that were tied with Tiger going into round 4. True, Tiger wasn’t especially sharp in the early going. There were far too many so-so approaches on a gettable course that left him with tough birdie putts. Yet in the end, he was completely undone by one horrific chip that turned a maybe 4 or certain 5 into a 7. To his credit, he rebounded strongly. The main takeaway was that he got in the hunt, stayed in the hunt and finished strong, with his first top-10 of the year. Not all good, but awfully close. 

Brendan Mohler, assistant editor, (@bmohler09): Woods’ Wyndham performance won’t be remembered for his failure to win. He hasn’t contended in an event all year, and dealing with that sort of pressure, unfortunately for Woods, is not like riding a bike. He salvaged a respectable round Sunday without the kind of ball-striking he showed earlier in the event. Tiger’s best PGA Tour finish in nearly two years will be remembered for just that.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): Tiger was also in contention at Quicken Loans a few weeks ago, then played poorly on Saturday. His finish tells me physically, his game is getting better and closer to what he needs. Mentally, he isn’t ready yet, he doesn’t have the trust in his swing and his short game when it counts. Still, I consider Tiger’s week another positive step for him. Those who write him off do so at their own risk.

2. Davis Love III became the third-oldest winner in PGA Tour history after shooting a 64 to win the Wyndham Championship, almost seven years since his last Tour win. Will we start to see a trend of more older players winning in their late 40s and 50s?

PASSOV: There are plenty of Golden Agers that are fit enough and skilled enough to contend and win on Tour. The problem is that most PGA Tour stops are of the bomb-and-gouge variety, that favor younger, stronger players. Sedgefield, the Wyndham site, is a throwback that calls for real shotmaking and course management, including yes, layups off many tees and the ability to handle funky stances on hilly terrain. Tom Watson proved that you can win a major at 59, but course and conditions have to be right.

SHIPNUCK: I think that trend peaked with Vijay and Steve Stricker and Kenny Perry and a handful of others 5-10 years ago. Better equipment and an emphasis on fitness helped these guys compete later into their careers. Now, players are coming out on Tour earlier and winning at younger ages, cashing monster checks along the way. Throw in the heightened media scrutiny and international travel, and I think today’s young stars will be pretty much burnt-out by 40.

BAMBERGER: I think Phil will win now and again until he is in his early fifties, and I could imagine Vijay winning again, and Tiger should have another decade ahead of him, but not too many others. It’s never been easier to get good fast, and holing putts is a young man’s game.

VAN SICKLE: I don’t see 50-somethings frequently beating out the wave of 20-somethings. Celebrate Love’s win because it’s a novelty, not a trend. 

MARKSBURY: It’s always great to see the older players winning, especially a fan favorite like DL3. But I don’t expect it to happen very often. There are way too many young hotshots on Tour who rested this week to get ready for the playoffs.

LYNCH: Probably. So many veterans are stronger and healthier than their predecessors were, and the Champions Tour keeps them tournament sharp for their occasional appearances with the kids. Old guys who choose the right course on which to compete have a chance. It often comes down to nerves, but the nerves of a battle-scarred 50-something are seldom in better shape than those of a cocky kid.

RITTER: Great to see Love get the win. Not sure if I’d call it a trend, but there are many older guys in great shape that could hang around and steal events here and there. Phil and Vijay immediately spring to mind.

SENS: I’m not banking on it. Sure, it’s true that improved technology and, more important, a more evolved approach to fitness, is helping prolong competitive careers. But the waves of young guns who are flooding the game these days are just going to make it harder and harder for the Centrum Silver set to keep up.

MOHLER: Love’s victory is unlikely to start a trend, but it’s the latest reminder that golf is a timeless game. The victory, however, may encourage other Champions Tour-eligible golfers to play as much as possible on the PGA Tour. Sure, the competition is incomparable. But so are the purses.


3. Bryson DeChambeau won the U.S. Amateur 6&5 over Derek Bard, becoming only the fifth player to win the U.S. Amateur and NCAA title in the same season. Dating back to Matt Kuchar in 1997, the U.S. Amateur winner hasn’t seen much, if any, success as a professional. Do you think there is a particular reason for that?

