Tour Confidential: And your new Masters favorite is … Bubba Watson?

March 26, 2018

GOLF.com conducts a weekly roundtable with writers from Sports Illustrated and GOLF Magazine. Check in every Sunday night for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com.

1. After going nearly two years without a victory and dropping out of the top 100, Bubba Watson has now picked up two wins in his last four starts following his victory at the WGC Match Play on Sunday. Now he’s getting ready for Augusta, where he’s already won twice. How many Masters favorites would you put ahead of a surging Bubba?

Sean Zak, associate editor, GOLF.com (@sean_zak): Ahead of him? No one. I see it as a six- or seven-horse race between the “favorites.” That includes him, DJ, JT, Phil, Rory, Spieth and Eldrick. Rose, too. There is no single favorite I’d rank higher than the others.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, GOLF: I like Rory’s chances slightly more than Bubba’s. I would put Bubba right alongside Langer, King Louie, Tiger, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson, Phil and Daniel Berger. And Fred.

Jeff Ritter, digital development editor, GOLF.com (@Jeff_Ritter): I think I’d slot him third behind Rose and Phil, but any way you frame it, Bubba deserves our full attention as we head to Augusta, and it’s hard to imagine he won’t be a factor at a course that plays right into his strengths.

Josh Sens, contributing writer, GOLF (@JoshSens): Now that we’ve jinxed him he will probably miss the cut but I’d put his chances, like Sean said, in pretty much the same range as six or seven other guys. If not more. Names like Justin Rose, JT, DJ, Jason Day, Phil and Tiger. How’s that for a hedge?

Dylan Dethier, associate editor, GOLF.com (@dylan_dethier): The fact that Bamberger just slipped “Langer” in with the rest of the crowd of favorites shouldn’t go unnoticed. Here’s a hot take for the crowd: Bubba’s going to miss the cut at Augusta, which is too bad, because he’s a fun character to have in the mix.

John Wood, caddie for Matt Kuchar (@johnwould): I wouldn’t put anyone ahead of him. I’m with Zak in that it’s a six- or seven-horse race with all the names he mentioned. I think some of it will depend on weather. Windy, firm, fast — I’d lean toward someone who already has a green jacket. Wet, relatively windless — one of the bombers. Somewhere in between — anybody’s guess! I honestly have no idea how to go with this. So many horses are throwing their hats into the ring right now, I almost have a feeling someone no one is mentioning may come in and steal the whole thing. It’s gonna be an incredible week.

2. Bubba has won in consecutive months, Spieth is yipping short putts, Phil Mickelson ended his winless drought and, oh yeah, Tiger Woods has finished top 12 in his last three starts. What’s been the most surprising story of the season thus far?

Zak: It’s Tiger. I know we’re a bit removed from poor Tiger play now, but him playing this consistently throughout the entire bag is as surprising as anything considering how awful his entire bag was in 2015.

Sens: Tiger and it is not even close.

Bamberger: I know this is a forum for opinions, but any answer other than Tiger is incorrect.

Dethier: Phil and Bubba both deserve major props, but back from the dead wins “most surprising,” especially when Tiger’s fame acts as a multiplier.

Ritter: I’m aiming for a perfect score on this week’s roundtable, so I will say Tiger. Remember where he was in this comeback last fall? It’s absolutely incredible that he’s already contending on Tour again, and it’s ignited the entire sport.

Wood: Tiger’s quick return to good form, especially his short game and putting.

3. Justin Thomas needed to beat Watson in their semifinals match to supplant Dustin Johnson as the No. 1 player in the world, but he lost 3 and 2 and remains at No. 2. Afterward, Thomas admitted the pressure of thinking about a chance to get to No. 1 got to him. “I haven’t had such a hard time not thinking about something so much,” he said. “And that really sucked. I couldn’t stop thinking about it.” We often hear players say they’re just concerned about winning and all the other honors will take care of themselves. Were you surprised to hear of JT’s fixation on becoming golf’s top dog?

Zak: Not surprised at all. The ranking seems to be an important claim these players can hold and even more impressive when you do it as young as Thomas is. Only a select few get there, and considering Thomas has always tailed Jordan Spieth in accomplishments on Tour, this is another way of eliminating the résumé gap between him (and others). Being No. 1 is the biggest statement you can make. JT isn’t exactly there yet, but he’s the best golfer in the world right now.

Sens: Not surprised. He is a fiery guy and also forthright. Nice to hear an athlete speaking honestly rather than spouting platitudes about letting things fall into place. Also, really, once you’ve won enough money for multiple lifetimes, motivation has to come from somewhere. Why not aim to be the numerical best?

Bamberger: Very surprised. Maybe there’s a major cash incentive to becoming No. 1. Otherwise, it’s largely ceremonial, computer-driven and meaningless.

Ritter: And that’s the surprise: despite the fact that it’s a ceremonial title, JT desperately wants it. Top-ranked players are part of a pretty exclusive club. JT is young, driven and right on the doorstep. I like his candor.

Dethier: It’s the only thing left keeping JT from being the Tour’s official alpha dog. I’m of two minds about it: love the candor but can’t help thinking that Tiger would consider an admission like that blood in the water. Either way, it was believable to viewers.

