Tour Confidential: Does Tiger’s 2018 rank among his all-time most impressive seasons?

September 10, 2018

Check in every Sunday night for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors as they discuss the hottest topics in the sport, and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com. Tonight we discuss Brooks Koepka’s season, Jordan Spieth’s violation, cheating on Tour and more.

1. Tiger Woods showed signs of the spectacular (Thursday’s 62) the disappointing (Friday’s 70) and the quite good (Saturday’s 66) in the first three rounds of the BMW Championship. That left him in a share of 11th heading to Monday. Woods’s season has been undeniably solid (14 of 16 cuts made, five top-10s, two runner-ups, legit Sunday contender in two majors) although it notably lacks a victory. Given the circumstances, does this add up to one of his most impressive years?

Josh Sens, contributing writer (@Josh_Sens): It’s been great theater, for sure. The flawed hero in search of redemption is compelling as all get out. And fun to watch the new rapport building with fans and fellow players. But as impressive as the Tiger slam year? Or the historic Masters year in ‘97? To my mind, it’s nowhere close. And certainly not as impressive as the modern medicine that allowed for him to get back to swinging in the first place.

Jeff Ritter, digital development editor (@Jeff_Ritter): Oh, it’s impressive. It’s not the Tiger Slam or the broken-leg US Open win, but this comeback has been a bigger success than most of us could’ve ever foreseen. Actually, you know what it is? Fun! Tracking Woods this year has been fun. The new kinder, gentler Tiger had fun, and those following along got to enjoy the ride along with him. He’s given the entire sport a jolt. A fantastic season.

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer (@AlanShipnuck): Definitely one of his most impressive years. When he was at rock-bottom a few years ago I was saying if Tiger ever won again it would be arguably the greatest achievement. It’s fascinating that the victory won’t come, despite his excellent play. Still, what he has done this year is incredible.

Tiger Woods
Has this been one of Tiger Woods’s most impressive years?

Dylan Dethier, associate editor (@Dylan_Dethier): The rise is impressive because of the magnitude of the fall. In isolation, this is a good solid Tour player’s season. Compared to Tiger’s unprecedented heights, it’s not much. But because of how low Tiger’s lows were, I think it’s the year that Tiger’s fans can appreciate the most — you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone and all that.

Joe Passov, Courses and Travel editor (@JoePassov): This is Tiger’s most impressive season — ever. Was it his best? No. A fistful of examples prove otherwise, starting with 2000. Given where he was in 2015, however — and 2016 and especially 2017, it’s incredible that he was able to come back and play at all. His earlier comebacks were marred by very un-Tiger like performances, most nightmarishly in the chipping department. For 2018, the results he’s achieved, notably way deep in the hunt on Sunday afternoon of the year’s final two majors, is astonishing — and most impressive.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer: Well said, Joe. Everything Tiger did in the game, from (to use an arbitrary starting point) 1991 (the year of his first U.S. Junior title) through 2008 (the year of his 17th major, three shy of Jacks 20) was part of a continuum. Woods was truly great at every level at which he played. Some of the achievements are beyond description, most notably the 1997 Masters, the 2000 U.S. Open and the 2008 U.S. Open. So what Woods has done this year is only meaningful if you appreciate all that sporting history first.

That’s the necessary preamble. Then comes April and May of 2017. April, when he had a last-record fusion back surgery from which nobody has ever played world-class golf (as far as I know). Then Memorial Day of last year, the DUI which showed a man who had completely lost his way. So given all of that, this year is the most remarkable, because it was the most unexpected. But even more than that, this year is the most remarkable because Woods has shown a humanity and a measure of gratitude for where he is in his life that, just to speak for myself, had never seen before. He’s never seemed more human.

2. Jordan Spieth stands to be punished (reportedly a $20k fine and/or a three-tournament suspension) if he does not play his way into the Tour Championship on Monday because a PGA Tour rule that mandates Tour members either play a new tournament (one they haven’t played in four years) or tee it up in 25-plus events. Spieth has done neither. Is this a sensible rule?

