Tour Confidential: Are you a Tiger Woods optimist or pessimist?

July 11, 2018

Check in every Sunday night for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com.

1. It was a little bit of good and a little bit of not so good for Tiger Woods at the Quicken Loans National. Woods shot a four-under 66 on Sunday, which wasn’t near enough to catch Francesco Molinari but still resulted in a T4 finish in his final start before the British Open. Woods’s downfall his last few events has been his putter, and he made a well-publicized switch to a TaylorMade Ardmore 3 mallet for the week. He finished seventh in Strokes Gained: Putting, yet dead last among those who made the cut in putting inside 10 feet. What stat is more meaningful to you? And are you taking the optimist or pessimist point of view regarding Woods’s form, and future, on the greens?

Michael Bamberger, senior writer: Open golf is not about putting. It’s about iron control, through the green. He’s in good shape to contend. Winning is another question.

Josh Sens, contributing writer (@JoshSens): It’s easy to go down the rabbit hole parsing stats. More importantly, I think, is that it’s been a good long time since Tiger has managed to put together four solid rounds at the events that matter most. That’s the sort of thing that, like putting, will get in your head, and it does not bode well for Carnoustie.

Dylan Dethier, associate editor (@dylan_dethier): I’m all in on the Ardmore 3 switch and as long as Tiger keeps rolling in some of those longer putts, it’ll take the pressure off the shorties. This was an encouraging week in terms of controlling his golf ball and there’s a lot to be optimistic about. But unlike a decade or two ago, he needs something close to his A game in order to win now — he played something like a B+ this week and lost by 10 (!!) shots.

Joe Passov, travel and courses editor (@joepassov): Not surprisingly, I’m optimistic about Tiger’s chances, even after his seemingly so-so week on the greens. Why? Because the standards we set for him are ridiculous. He switched to a new putter this week, on greens he didn’t know too well, matched or broke par every round and posted a 65 in Round 2 and a 66 in Round 4. If he didn’t putt as well as Walter Travis did in his prime — or Tiger Woods in his prime — he still putted plenty well to shoot those scores. He didn’t miss the cut by seven, he tied for fourth, folks. What’s there to be pessimistic about?

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer (@alanshipnuck): By any objective measure, Tiger’s season has been a rousing success. He’s stayed healthy, played some intermittently stellar golf and even contended a coupla times. That’s all we could have asked for given where he’s been. But the hype is overwhelming every time he tees it up and we still all remember how special peak Tiger was — these two factors warp every perspective. I’m not optimistic or pessimistic — I’m content to sit back and see what happens.

Tiger Woods at Quicken Loans
Tiger Woods switched to a mallet putter at the Quicken Loans National and finished seventh in Strokes Gained: Putting.

2. A Phil-Tiger Ryder Cup pairing? Not so fast, says captain Jim Furyk. Furyk was asked about the duo teaming up in Paris last week. “Yeah, it worked out so well the first time [in 2004, when they lost both Friday matches],” he said, sarcastically. “… I wouldn’t guess that would be a good idea as a captain.” Do you agree with Furyk, or do you think they could and should be a formidable pair this time around?

Bamberger: From what I have observed over the years, and this year at the Players in particular, is that there is no chemistry whatsoever between those two. I’m not sure both will be playing, but I would not, were I the captain, even think about playing them together.

Sens: Agreed. Aside from generating buzz — and the Ryder Cup already has plenty of that — I don’t see the point.

Dethier: I dunno, I could still see it happening. These two have been going out of their way to chum it up this year (although Señor Bamberger has been continually skeptical of the relationship’s authenticity, with some merit). Sign me up — like, all the way up — for Tiger-Bryson instead.

Passov: Indeed, I’ll reluctantly defer to Michael on this one, but I say that with hesitation because it seems to many of us that they’re both enjoying the “Elder Statesmen” roles — especially in dealing with each other. Sure, they still want to smack the other down wherever possible, yet neither has anything else to prove. I’d welcome the pairing, even if we question the wisdom.

Shipnuck: Phil wants it to happen, and since he’s a de facto assistant captain, don’t bet against it. The practice round in Augusta was no accident — they’re learning to play alongside each other, and perhaps they’re even testing out each other’s equipment in the privacy of their backyards. Hal Sutton’s mistake was he sprang the pairing on Tiger and Phil at the last minute. This time around, Woods and Mickelson will have had six months to prepare.

Sens: But wasn’t Sutton’s mistake also that they just plain didn’t seem to like being around each other?

MORE: Tiger takes jab at USGA | What to know about Tiger’s new putter

3. Speaking of the Ryder Cup, the French Open last week gave us a look at the 2018 venue, Le Golf National, a design that is long on risk and reward. Did this preview make you more or less excited about the upcoming matches?

Bamberger: I have caddied there, a long time ago. It is a boring American-style course. Advantage: USA.

Sens: Neither. At this point, the electricity of the Ryder Cup has very little to do with the venue. There have been plenty of exciting Cups on long, boring courses, and the other way around. As for advantages to one team or the other, maybe the captains can request setups that they believe favor their guys. But all these players are globe-trotters. They play everywhere. I think it’s overstating it to say that an “American-style” course necessarily benefits American golfers.