Wood: I kind of was. He’s been on such a run the last couple of years it almost seemed like he was on auto-pilot. Kudos to him for being honest about it though, that it would mean that much to him and that his mind was divided.

4. Longtime Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup partners Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth faced off in a highly publicized duel on Friday of the WGC Match Play, with Reed winning 2 and 1 and knocking Spieth out of the tournament. Earlier in the week video surfaced of Reed taking a (light-hearted?) jab at Spieth while taking a drop at Bay Hill, and at the WGC Reed also joked that his “back still hurts from the last Ryder Cup,” insinuating he anchored their pairing. Is their “feud” all in good fun, or is there more than meets the eye there?

Zak: Well, considering Patrick Reed doesn’t win as many tournaments, OR contend in majors, this is one of those moments (as is the Ryder Cup) where he can exert how great a player he is (or even how great a player he thinks he is). So, I’d surmise there is more than meets the eye on Reed’s end… but we all know who owns a bigger piece of the American golf pie. They know it, too.

Sens: Just speculating here but Reed sure sounds like a man with a mini ax to grind. Probably some professional jealousy there. Again, though, I appreciate the honesty.

Wood: Oh gosh all in good fun. There’s no way there’s any acrimony there. That being said, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a couple new pairings in France after Day 1, just to keep things fresh.

Bamberger: In humor there’s almost always some truth. Good fun, yes — but not all in good fun.

Ritter: I don’t think there’s bad blood here, but we’ll know for sure when the U.S. Ryder Cup Day 1 pairings are released this fall in Paris.

Dethier: Reed is a perfect foil to Spieth, which gives this an edge and makes it actually fun rather than just forced banter. Gimme more!

5. Tony Romo, playing on a sponsor’s exemption at the PGA Tour’s Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship, finished dead last after rounds of 77-82. Romo’s appearance called to mind Steph Curry’s start at the Web.com’s Ellie Mae Classic last summer, where he shot 74-74 to miss the cut by 11. Given their respective competition, which player’s performance more impressed you? And who you got in a head-to-head matchup?

Zak: Romo’s competition was certainly better, but I think Curry would have performed better if they swapped spots, so… I’ll take Curry 3 and 2?

Sens: Romo would have a better chance against a blind-side blitz from a young Lawrence Taylor. I don’t know if Curry has the better swing but he has the better head. His two rounds in the Web were master demonstrations of mental toughness.

Wood: Steph is the obvious choice. But if they both went longterm with golf, I think Tony may have more upside just because of his length off the tee.

Bamberger: Without knowing the courses and how they were set up, I could not say.

Ritter: They actually both played in the celebrity event in Lake Tahoe last summer. It was modified Stableford and they played in the same group for two days, and Curry had the low Sunday round and beat Romo by 10 shots over 36 holes. So, Steph is the easy choice in a match.

Dethier: I watched an embarrassing number of Romo’s 36 holes and it’s fairly safe to say he unraveled after his opening nine. Both appearances were on easy setups (by Tour standards) and Romo finishing six shots behind any other competitor cements his as the less impressive showing.

6. The format for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo will remain unchanged from 2016: 72 holes of stroke play. Missed opportunity to add a little sizzle to the event?

Zak: Yes it is. The way the field is constructed, we are bound to get good winners like Justin Rose and Inbee Park, but just because the men’s event was riveting until the end shouldn’t let us forget that the women’s event was a blowout. If anyone has a good reason against match play, I’d really like to hear it.

Sens: Zzzzzzz. What? Sorry. What was the question?

Bamberger: Completely missed. So many ways for that competition to become truly sui generis. It could be a team competition. It could be a mixed-team competition. It’s like the Olympic organizers are not even trying. I really don’t get it. But, then, I don’t get the FedEx Cup Playoffs either, or the wrap-around season, or the two-hole U.S. Open playoff. I’m guessing the Olympics wants what works for the Masters, golf’s most highly rated TV show/tournament. But the Ryder Cup is highly rated, too.

Wood: [Returning to the column after looking up “sui generis,” as is everyone reading this. Thank you for making me smarter today, Michael!] I felt certain they would tweak the format before Volume II of Golf in the Olympics, The Return. There were so many different ways to go with this, and I was hoping for both a team and individual competition, a la gymnastics or skating. Something to make it stand out a bit more and be more unique (sui generis). That being said, I worked the Olympics for Kooch in Rio. Going in, I honestly thought it was going to feel like just another golf tournament: four days of medal, individual play, which we do every week. Even with those limitations, it felt completely different than anything else I’ve ever done in golf. You knew it was bigger. It wasn’t a golf tournament, it was the Olympics, so maybe it’s OK not tricking it up at all. It felt big, and it was a huge honor, and that was in a country where golf isn’t that big of a fan favorite. I can’t imagine what Olympic golf will feel like in a golf-mad country like Japan.

Ritter: What Bamberger said. The opportunity is there to make this competition original and even more meaningful. A co-ed team event would be my first choice, but I’d welcome almost any new idea that attempted to inject more excitement. Another edition of 72-hole stroke play is not that idea.

Dethier: This is frustrating because the fix seems SO easy. Olympic golf should consist of two-player teams playing best ball in the same format as the World Cup (for soccer, that is). Pool play advancing to sudden death match play. Or like, any other fun format. Huge missed opportunity.