Every Sunday night, GOLF.com 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 said last week that, despite his injuries and struggles, he’s still chasing Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major titles. Do you think he has any chance, and can he even win four more times to break Sam Snead’s PGA Tour wins record?
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): 1. Two back surgeries make reaching Jack’s record unlikely. Still, a man needs a goal to create motivation. If that’s what Tiger needs to believe to push himself to work at golf, more power to him. If he can get healthy for a few years, you can’t rule him out. He’s Tiger. He could win again and at least catch Snead, although Snead’s correct victory total should be 74 (a story I’ve already done). I’d like to see him get healthy and give it a shot.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I think Tiger will win on Tour again. The only major I can see him winning is Augusta, because of course knowledge, but only if he gets a big 63-hole lead.
Josh Sens, contributing writer, GOLF Magazine: (@JoshSens): There’s always the puncher’s chance, and Snead’s record still seems realistic. But the chances of four majors to tie Nicklaus and five to beat him? Those are slim, and Slim just went in for yet another back surgery.
Joe Passov, senior editor, Golf Magazine (@joepassov): Tiger definitely has a chance to break Sam Snead’s record for PGA Tour wins. We’ve witnessed plenty of terrific comebacks from slump or injury from many players over the years–starting with Ben Hogan–and few (except Hogan) can match Tiger’s drive or talent. We’re now aware, once again, that he wasn’t ever completely right physically in 2015, yet he had multiple moments when he showed that he could still contend. Obviously, there are no guarantees, but if he comes back sufficiently healthy, he’ll get Snead’s mark. He’ll need to show significantly more, however, if he has a legitimate shot at Jack’s majors tally.
Brendan Mohler, assistant editor, GOLF.com (@bmohler09): Jack’s record is in a safe place right now. Tiger has shown few recent signs of an ability to contend on a regular let alone weekly basis, and his performance in major championships has been fleeting at best. Snead’s record is very much in sight but let’s not forget–we’re talking about a guy who hasn’t had a top 5 in a real event in more than two years.
2. What’s your take on the Shriners? Another missed opportunity for Kevin Na or one heck of a performance by winner Smylie Kaufman, a young gun who closed with a 61?
VAN SICKLE: You always expect somebody to take it deep in Las Vegas. If you can put up 61 on Sunday in a PGA Tour event, you’re a player. Hat’s off to Smylie. Na will just have to keep trying to figure out what works for him and what doesn’t under pressure on the last few holes of a tourney. It’s a trial and error process for most players and for some of them, like Na, it’s a long one.
BAMBERGER: Both! Smylie’s Sunday round was a thrill-ride, Kevin Na’s inability to close is getting to be nearly epic and, in combination with one another, another example in a continuing series about why professional golf is one of the best non-scripted shows on TV.
SENS: You can’t play defense in golf. Let’s give a hand to Kaufman, not grief to Na. That’s some pretty tidy shooting.
PASSOV: I’m grinning for Smylie–kid played an incredible round–albeit with zero pressure on him. It’s hard to believe so many veterans were lurking and couldn’t catch him, let alone Kevin Na, one of the Tour’s top scramblers, whose flubbed chip (and three on-the-edge putts over the last four holes) cost him the tournament. Gotta confess though: Smylie Kaufman, Patton Kizzire, Brett Stegmaier…No disrespect to these fine young talents, but I really would have liked to have been watching the Giants-Cowboys.
MOHLER: We’ve all known that Kevin Na can contend often; unfortunately for the veteran a 23-year-old with five PGA Tour starts stole the show with a superb Sunday streak. Na should take comfort from yet another close call this early in the season. But for the older players, this win further validates the fact that the current Web.com Tour graduating class is going to flood the PGA Tour with guys who can contend every week.
3. Sunday was the 16th anniversary of the tragic death of Payne Stewart. What’s your favorite memory of the charismatic Stewart?
VAN SICKLE: Before Payne’s pressroom interview started at the ’96 Memorial, some other media told him that I was playing in the U.S. Open 36-hole qualifier on Monday after the tournament. Surprised and probably skeptical, he asked me how I was playing. I said, Well, I was building a $3 million house in Orlando and the construction was proving to be a big distraction to my game. It was an excuse he’d used more than once that year. The writers roared and Stewart shook his head with that chagrined look that he owned, knowing he’d fallen into a trap. I may have wounded him but he laughed it off like a good sport. And I just missed making the U.S. Open by a mere 17 strokes.
BAMBERGER: When he told me that if Kenny Green flipped a putter in front of him to his caddie (Joe LaCava) one more time, that his putter would come back to him in two pieces.
SENS: I was standing along the 18th fairway at Brookline in 1999 when he conceded his singles match to a relentlessly heckled Colin Montgomerie. That was a memorably classy move.