Sens: The reasoning behind it is. The idea is to bolster the strength of fields across the season. That’s good for the Tour as a whole. If Spieth gets dinged, it’s not because he didn’t have plenty of opportunities to meet the minimum requirements this season.

Ritter: Agree. You need the rule to incentivize stars to vary their schedules and add a little juice to the lower-wattage events. Spieth was done in by his own tight schedule, and the fact that he didn’t make it to East Lake. He’ll be able to scrounge up $20K.

Shipnuck: It’s a very sensible rule and the penalties should be much steeper. Steph Curry and LeBron go to every NBA city, no matter how bad the home team is. It badly hurts the Tour product that the stars skip half the tournaments each year. The Tour would be much better off with only 25 tournaments a year instead of 40+.

Dethier: Twenty-five tournaments a year plus a true offseason sounds like a way to prune back the Tour and leave something stronger and healthier. Sign me up! This is a great rule and, ultimately, an inconsequential penalty. Are they going to suspend Spieth for three Fall Series events? I think he’ll be okay.

Passov: I like the rule, too, just to keep some of the big names checking in once in awhile at the needier Tour stops. Yet it seems unduly harsh in Spieth’s case. I mean, this is the guy that came back to the John Deere a few years ago when he didn’t have to — and practically was all the star power at the Byron Nelson this year. Still, the boys who have already weighed in are right. Bottom line is the bottom line, and if by a quirk he just misses out on Atlanta, I think Jordan can handle the freight.

Bamberger: Again, I stand with Joe. It’s a sensible and needed rule. It’s odd that the person who got caught in its netting is the most affable, well-rounded and caring player among the big names. But even Spieth must understand that a rule is a rule, and this is a needed one.

3. Tony Finau was a consensus choice for Jim Furyk’s final captain’s pick at the conclusion of this week. But one-time Ryder Cup hopeful Xander Schauffele is just one shot off the BMW lead. If Schauffele wins Monday, should he/could he knock Finau off the Ryder Cup team?

Sens: This is a no-lose for Furyk. Either one of those guys will make a great final addition to a loaded team. Given what he’s done across the full span of the season, I’d still give the nod to Finau. But in the end, toss a coin and whichever side it lands, you’d be happy with the result.

Ritter: If I was Furyk, I’d be tempted to tell Schauffele, “Hey bud, win this event and you’re on the squad.” Then see how he plays. If he rises to the challenge? You’ve got another rookie assassin. Crumbles? Finau looks plenty capable.

Sens: Nice, Jeff. Not quite Machiavellian, but crafty. I like it.

Shipnuck: I love Finau but the fact is he’s won exactly one tournament in five years on Tour. Aronimink would be Xander’s third win in 14 months. Finau has a ton of firepower but Schauffele is a closer. I’d take X-Man.

xander schauffele
Xander Schauffele watches his tee shot on the twelfth hole during the second round of the BMW Championship.

Dethier: No — this is Finau’s spot. I think Xander is awesome and he’s going to continue his rise to world-beater status, but he hasn’t been super in form of late, with just one top-20 since the U.S. Open. Finau will be rock-solid. Now if you told me I could trade Schauffele for Mickelson, you’d have my attention…

Passov: I’m absolutely with Mr. Shipnuck here. I’m a big, big Tony Finau fan — I mean, who isn’t at this point — but one total PGA Tour win just doesn’t strike me as an “automatic” reservation on the team. If X-Man bests another great field and bags his third crown, I say he goes to Paris.

Bamberger: Three-for-three, Joe. Winner keeps the court. Furyk is looking for his picks to play their way on to the team. If X wins, he’s in. If not, I’d go with Tony.

4. Brooks Koepka, with two majors, would seem to be a lock for Player of the Year. But if Bryson DeChambeau (three wins, eight top-10s) wins the Tour Championship and FedEx Cup, could that be enough to make Brooks sweat?

Sens: Only if he’s wrapped in a mink coat in a sauna. The dude won two majors. Done deal.

Ritter: Oh, POY is settled, except for whatever they’ll serve at Koepka’s ceremonial dinner. (Is there a dinner? Seems like there should be dinner.) But Bryson made the second-biggest claim to the title. It was a breakout year for him.

