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Tour Confidential: Should Tiger Woods be the favorite this week at Firestone?

July 30, 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 Tiger Woods’s next start, Bryson DeChambeau’s stumble in Europe and more.

1. Tiger Woods’s Sunday finish at the British Open wasn’t good enough to win, but it was (barely) enough to get him into his first World Golf Championships event since 2014. Woods will tee it up in the WGC-Bridgestone at Firestone on Thursday, on a track where he’s won eight times. Does Woods’s strong play at Carnoustie, coupled with his history at Firestone, make him the favorite this week even though he hasn’t played the course in four years? And what will his play this week say about his PGA prospects?

Josh Sens, contributing writer (@JoshSens): What I expect to see from Tiger is more of what we’ve seen since his comeback: Old Tiger brilliance mixed with New Tiger glitches. That may wind up being good enough to win. That doesn’t make him the real-world favorite, but Vegas and the public might make him the gambling favorite. So it goes when you are Tiger Woods, Old or New. I suspect we’ll see much of the same at the PGA.

Sean Zak, assistant editor (@sean_zak): Not the favorite. I’ll go with Dustin Johnson for that distinction. I’ll be looking for his “control” again this week. He had it at Carnoustie, not making a double bogey until the back nine Sunday. If he can avoid double bogeys for another long stretch, I’ll start believing he can contend at the PGA.

Dylan Dethier, associate editor (@dylan_dethier): Is there any golfer anywhere with more positive memories than Tiger at Firestone? He shouldn’t be the favorite, but based on what we’ve seen of late Tiger belongs in that next tier of contenders. He’s playing well! And his presence certainly ups the intrigue for this two-week stretch.

Jeff Ritter, digital development editor (@Jeff_Ritter): DJ would be my favorite, too. Weekends like the one he just had in Canada make me wonder, How does that guy ever lose? But Tiger is on the short list for Firestone. I think a non-major win is far more likely to happen for Woods before one of the big ones, and if he’s able to pull it off this week it would give him a tremendous boost heading into Bellerive. And for the record, I still have him slated to win the Hero World Challenge this December…and then look out 2019 Masters!

Michael Bamberger, senior writer: I guess the question of “Who is the favorite?” on a weekly basis will become only more meaningful in an era of broad betting interest in golf. It’s not like picking horses. Having said that, Woods’s past success at Firestone is not any kind of predictor of whether he can win this week. What he has shown in his remarkable year is that he can play good enough golf to win for about 63 holes. Getting from 63 to 72 is like climbing Everest with a Tour bag on your back.

Tiger Woods returns to Firestone this week, a place where he's had plenty of success.
Tiger Woods returns to Firestone this week, a place where he’s had plenty of success.

2. Bryson DeChambeau led the European Open with four holes to play, but four shots into hazards later he had played that last stretch in five over par and fell into a tie for 13th (and some weren’t fond of how he accepted it). For a Ryder Cup bubble player like DeChambeau (he currently occupies the 9th spot, one out of auto qualifying), how much will/should late implosions like this damage his captain’s pick chances should he need one?

Sens: Implosions happen to the best of them. I don’t see it as an issue, especially since DeChambeau hasn’t shown a repeated pattern of them. More important to a captain’s pick, I think, will be the old kindergarten question: How well does he play with others?

Zak: It’s definitely something to consider. Also worth considering will be the many people on that bubble who haven’t recently played their way into contention. Getting there, regardless of the outcome, has to be worth something to Jim Furyk.

Dethier: Bryson, like Jordan Spieth, tends to get extremely, uh, verbal when things start going south. That made this implosion all the more compelling: we could hear his internal monologue. A bad finish is just a bad finish, unless it proves to be something more. How will DeChambeau respond?

Ritter: It was captivating TV and I certainly felt bad for him. But this would only cost him a Ryder Cup spot if it happened the week before captain’s picks and it was clear a spot was on the line. Final-round bust-ups happen. He has a few more weeks to make a statement and in the process make the team.

