Tour Confidential: JT does it again, Tiger’s prospects and another bizarre rules controversy

October 22, 2017 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. Justin Thomas won for the fifth time this calendar year on Sunday in South Korea, beating Marc Leishman in a playoff to win the inaugural CJ Cup. He’s now third in the World Ranking, just behind Jordan Spieth, his close friend to whom he is often compared. What, if anything, does JT do better than Spieth?

Sean Zak, associate editor, (@Sean_Zak): Well, for starters, he bombs it better than Spieth and also hits his wedges better than Spieth, so on any course that rewards the bomb-and-gouge mentality, JT is better. Besides that, it’s tough to say he’s definitively better than one of the best all-around players we’ve seen since Tiger, so he’s still in great shape.

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@AlanShipnuck): He’s certainly a more explosive player—on an everyday Tour setup Thomas is much more of a threat. And Thomas has a flair and bulletproof confidence that is unmatched in crunch time: his 72nd-hole shot in Korea was only the latest example.

Josh Sens, contributing writer, GOLF Magazine (@JoshSens): I wouldn’t necessarily say that his flair and confidence are any greater than Spieth’s, but his drives sure are. And when you combine that with the deadliness of his wedge game this season, that’s tough to beat. More than any differences in their games, though, what stands out is a similarity in a sense of perspective—in their early 20s, getting paid absurd amounts to play a game they love. They seem to appreciate how ridiculously good they’ve got it, a contrast to some of the brightest stars of our recent past.

Joe Passov, senior editor, GOLF Magazine (@joepassov): Thinking anecdotally and looking at stats, I don’t think JT outdoes Spieth in many categories, except for a decided edge in driving distance. And perhaps his wedge play appears that much better because he hits so many of them, and so well. Spieth has only average length, and isn’t terribly straight with the driver, yet he manages to hit tons of greens—which makes him so much fun to watch. Thomas wows with his pure power, for someone of modest stature, and the fact that he closes so often now means he has a supreme confidence that other contenders can’t help but notice down the stretch.

2. Last Sunday, Tiger Woods tweeted a video of himself hitting driver, and a day later reports surfaced saying he was cleared to resume full golf activity. His former coach, Hank Haney, said on Twitter that Tiger’s new move is “a swing he could win with.” Are you more bullish about Tiger’s prospects than you were, say, two weeks ago?

Zak: In those two weeks, Woods went from hitting “smooth iron shots” to ripping D-stick and 4-irons, with seemingly no steps in between. All that really means to me is that he’s comfortable, which seems to eliminate the most grave “I may never play again” scenarios…so, I guess?

Shipnuck: No.

Sens: Bullish about him returning to competition? Yeah. That seems more likely. Returning to any kind of dominant form? No. Because from everything we’ve seen in recent years, he’s got more to overcome than injuries.

Passov: It would be great, if impossible, to set the bar really low and just enjoy Tiger’s comeback for what it is, whenever that happens. He’s tempted and teased us many times before, so this time, I refuse to jump to any conclusions about his improved prospects simply on the basis of a video. It’s like comparing a quarterback’s throwing drills in a non-contact practice versus forcing him to avoid blitzing linebackers in a game and making that same throw. Tiger’s first tournament back, when scores actually count, will give us the best indication of where his game and body are at.

3. On Sunday, Sergio Garcia won the Valderrama Masters for his third victory of the year (he also won the Omega Dubai Desert Classic in February and, of course, the Masters). Now married, with a major title and a baby on the way, is it possible that the 37-year-old Garcia’s best golf is still ahead of him?

Zak: The likes of Pat Perez, Ian Poulter, Henrik Stenson, Paul Casey, etc., have all proven that age isn’t a significant hindrance until much later than 37, so yes, his best golf is right now, and still coming. If we take him as he currently is, a happy, confident, major-winning golfer who just happens to be one of the best ball-strikers in the world, well, we’ve only had that version of El Nino for about 12 to 18 months. The future is bright.

Shipnuck: It’s fun to think so. Sergio has always been such a flighty guy and clearly he’s never been happier off the golf course, so why not? His swing still has the same explosive athleticism of his youth, and he seems to have conquered his demons on the greens. I can’t wait to see where he goes from here.

Sens: For sure. After his Masters win, it was tempting to think he’d even reel off another major in 2017. With the new life-work balance, and all that pesky wedding planning out of the way, it’s easy to see Sergio having a big 2018. He can pick his spots and gear up for the big ones without that old woe-is-me cloud around him. I just hope he can afford the diapers and the day care. Raising kids is expensive.

