RoundtableSeptember 19, 2010

On Our Minds

GolfDigest.com assembles a collection of writers and editors to talk about a murky player-of-the-year picture, the FedEx Cup system and the upcoming Ryder Cup

Matt Kuchar is very much in the race for PGA Tour Player of the Year.

Matt Kuchar is very much in the race for PGA Tour Player of the Year.

__Sam Weinman, Senior Editor, Golf Digest Digital: Lots to talk about: the Tour Championship, Ryder Cup, the rest of the fall schedule. Let's start by looking to the season finale this week in Atlanta. In our last session

, we went to great lengths debating whether Matt Kuchar's string of high finishes constituted a great season. Thanks to a win in the Barclays and strong finishes in Boston and Chicago, Kuchar is leading the FedEx Cup Playoffs Points standings, and he's on the cover of the Sept. 20th issue of Golf World

. Does anyone care to revise their assessment of Mr. Kuchar, or is he still the face of a very underwhelming PGA Tour season?__

E. Michael Johnson, Senior Editor, Golf World: I believe the word Craig used to describe Kuchar was "also-ran."

Craig Bestrom, Senior Editor, Golf Digest: Kuchar has played in 24 events. One win, 23 also-rans. Very nice season, but surely we all agree it's a bit unspectacular.

Tim Rosaforte, Senior Writer, Golf Digest and Golf World: In reporting and writing my Golf World story about Kuchar

, I came to realize that he's a tougher competitor than we realize with his smile and nice-guy persona. Would I have picked him out of a list of 50 Player-of-the-Year candidates? No. Would I say he's going to stick around for a while? Yes.

Jaime Diaz, Senior Writer, Golf Digest and Golf World: Kuchar has had a great season in terms of consistency and his own improvement. But he's basically been a poor man's Jim Furyk. Really good player, not yet among the elite. Even when Wayne Levi got Player of the Year, at least he won four times. Right now, Dustin Johnson has the inside track.

Johnson: Johnson is logical. Two wins matches the most of anyone, and although he was an idiot for not knowing he was standing in a bunker at the PGA, if I were voting right now, he's Player of the Year.

Weinman: Not sure I agree. For all of Johnson's progress this year, his major season was defined by two spectacular collapses.

Tiger Woods

Diaz: In this kind of year, where no one has stood out, getting to a Sunday lead in two majors counts for something. Plus, Johnson has shown a lot by being resilient, to say nothing of his huge game. Physically, he reminds me of a young Tiger. If he can become better mentally, look out.

Craig Bestrom: Last I checked, PGA Tour Player of the Year is determined by a vote of the players. Who gets their vote?

Johnson: Barring any of the favorites winning at East Lake, they'll vote for Mickelson. Misguided as it may be.

Diaz: If Phil wins at East Lake, I think he earns it because of winning the Masters and probably the FedEx Cup. Otherwise, it shouldn't be him. Way too inconsistent.

Rosaforte: Some columnists have written that there shouldn't be a Player of the Year. Give it one more week. If Dustin wins in Atlanta, he'll have three victories, and the fact he came back from what could have been two career-changing faux pas will dictate voting. Kuch would otherwise be deserving, and since he's almost 30 under par in the playoffs, I expect him to have a big week at East Lake.

Weinman: Meanwhile, this FedEx Cup playoffs system has been criticized from the day it was conceived. Yet, here we are two weeks into the NFL season and a lot of important questions about the golf season are still hanging in the balance. However contrived, is this system really so bad?

John Huggan, European Correspondent, Golf World: Bottom line regarding the FedEx Cup: It's hard to care even a little about something that makes so little sense.

__ Johnson:__ It's not that the system is so bad, it's how it is presented that makes it bad. It's not a playoff. Get rid of that word and we're fine. It's a four-week money grab where you get the best players all playing at the same time to wrap up the year. That's OK by me. I'll watch. But this idea that it crowns a season-long champion is ludicrous and puts the tour in a no-win situation. If the best player wins, it's rigged. If some schmoe comes out of nowhere, it's not right. Just take it for what it is.