Bamberger: Bigly (if I am using that correctly). Significantly.

3. Which of these feats most impressed you: Brandel Chamblee, 56, jumping out of the broadcasting booth to qualify for the Senior Open Championship, or Tom Watson, 68, briefly contending at the Senior Open? (Chamblee shot 77-75 to miss the cut; Watson finished T21 with rounds of 69-68-73-77.)

Sens: Props to Chamblee for qualifying, but qualifying is one thing and contending is another. The nod goes to Watson and it’s not really close.

Zak: Adding to that, Brandel’s qualifier was just 18 holes. Tom Watson contended into Sunday! These two are really not quite comparable. Watson’s was far, far more impressive.

Dethier: There’s no question that Watson’s was the better objective show of golf but I was more impressed with Brandel. The guy hasn’t played competitively in years and seized the opportunity to show the player-haters on Tour that he’s more than just talk. Wish he’d showed better in the main event but medalist honors a day after wrapping up Open analysis gives Chamblee my vote.

Bamberger: I second, third and fourth those comments. I’ve used this before and I’ll use it again (it’s from Sandy Tatum): “He has a swing that will not quit.” Chamblee showed some nerve by playing. Had he shot 80-80 — and golf is as others have noted a funny game — there would have been some who would have rejoiced with told-you-sos. Good for Brandel for trying, but you cannot compare what the two golfers have done or did do.

Ritter: As Zak wrote in Scotland, Chamblee pulled double duty all week in Carnoustie prepping for the qualifier around his TV work. And then he claimed medalist honors. It was extremely impressive…and Watson is still at a completely different level. Links courses are just a magical fit for him. It was incredible to see him in the hunt on the weekend at St. Andrews.

4. Pete Bevacqua is stepping down as the PGA of America CEO to take on a new role as president of NBC Sports Group. Bevacqua has been the head man of the PGA since 2012. What was Bevacqua’s crowning achievement during his time with the PGA, and what’s one task you would love to see the new hire tackle?

Sens: I’ll always think of him as a savvy negotiator (witness the mega-TV contract he nailed down for the Ryder Cup with NBC). In terms of challenges, there’s the matter of boosting the PGA Championship to the status of something more than the afterthought major, and of finding the right venues for the newly rejiggered schedule. There’s also the ever-nagging question of how to grow the game. With so much money floating around the upper echelons of the pro game, I’ve heard grumblings about the PGA seeming increasingly out of touch for the everyday member, to say nothing of the everyday golfer. I think there’s some truth to that.

Zak: I guess the movement of the PGA Championship to May will be what we remember him for in the immediate future. As for the next person up, I’d hope to see that certain sites that have hosted the PGA in the past don’t get completely nixed because of that deal. I’m biased and really enjoy Whistling Straits.

Dethier: I’ll remember the new shorts-in-practice-rounds thing and the time everyone freaked out about Phil Mickelson’s calves. I’d love to see some unified identity in the PGA Championship’s course rotation going forward. With the U.S. Open headed back to a series of heavy-hitter classics, maybe the PGA could seize the chance to travel to the country’s best innovative newer tracks. Or just ship the fourth major to Australia, like they do in tennis.

Ritter: Bevacqua will probably be best remembered for the changes to the PGA Championship mentioned above, and these suggestions for the fourth (soon to be second) major are good ones. As for future opportunities, I think Sens nails it: The PGA has some 29,000 members. Are they all pulling the same direction in the grow-the-game efforts? There’s a lot of good happening in that organization, but with that membership number, there’s plenty more to be done. They should be one of the most powerful and influential forces in the game. At this moment, I’m not sure they are.