Passov: Sergio has been such a superb striker — great driver, imaginative shot-maker, handy short game — that we sometimes forget it was his mind, nerves and ill-timed misses on the greens that kept him from elite status. If he’s relaxed and happy these days, I could see a Vijay-like run of remarkable results (in his late 30s, early 40s) for the next five to 10 years.

4. The PGA Tour is relocating its Barbasol Championship from Alabama to Kentucky beginning this season, and its new home will be the Champions Course at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville, Ky. Which town/region would you most like to see receive a PGA Tour event?

Zak: Bandon, Oregon. I think you probably know why.

Shipnuck: The pot dispensary just outside the airport? I may or may not have been on a couple of Bandon shuttles that stopped there. Anyway, the Pacific Northwest absolutely needs a tourney. Lotsa great venues to choose from and the scenery/vibe is guaranteed to be great.

Sens: And don’t forget the Mill Casino. Penny slots and $5 blackjack! Bandon would be great. So would northern Michigan. Long summer days. Golf mad region. So many beautiful tracks.

Passov: Congrats, all of you on your Bandon fantasy pick. It will be easy to hand count the number of spectators just by eyeballing an overhead shot on TV. In terms of places that are actually accessible, in sizable markets, I’d like to see the Tour return to Denver, just to see if DJ and his brethren can break the 500-yard barrier with downhill tee shots. Cherry Hills was a superb venue in the FedEx Cup Playoffs a few years ago, but it was set up like an eastern USGA track. Get ’em back to Castle Pines, or Colorado Golf Club, and let them blast away!

5. A Korea LPGA event wiped out its first-round scores after some players were penalized for marking their ball on the fringe — players had trouble deciphering the green from the fringe — while others were not. (The head rules official even resigned due to the fiasco.) Where does this episode rank in the pantheon of bizarre rules controversies?

Zak: MAYHEM! This one is certainly up there, though it lacks in the significance of, say, the United States Open. I love how prissy players can get, if only because it makes them look ridiculous. Balls were mistakenly marked where they ended up, then replaced as play moved on. That sentence led to someone resigning. This is the most maddening game in the world.

Shipnuck: It’s a pretty dang weird situation. But to me this is more of a setup fail than a rules issue. But wasn’t this obviously a problem during practice rounds? Something went really pear-shaped here.

Sens: It was an odd one, to be sure. Though, as Sean says, it lacks the weight of the DJ ruling, or the weirdness that unfolded at Augusta in 2013 after Tiger hit the flagstick and took his drop. Did this one really require a resignation? Couldn’t this have been a case of, “We’re very sorry. This won’t happen again.” It was just too weird.

Passov: I’ll echo both that it was a goofy situation that should have been remedied before the tournament began — inexplicable, really — and as for the official resigning, appearances and saving face means significantly more in Asia than it does here. I’m reminded of DJ at the 2010 PGA, of green speed/wind imbroglios through the years, of Stewart Cink getting a controversial W at Harbour Town maybe 10 years ago when he removed loose impediments in the bunker at 16. (Waste bunker? Sand bunker? Why the different rules?) As Sean put it, “ridiculous, maddening.”

6. The site is offering a chance for three guests to join Phil Mickelson at his home course in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., for a round of golf and lunch. As of Sunday, the top bid is $100,000, although the site values the experience at $250,000. What one golf experience would you like to see auctioned off? (Anything goes!)

Zak: A spot in the SB2k18 foursome would go for some big bucks. Sure, I’d probably kill the vibe early on, but that’s what Casamigos is for.

Sens: Sean, just promise us you won’t play shirtless. Hmmm. Because the idea of paying tons of money to rub shoulders with an athlete or celebrity seems totally ridiculous to me, I’ll go with something that might improve someone’s game substantially. A series of playing lessons with Butch Harmon, and he’d have to sign a waiver in advance promising not to get too grumpy with you?

Shipnuck: I’m gonna keep it clean here and say spending a day-in-the-life with Tiger: dropping the kids at school, spear-fishing, hitting shots in the backyard, dinner at the Woods Jupiter, talking deep into the night about golf and life. He’s such an enigma, it would be fascinating to be let into Tiger’s world. (And it would make a helluva story to type.)

Passov: For maximum charity dollars, I’d like to see a twosome at Augusta National auctioned off, with Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus joining to make it a foursome. Film it. Make caddie spots available in the auction. Repeat the whole thing two months later at St. Andrews. Take the proceeds and change somebody’s life for the better.