PASSOV: People sometimes forget how disliked Payne Stewart was early in his career due to his cockiness. He made a remarkable transformation later in life. It’s easy to point to the 1999 U.S. Open at Pinehurst as the definitive Payne Stewart memory. It’s certainly mine. However, I could also point to his donating his entire 1987 Bay Hill winner’s purse, $108,000, to charity, or point to his love of the harmonica and seeing him perform at a Phoenix Open Birds Nest After-Party. I could point to him popularizing Irish links golf–he spread the gospel in the pre-social media days. Maybe my lasting memory is of him conceding a very missable putt on the final green of the 1999 Ryder Cup to Colin Montgomerie. It cost Stewart the match, 1 up, but the U.S. had already clinched. It was pure sportsmanship and we could always use more of that.
MOHLER: Payne was my favorite player as a kid because of his silky swing and even smoother style. I was 9 years old when he beat Phil Mickelson at Pinehurst No. 2 to win the 1999 U.S. Open, and I tried to replicate his fist pump from that Sunday more than I did Tiger’s from the ’97 Masters. I’ll never forget when he grabbed Phil’s face after the victory that Sunday and said, “You’re going to be a father!”
4. Forbes released its annual Fab 40, which ranks the most valuable sports brands. Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson finished Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, although both saw significant declines in their value from last year. Out of all of golf’s young stars, who do you think has the best chance of building a brand that rivals those two?
VAN SICKLE: Rory has a good head start with his gigantic Nike deal and he’s got global appeal, especially in Europe. But Jordan Spieth’s incredible year made him The Man. He’s nice, considerate, thoughtful of others and very smart. He has no downside. If he continues to win majors, he ought to have a nice empire in about five years.
BAMBERGER: Rory, because he plays the world and hits it so long and has the Nike marketing arm behind him.
SENS: Rickie. Despite all that Spieth has done, and will continue to do on the course, Fowler was already killing it before he’d won anything significant. Nothing like a bright orange outfit to set the sponsors frothing.
PASSOV: If Jordan Spieth continues to accept offers to play in the Singapore Open, rather than compete at Torrey Pines the same week, I like his chances. If not the brand, at least the cash.
MOHLER: Rickie Fowler has the early lead on becoming the closest marketing entity to Tiger Woods this generation can offer. Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy’s brand managers will disagree, but Rickie can influence style and trends more than any golfer since TW, as evidenced by the ever-present flat bills and head-to-toe orange outfits we see inside and outside the ropes. Fowler is 26 and he’s already the Tour’s most famous three-time winner.
5. Lexi Thompson won on the LPGA Tour last week and Lydia Ko won this week and regained her No. 1 spot. Out of those two young stars, who do you think will have the best career?
VAN SICKLE: Lydia Ko is the tour’s next Queen of the Hill. She has the scoring shots around and on the greens that Thompson doesn’t seem to have the feel for, and golf is about scoring and, especially, putting.
BAMBERGER: Ko, because I think she has much more OCD for golf.
SENS: No disrespect to Thompson, but I don’t think it’s going to be close.
PASSOV: Lexi’s power and fashion style brand her as a star we want to have in the mix for a long time. Nothing in her career, however, points to the consistency that Ko has displayed. With Lydia’s near-perfect on-course comportment–steely, controlled, yet relaxed–her superior course management skills and her supreme short game skills, I don’t see her taking a backseat to anyone, let alone Lexi.
MOHLER: Having shed amateur status in 2010, Lexi has a four-year head start on Lydia Ko on the pro circuit. But Ko’s game is more well rounded. Her short game and putting are unmatched at their best on the LPGA. Lexi has the ability to overpower a course but a balky putter is sometimes her worst enemy. And despite the head start, Lexi has six LPGA wins to Ko’s 10.
6. The most recent issue of GOLF broke down exactly how much it would cost to live in St. Andrews, Scotland, site of the Old Course and the Home of Golf. If you could pick one golf-centric city to live in for the rest of your life, what are you picking?
VAN SICKLE: Chicago is the golf capital of America. It would be a great place to live and try out all the awesome clubs. For weather, though, I’d probably go with Monterey. You’d need about $8 million to be able to afford to enjoy the area courses, but can you imagine if you were able to gain membership at Monterey Peninsula or Cypress Point? That would be the ultimate.
BAMBERGER: Philadelphia, and I’m already there. Best golf town in the country. Sorry, Myrtle Beach.
SENS: Melbourne, Australia. A pretty unbeatable concentration of great golf courses. And unlike in St. Andrews, you don’t have to look hard for great food too.
PASSOV: I already live here–right on the border where Phoenix straddles Scottsdale. If I hit the Lotto jackpot, however, I’d opt for a modest estate within the Del Monte Forest, along 17-Mile Drive, in Pebble Beach, California. It would have ocean and golf course views. If this comes to pass, you’re all welcome as guests.
MOHLER: I’m off a recent trip to the (more often sunny than you’d expect) southwest coast of Scotland, so I may be a bit biased here. Growing up less than an hour from Merion, Pine Valley, Philly Cricket Club and Philly Country Club and having been lucky enough to play them all makes it hard to ignore the local value, but a region with venerable courses like Turnberry, Troon and Western Gailes can’t be beat.
The Tour Confidential roundtable continues Monday on our new weekly show hosted by Jessica Marksbury. Tweet her your questions @Jess_Marksbury.