Bamberger: Pete Bevacqua helped make the PGA of America far more modern in its approach to marketing, planning and taking inventory in the broadest sense. He helped oversee a process by which the players could control the playing of the Ryder Cup and trained professionals could handle the business aspects. He helped elevate the status of the women’s PGA Championship. He opened up the prospect that Olympic Club in San Francisco — a spectacular course and place — could be a PGA of America venue for many years to come. He oversaw the process that moved the PGA Championship to May, which is surely better than August (but not nearly as good as late February/early March, in my opinion). I think he and his board way overreacted to one ill-advised but meaningless tweet by former PGA president Ted Bishop. His most significant work is the hardest to measure: Are there more and better opportunities for the 29,000 PGA of America members? That becomes especially difficult when the game is struggling in quarters. More than anything, I think Bevacqua added a certain gravitas to the position and to the organization.

5. On the wake of Francesco Molinari’s British Open win, Colin Montgomerie said the 2018 European Ryder Cup team might be the best squad in “well, almost ever.” Are you with Monty or not?

Zak: I think they’re the best European team since…2012? Sure, the Molinari win, coupled with Rose and Rory T2, made them all feel nice and cozy. But there’s something I’d really like to stress about Ryder reactions to individual events: They’re not that connected! It’s natural to get excited when that happens, but it means next to nothing for how they’ll play in Paris. This Euro team is filled with a lot of really good players, and Carnoustie did nothing to really further prove or denounce that. If those guys play well at, say, back-to-back playoff events in a month, then I’m inclined to respect Monty’s reaction.

Sens: Monty’s claim was enough of a hedge (“Well, almost ever”) that I wouldn’t bother trying to refute it. And I agree that the Europeans are very, very strong this year. And that their strength has been overlooked/downplayed amid the hype surrounding all the youthful talent the Americans will field. Sometime ago, our own Alan Shipnuck boldly predicted a U.S. romp. I disagreed with him then, and I disagree now. I expect this to be close, and I expect Europe to win.

Dethier: The level of play across professional golf is higher now than ever; from a very literal perspective these players are likely the best the European side has ever seen. But in terms of team dominance? Nah. The U.S. squad is loaded and deserves to be the favorite, as long as it can figure out a couple of the trickier team pairings.

Ritter: The U.S. seems strong but it’s worth mentioning that a few guys who look like solid bets to be on the team — Bubba, Webb and Tiger, to name three — haven’t had much success in the event. I think it’s a coin-flip, as most Ryder Cups are these days. But in the meantime, keep talking, Monty! It only adds to the anticipation.

Bamberger: I’d say any European team that had Seve, Faldo, Langer, Lyle and Woosnam would likely be better than whatever 12 players the Europeans assemble this year.

6. If anyone knows Scottish and Irish links, it’s Tom Coyne, who literally wrote the book(s) on them, including his latest chronicle, A Course Called Scotland. But which nation reigns supreme? Coyne broke down the golfiness of each country for GOLF.com and awarded Ireland a 1-up advantage over its friend to the east. Which side are you on?

Zak: I’ve only played Scottish links, so that’s my answer. Then again, even if I’ve played in Ireland, my last two rounds were at Royal Aberdeen and St. Andrews’ Old Course. I’m flying high on the Scotland variety right now.

Sens: On the quality of courses, I’d say too close to call. But if I had one trip to make, I’d make it Scotland and not for the history but for the geography: it’s just easier to play lots and lots of great courses with less travel hassle there.

Dethier: A group of my buddies have been going through this exact debate in thinking about a future golf trip; I’ve never been to either so I’m little use, but I’d have assumed Scotland would get the nod. Needless to say, Coyne has me intrigued…

Ritter: I’ve been lucky enough to visit Scotland several times, but have only hit Ireland once. I just love the history and the quirkiness of the old Scottish links. They’re an absolute blast. But Ireland’s sweeping dunescapes took my breath away. It’s a tough call. To make it, I need another trip overseas for more research.

Bamberger: I’m giving the nod to Scotland but let’s say this: you can’t go wrong either way. For those of you have never been to either but have been to Bandon Dunes, I would say Bandon is more Scottish than Irish, until you get to the bar.