Diaz: I am a fan of the FedEx Cup, imperfect as it may be. The whole concept of "playoffs" simply doesn't work in golf, which has always been and will always be ruled by week-to week, even day-to-day variables. However, I like that it gets a lot of the best players together at the end of the year, which used to be called the Dead Zone. I like that it matters to them, and you can see them feeling the pressure. I'd be in favor of adjusting back to "stability" versus "volatility." In golf, body of work should generally count for more than getting hot in a short period of time. But overall, the FedEx is so much better than what it used to be that it should be accepted.

Weinman: __One player not in contention for the FedEx Cup is the No. 1 player in the world, Tiger Woods. Now that he has confirmed a working relationship with instructor Sean Foley

, we know Tiger is trying to refine his swing. Is he in for another overhaul, or can he get by with minor tweaks?__

Diaz: I really think because of all he learned under Harmon and Haney, and all he knows himself from being a serious student of the game, that the transition under Foley will not take as much time. From what I can tell, Foley wants to simplify Tiger's actions (which Tiger welcomes). Hank's takeaway in particular was pretty complicated and difficult to repeat. It will be addition by subtraction.

Johnson: Few people have studied Tiger's swing more than Jaime, so I'll go with him. But the talk at our lunch table the other day was this: What will Tiger's season look like in 2011 in terms of wins and majors. It ran the gamut from no wins to five. No majors to two. I said four wins, one major. What do you guys think?

Huggan: It is hard to see Tiger not winning multiple events and majors next year. Look at how he is STILL No. 1 today. No one else is even close, although Martin Kaymer will be closer by the end of 2011.

Bestrom: Speaking of Kaymer and European golf, Huggy, how big is the Ryder Cup buzz in the UK right now? It's football season (English and American), but do you sense that sports fans are excited about the upcoming matches in Wales?

Huggan: Sad to say, the Ryder Cup is -- while not exactly under the radar -- not the big deal it has been in previous years. Hospitality is down and tickets can still be had through public sale even at this late stage. I blame the R&A.

Diaz: The Ryder Cup is great spectacle, but people have come to put it in perspective. It's great to see the players nervous and uptight, but its appeal really comes down to instant gratification. When it's over, what does it mean?

Huggan: Jaime is right. The Ryder Cup belongs in its own box. But it's fun to open it now and then. Speaking of which, are any of you guys fancying the U.S. team's chances in Wales, especially now that Westwood is going to be, at least, ill-prepared?

Colin Montgomerie

__ Johnson:__ Honestly, no. I did pick the U.S. to win at Valhalla even though they were underdogs, but I just don't see enough of the U.S. team on form to compete. I think we really are looking at a blowout for Europe.

Diaz: I'll take Europe in a close one, mainly because the golf-starved Welsh fans will be soccer-stadium loud and passionate. But if Woods and Mickelson happen to play well, that's a pretty formidable element in favor of U.S.

Weinman: Is there really ever a favorite in the Ryder Cup? Seems to me it's about the team that makes the most putts, and the team that's facing the least amount of pressure. So in a weird way, I like the Americans.

Johnson: I remember my first beer, Sam.

__ Diaz:__ I agree, the looser team usually wins, 1999 being one notable exception.

Rosaforte: Always bet the dog in this one.

__ Huggan:__ Who will be the first American to run screaming from Wales?

Bestrom: The first one hit by a raindrop, a gust of wind or a negative remark from a Welshman.

Huggan: Rumor has it that Monty has arranged for Nick Faldo's 2008 speech to be piped continuously into the US team room.

Weinman: That raises the interesting subject of captains. If you're Corey Pavin or Colin Montgomerie, what are the easiest ways for you to screw it up?

Rosaforte: 1.If you're Pavin, pair Woods and Mickelson.