Shipnuck: I don’t think it’s that simple. Don’t forget, Koepka missed the first four months. He was clearly the player of the summer but Bryson has been superb from start-to-finish. Koepka is gonna win the award but some voters – especially the Tour brethren – might be inclined to reward Bryson’s week-in-and-week-out excellence should he take the Tour Championship.

Bryson DeChambeau
Bryson DeChambeau earned his second consecutive win at TPC Boston.

Dethier: I’m tempted by Shipnuck’s point, but two majors still seems like a trump card to me. Not sure what the current conversion rate is — didn’t we once ask pros if they’d rather have ten wins versus one major? — but two big ones outweigh anything Bryson can do, especially given the Tour Championship is a field of just 30 players. Bryson may end up with the more lucrative year, though, if he can grab hold of that FedEx cash.

Passov: Bryson has indeed enjoyed a superb year from start to finish, and a third win in the playoffs, with all that accrues, would be phenomenal — but not quite enough to eclipse Koepka for POY. Unfortunately, Bryson didn’t shine on the four biggest stages, and four total wins just isn’t quite dominating enough. Still, this is a fight worth having. Ever since Ben Hogan beat Sam Snead for POY in 1950, it’s been contentious. Hogan won exactly once that year — but it just happened to be his post-accident U.S. Open at Merion. Snead won 11 times, won the Vardon for low scoring average, and more — but no majors. It wasn’t enough for the voters.

Bamberger: Player of the Year is about impact, among other things. But impact first and foremost. Two majors in one year? And a truncated one at that? It’s Koepka by five lengths.

5. In GOLF’s 2018 Anonymous Pro Survey, nearly half of the 59 respondents (44%) said that they had witnessed a fellow player cheat on the course (although 100 percent denied cheating themselves). Does this number give you pause?

Sens: Not surprised at the large percentage. But I’m trying to scrape the rust off my seventh-grade math and figure out how to square that with the 100 percent. I’m failing, as I always have in math.

Ritter: Certainly a bigger number than I expected. I suppose the classy way to handle these incidents would be to keep it in the locker room, but I’m surprised the public doesn’t know more about specific incidents. I mean, this year we had Joel Dahman-Sung Kang and…. who are those other 30 respondents?

Shipnuck: Given all the whispers one hears on the driving range, that seems about right.

Dethier: I think cheating can take many subtle forms. Taking bad drops a la Dahmen vs. Kang seems like the easiest way to get an edge, and everyone is looking for an edge. But the 100% number made me laugh out loud.

Passov: Cheating stories, real and rumored, are as old as the game itself. I was once paired with a pro, who was the son of an internationally well-known pro, and witnessed him make an ace at the 7th hole. I was more shocked when I saw him cheat with a lie in the rough midway through the back nine and then with his final score at round’s end. It is, and always will be part of golf…but not one of the 59 that were polled admitted to it? That gives me pause.

Bamberger: I’m not surprised that nobody admitted to it. Few of us can really be truthful about our own selves. I’m surprised by the 44% number. I would have thought it would have been higher. But even at 44%, it tells you the players are not really doing their jobs, calling out other players when they see a violation. To say you have witnessed cheating, but then to do nothing about it yourself, is itself a form of cheating — at the very least, it means you’re not doing your job.

6. Beverage drones might be coming to a course near you. Genius or overkill?

Sens: Ugh. If I see one, I’m calling in a drone strike to shoot it down.

Ritter: At some point an unlucky golfer is destined to be sheared in a propeller incident. Let me say this now: if it happens to me, it will negatively impact the percentage I leave as a tip.

Shipnuck: Kill me now. Please.

Dethier: Wow, what a bunch of buzzkills! I’ll take a drone beer and each of theirs, too.

Sens: I’m now calling in a drone strike on Dethier. He’ll be so drunk he won’t even see it coming.

Dethier: At least I’ll go down happy.

Passov: Dylan, can I stand with you? Since I don’t have many birdie opportunities to look forward to these days, I start seeking out the halfway house or beverage cart early and often. With this new technology, why wait? Cheers!

Bamberger: That the idea of a beverage drone even exists is proof that there are people with too much time on their hands.