Dethier: It’s setting up as a pretty good match play course, I’d say — lots of big numbers, especially coming down the stretch (Julian Suri needed to bogey 18 to force a playoff and found the water en route to a double). The fireworks were plenty to get me more excited, although Noren’s come-from-behind style W would have been more fun with, say, a playoff.

Passov: Ouch, Michael — “boring” is a slap-in-the-face adjective here that I don’t think belongs. It may be ugly and contrived, but as a test of golf, with genuine fear holes near the end, Le Golf National’s Albatross course is one of the best in tournament golf.

Shipnuck: Michael’s “American-style” is a key description. For sure the Yanks will “get” this golf course and feel pretty at home on it. But it is very tight and doesn’t necessarily fit the freewheeling style of the powerful U.S. squad. So, on the whole, I don’t think the venue confers a big advantage either way.

4. Rocco Mediate didn’t hide his feelings when asked about pros complaining about this year’s U.S. Open setup at Shinnecock Hills. “Truthfully, it’s all been a bunch of bulls—-, what I’ve heard, complete horse s—,” he said from last week’s U.S. Senior Open. “… Sometimes [the course] can get softer in the afternoon. Sometimes it gets firmer. What I heard that week made me want to throw up, basically. Just shut up, play.” Does Rocco have it right?

Bamberger: Yes, of course. Players whine. It’s part of the charm of it all. The USGA doesn’t get everything right, but who among us does?

Sens: Yep. Preach it, Mr. Mediate. Preach it.

Dethier: Obviously he’s got a point — there’s nothing inherently wrong with players being frustrated at a U.S. Open, and those who played best seemed to complain the least (funny how that works). I’m definitely in favor of players being honest and outspoken but that doesn’t mean we have to completely agree with their assessments; this year’s U.S. Open Saturday was on the edge, sure, but not to the point where that needed to overshadow a fantastic event.

Passov: Rocco has paid his dues, and so he has a right to vent in the way he did. He’s got it 75 percent right. The other 25 percent is where a setup — either intentionally or unintentionally — gets out of control, and that’s where players have a right to complain. The USGA’s Mike Davis admitted as much on Saturday, stating that skillfully played shots at times were not rewarded. Sorry, Rocco.

Shipnuck: Both Rocco and Joe are right. The players were way too whiny, given that Shinny was pretty perfect for 3 1/2 days. But the course setup did overshadow the event on Saturday evening, and that was a monumental screw up after the USGA had promised this was the one place they wouldn’t screw up, again.

WATCH: Brooke Henderson shatters wedge after poor chip

5. One pro who wasn’t in the field at the U.S. Senior Open was John Daly, who withdrew after he was denied a medical exemption to use a golf cart. The USGA, however, said he did not submit the proper documentation to earn an exemption under the organization’s no-cart policy. Regardless of the real story here, how much does Daly’s absence hurt a senior major?

Bamberger: Uh, zero? More accurately, no device exists with which I may measure my indifference.

Shipnuck: Co-sign.

Sens: That gives me an idea for my next golf invention and infomercial: the Indifference-meter. Buy now, and I’ll send you an Alien wedge at no extra charge. As for the question: all other things being equal, better to have Daly in the field than not. What a bummer that the man can’t walk 18.

Dethier: Not traditionally much of a rules guy but if you’re gonna take a golf cart, you should probably have a documented reason (paperwork included). Hopefully J.D. doesn’t stand by his USGA ban and comes back next year extra fired up.

Passov: John Daly continues to be endlessly entertaining, and plenty talented, too, but his credibility on issues such as these is zero. He’s just been the cause, and center, of too many controversies. J.D., next time follow the procedures that the USGA has set forth to govern these requests. If you do, and they still say no, come back to us.

6. Justin Thomas finished T8 at the French Open, closing his round by getting up and down from a bridge. What’s the best up and down you’ve ever seen?

Bamberger: Up and in is another category and Tiger owns it. I once got up and down from the beach beyond and below the 16th green at Cypress Point, having to play my shot in between little wavelets. I once described this 3, including the 50-footer, to Ken Venturi, who played the hole a thousand times. He was looking at his drink and I thought paying no attention. When I was done he said, “That’s the damndest 3 I’ve ever heard of there.”

Sens: This may strain belief, but I actually made a very similar up and down on that very hole. I did not tell Ken Venturi about this. I told my wife. She couldn’t have cared less.

Shipnuck: I actually once hit a great shot from that very same beach, to about 18 feet, but I missed the putt. Going forward, I’m just gonna adopt Bamberger’s story as my own.

Dethier: FedEx Cup jokes aside, I think we underappreciate the fact that Bill Haas got up and down from East Lake’s muddy shores for a cool $11 million.

Passov: There are too many instances of insane recoveries that I’ve witnessed, both on TV and in person to have one stand out above all others (unlike, as Michael says, the more dramatic up-and-ins). Best to put on a Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson or Seve Ballesteros Greatest Hits package and beam with amazement at what those guys have done. And yes, I once bunted a hybrid safely over the ocean at Cypress Point’s 16th, then planted my 58-yard sand wedge to a foot. That was as joyful an up-and-down 3 as I can recall.