2.Let Johnny Miller get under your skin.

3.Hide the ping-pong paddles.

4.If you're Monty, follow the Faldo blueprint.

5.Have the customary rabbit ears and thin skin.

6.Forget to order enough beer.

Bestrom: Easiest blunder for Pavin to make: Bench Tiger. NBC and mainstream sports fans will be outraged.

Diaz: If Tiger gets benched, it will be because he asked to be. In other words, it won't be on Pavin. And I believe if Tiger is playing badly, he'll volunteer to sit out. No one on any of the teams he's played on has ever accused him of being a bad teammate.

Johnson: Not to mention he gets a bad rap for his 10-13-2 Ryder Cup record. He's 3-1-1 in singles, and in some of the four-ball losses he has shot lights out. Unless he begs off, I keep him in.

Diaz: The best thing to do is make sure the players basically respect the pairings, and then get out of the way. The crucial moment in a tight match -- fairly or unfairly -- is the Sunday lineup. Mark James screwed his up in 1999. Curtis Strange screwed his up in 2002, when Tiger's match didn't count. Otherwise, short of saying something stupid that becomes bulletin-board material, or doing something that starts a mutiny, the captain should never get blamed.

Johnson: Seriously, the impact of the captains is a bit overrated. You can screw it up with bad captain's picks, but unlike the Presidents Cup where the captains have to consider a little strategy in matching up against the other team, here you put your team and lineup together and go. It's not simple, certainly, but not overly complicated, either.

Weinman: I tend to agree with you, Mike, but I'm not sure Paul Azinger would. Even the title of his book, Cracking The Code, suggests this is complicated stuff.

Diaz: Zinger was a great captain because he's a natural leader. He's smart, funny, and cares tremendously. The guys wanted to play for him. The pods were a nice gimmick, but no substitute for charisma.

Huggan: Azinger makes me laugh, but it was clever of him to cash in on his team holing more putts at Valhalla -- a feature of the matches he had nothing to do with. As they say, you're a genius when you win.

__ Johnson:__ Yeah, easy to write that book after you win.

Rory McIlroy

__ Diaz:__ The Ryder Cup is so hidebound by tradition this will probably never happen, but it should borrow from the Presidents Cup system of the captains being able to match up players. It's too good of an idea not to adopt.

Johnson: Couldn't agree more. Plus, it'd provide a better chance for fans to see the matchups they want.

__ Weinman:__ __ What are some of the matchups and two-man teams everyone would like to see? Should we expect to see Tiger back with Steve Stricker? __

Johnson: I think one of the more interesting pairings will be who Pavin puts with Dustin Johnson. He plays fast and doesn't overanalyze anything. So do you put him with a like mind (possibly Hunter Mahan or Bubba Watson) or put him with a calming influence like a Jim Furyk? Matchups? Kaymer-Dustin Johnson in singles. Rory McIlroy-Rickie Fowler in singles.

Huggan: McDowell and McIlroy is another "stick-on" pairing. I fully expect the Molinaris to play together ... stop the presses!

Bestrom: After McIlroy's pop-off that he'd love to face Tiger, that anyone on the European team would fancy his chances against Tiger unless his game rapidly improves, I say make it happen. A Phil Mickelson-Ian Poulter singles match could generate some tension.

__ Rosaforte:__ I don't care what Pavin says, I'd find a seat on the team charter for Boo Weekley (to harass Westwood) and stick with the pod system.

Huggan: Sadly, I think Pavin will go down as an eminently forgettable captain. Got all the small things right, but no good at the important stuff.

Diaz: I think Pavin will be very controlled, a steady leader and good in the public realm. He's a smart guy, cautious by nature. I also think the players will respect him and there will be little if any dissension. Monty is the loose cannon who gets emotional. He strikes me as capable of losing it if things start going badly, and I don't think the players would have his back. He lost a lot of them a long time ago.