MARKSBURY: I think it all comes down to the volatility of match play. This week, we saw the No. 1-ranked player in amateur golf, Jon Rahm, go from 3-up after 10 holes to losing his quarterfinal match to Derek Bard 1-down on No. 18. What happened? He power-lipped a couple of three-footers and double-bogeyed a par 3. It’s that easy. There are so many great talents that end up being dispatched early in match play. But DeChambeau was dominant and is a great champion with a winning personality and some quirky approaches to the game. I think he’ll be a big star once he goes pro. And if you look at the last five winners of the U.S. Am, one (Gunn Yang) is still an amateur, but the others (Matt Fitzpatrick, Steven Fox, Kelly Kraft, Peter Uihlein) are all competing on various worldwide tours.

PASSOV: Success in match play, especially over 18 holes, can be such a function of luck. That’s why we don’t have match play majors any longer. There were plenty of dud Amateur winners just prior to Kuchar and Tiger as well. Take Sam Randolph, Eric Meeks, Chris Patton and yes, Nathaniel Crosby–who all won the Amateur in the 1980s yet never succeeded as PGA Tour pros. One hot day, one great up-and-down, one sizzling putting streak can earn you an Amateur title. That doesn’t always translate to professional success.

BAMBERGER: It’s odd, but I guess in the end to win the U.S. Amateur requires one hot week and a match-play excellence, and that is not a predictor for Tour success. But there have been a lot of great pros who have won the U.S. Amateur. Arnold, Jack and Tiger, to name just three.

VAN SICKLE: Match play is the most fun format to watch, but it’s the worst way to determine a champion. The winner has to beat only six players in the field, not the entire field, as you do in stroke play. Thus, sometimes match play produces a winner who isn’t the best in the field. Not this time, though.

LYNCH: There are plenty of major winners in the past 20 years who haven’t seen much success afterward, either. U.S. Amateur winners like Peter Uihlein, Danny Lee, Richie Ramsay and Edoardo Molinari are carving out respectable professional careers here and in Europe. Maybe playing golf for a living is just hard.

RITTER: Even the most talented ams need to keep working — and to receive a little luck — to make it on tour. The fact that no amateur champ has had an impact since Kuchar illustrates what a huge leap it is to go from elite am to tour pro.

MOHLER: The U.S. Amateur champions of the 1990s (Tiger, Phil, Justin Leonard, Kuchar) set the bar high for what was to be accomplished as professionals. But the match play format of the tournament itself does not necessarily translate to professional golf. That’s no slight to what it takes to win the U.S. Amateur, typically played on the nation’s most classic courses, but match play golf isn’t PGA Tour golf. That said, it remains to be seen what some recent winners will accomplish, and we shouldn’t write them off just yet.

SENS: I’m not jumping to any grand conclusions. It’s certainly no slight on the quality of those events or the level of play in the amateur ranks.  More than anything, it just further demonstrates how tough it is to rise to the top on Tour these days.

4. Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia will be absent from the Barclays, the FedEx Cup opener next week. In other sports, the playoff system is win or go home, but golf’s system allows for players to skip an event and not be out of the running. Does that diminish golf’s playoff structure?

SHIPNUCK: Sort of, but the first event is a joke anyway as a “playoff” since virtually the entire Tour is in the field anyway. When Rory goes on to win the FedEx Cup it will be that much more impressive since he’s done it in only three events.

VAN SICKLE: Golf’s playoffs aren’t real playoffs. You play the whole season to identify the best golfers and in the “playoffs,” it takes two more tourneys to pare the field from 120 to 60. Yawn.

LYNCH: Can it really be considered playoffs when as many guys make the playoffs as keep their cards for the start of the season? The reality is that the Tour wants most players who show up at East Lake for the Tour Championship finale to have some shot at winning. In 2012 McIlroy won two of the four playoff events and didn’t take the title. The ‘win or go home’ idea applies only to the bottom of the rankings, not the top.

MARKSBURY: Yes, a little bit. I think you should have to show up to all of them to have a chance to win. But when you already have so many points, I can understand the temptation to skip, especially at the tail-end of a packed summer schedule.

RITTER: Golf’s playoff structure has plenty of flaws. The biggest issue is that the points system is incomprehensible without help of three astrophysicists, two industrial computers, a chalkboard and Steve Sands. That a player can skip an event and somehow win the title is another item on the list.

PASSOV: I believe it does diminish the playoff structure, but I don’t blame some pros for taking advantage of the rules in place. If you want these guys to make each of the events really significant, then mandate that if you want to be around to try and collect the big prizes at East Lake at the end, then you have to participate in all four. That’s why I have trouble treating these “playoff” events as anything except glorified cash grabs. If the Barclays were truly special (and I love Plainfield, the venue this year), the game’s top players would be there. 

SENS: Yes. But it’s not as if it has diminished a once-grand institution. The playoffs have always felt like a forced confection. That top players skip in and out of events suggests how seriously they take them. And how seriously we should take them too.

MOHLER: The FedEx Cup playoffs will never be as big as the Tour wants them to be, but that’s OK. They’re still an afterthought to the majors, as evidenced by guys like Rory and Sergio sitting out the Barclays, but there’s no way around that with the current system. Not to mention, who wants to play four out of five weeks at this point in the year?

BAMBERGER: Oh, for sure. It’s been said a million times: it’s not a playoff; it’s a collection of four good tournaments.


5. This week on, we ranked the major seasons for the game’s best players. Putting a bow on the major year as a whole, what moment will stand out when you look back on 2015?

SHIPNUCK: The incredible emotional swings on the 72nd hole of the U.S. Open. Incredible shotmaking, nerve-jangling putts, reputations made and shattered – it was epic stuff.

VAN SICKLE: The most electrifying moment was when Jordan Spieth holed a long putt at 16 in the British Open’s final round. I was sure he would go on to win the Open then, and possibly the Grand Slam. He didn’t, but what a chase he put on. He was the show of the year. 

LYNCH: The manner in which Jordan Spieth handled his loss at the Open Championship. He was sent out in a rainstorm Saturday by the R&A to bogey a hole, then finished one shot out of a playoff that could have kept the Slam alive. A fan’s camera went off at a bad time on the last hole of the event. He didn’t take to social media to bemoan or berate, as many of his peers would have. That was pure class.

RITTER: I’ll never forget the tension around the 18th hole at St. Andrews on that gray Monday afternoon as Spieth chased a final birdie to squeak into the playoff. It’s possible we never again see a Grand Slam threat that lasts until the 72nd hole of the British Open. What a run.

MARKSBURY: Jordan Spieth’s approach on No. 18 at St. Andrews is my defining moment of the year. He had to back off his shot initially, and then he came up short, essentially ending his chance at the career grand slam (although he gave the birdie putt a good run from off the green). Monday—the whole day—at the Open was the most riveting golf theater I’ve experienced in a long time.

BAMBERGER: Spieth calling the par-5 18th at Chambers Bay the dumbest hole he’s ever played. It was just so personal and raw, and I thought the golf gods would bite him back for that one, and maybe they did when he made that double on Sunday, but then came Dustin. I think we all like to see the inside of the player’s minds.

MOHLER: Dustin Johnson’s missed birdie putt on the 72nd hole at Chambers Bay is a moment I’ll never forget for a number of reasons. Despite DJ’s prior faults, I expected him to drain it. The putt also meant history was made (Spieth winning consecutive majors) and that an opportunity for an even greater feat (the Grand Slam) was alive. DJ’s miss simultaneously created rare levels of elation and heartbreak, which is what this game is all about.

SENS: On a high note, Jordan Spieth flashing Jason Day a thumb’s up as Day struck the shots that sealed his first major. Pure class. On the lower end of the spectrum, it’s hard to shake the forlorn image of a post three-putt DJ slouching off the 18th green at Chambers Bay.

PASSOV: Except for an absence of Tiger and Phil from the limelight, this was a fantastic year for golf, especially where the men’s majors are concerned. It’s always best to go with your first impression, however and to me, that was the scene at the 72nd hole at much-maligned Chambers Bay, first when Spieth two-putted for birdie and then when DJ went from ecstasy to agony. It also catapulted Spieth from star to superstar and that was great for golf.

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