Golf? Already? The Tour Championship ended a mere two weeks ago, and already it's time to start thinking of next season, thanks to the PGA Tour's decision to revise the calendar. The first event of the 2013-14 season, the Frys.com Open, begins Thursday. And this isn't a silly-season event; the winner will get 500 FedEx Cup points, an invitation to The Masters if one isn't already secure and a head start on his fellow professionals for the 2014 playoffs.
This edition of the Roundtable includes three stops. First, we consider the Presidents Cup, where U.S. players took on an international contingent from non-European nations. Next, we'll look back at the truncated season that just ended. We'll conclude with a peek into the 2013-14 crystal ball.
PART 1 - THE PRESIDENTS CUP
Some say the Presidents Cup is in danger of becoming irrelevant if the United States continues to dominate like it has in recently, including this year. Is this an overstatement?
I say yes, because everyone involved continues to seem like they want to play in it and the quality of golf is strong. If people started to show up unprepared, or if they had a look on their faces like they'd rather be somewhere else, then maybe I'd change my mind.
BUT, for the good of the event, I do think a Ryder Cup-style, down-to-the-wire finish would do the event a ton of good.
I agree with Jeremy that the event would get a healthy shot in the arm if the matches proved competitive down to the last match on Sunday. These matches will always be the disfavored stepchild when compared with the Ryder Cup, except in the nations outside the U.S. and Europe. Keep in mind that this event is administered by the PGA Tour, while the Ryder Cup is run by the PGA of America and the PGA Euro Tour, so there will always be a degree of one-upmanship between the two. The Presidents Cup may lose luster if the U.S. continues to walk away with the hardware, but the matches aren't going away.
The Presidents Cup is what it is. The players always will and should get excited to play, but as for the public, I think one team-based event every two years is enough.
The Ryder Cup will always be the big dog, and I get the impression that the public likes it every two years. You do these things too often and the public gets bored. That's the battle that the Presidents Cup will always fight - it's during the off year of the Ryder Cup.
PART 2 - 2013 IN REVIEW
Who's your Player of the Year? [Note: These comments were gathered before the PGA Tour players voted Tiger Woods as Player of the Year, as announced on Sept. 27. Somehow we doubt that this information would have changed any of the following votes or comments.]
With all due respect to Tiger Woods (five wins including two WGCs and a Players) and Henrik Stenson (Deutsche Bank, Tour Championship, FedEx Cup, $11.44 million) it comes to down to Phil Mickelson or Adam Scott. Why? Because of Tiger Woods and his priority of winning majors.
Stevie (because he hits all the shots, not Adam, right?) and Phil both have two wins on the PGA Tour, including a major. Phil has the Scottish Open to boot.
I'm going to side with Phil purely because of HOW he did it -- mastering links golf after all those years of struggling majorly on it -- but I could most certainly see this going either way and we could end up with one of the closest POY votes in a very, very long time.
I can't remember a year when POY was this hard to pick. You can make a case for a handful of players and no matter who wins, there'll be a lot of upset people, but I have to go with Adam Scott.
Tiger had a chance to win POY even without a major this season, but he needed to claim the FedEx title. Without it, it's a great year, but it doesn't trump a player like Scott who played at a high level all season and won a major.
Scott edges Mickelson by the slightest of margins in my mind because of his three top-5s at the majors this year.
POY is incredibly tough to pick this year but other than a few exceptions, they MUST win a major given the emphasis those events are given. So under those prerequisites, it comes down to a virtual coin flip between Adam Scott and Phil, both equally deserving. But I must side with Scott here because of his three top-5s in the majors (versus Phil's two).
I'm on Michael's page here. Scott had a better resume in the majors (and the win), which gives him the nod over Lefty.
Whoa, now. Whoa. My learned brethren are making this way too complicated. The Player of the year isn't measured by things like who was hot on a given week or two; this isn't the Player of the Month. Nor are we constrained by Tiger Woods's personal ambitions for his own year. The question is, who was the best golfer of the entire 2013 season?
Money title winner: Tiger Woods
Vardon Trophy winner: Tiger Woods
Most victories: Tiger Woods, 5 (nearest competitor: 2)
World Golf Championships won: Tiger Woods 2, Matt Kuchar 1, rest of humanity 0
I loved seeing Lefty's double in the British Isles, and admired Stenson's season-ending hot streak. But neither man had a better season than Woods did. In my mind, this isn't close.
Who's your out-of-nowhere player of the year? The leading contenders seem to be Jordan Spieth (from no status to No. 7 in final FedEx Cup standings and a Presidents Cup slot at age 20), Henrik Stenson (from out of the top 200 in the world to an $11M payday) and Ken Duke (first PGA Tour win at age 44).
How about Boo Weekley? He went from King of Harbour Town to the Web.com Tour before finally getting back into the winner's circle at Colonial and making it to the Tour Championship.
While all three of the aforementioned names are worthy candidates, two - Spieth and Stenson - figured to get to golf's biggest stage at some point (and in the case of Stenson back to the big stage), and Duke only had one big week.
Weekley was able to string together enough finishes besides the win to get to East Lake. That's why he gets my vote.
Henrik Stenson stands alone in this light. Many do not know that Stenson's slump was more than just a cold putter and the driver yips. In 2009 he was a victim of a massive Ponzi scheme (along with many others) at Stanford Financial Group that saw him lose a large sum of the fortune he had earned up to that point. So to win the grand FedEx Cup bonus of a cool $10 million is the ultimate redemption for Stenson, both on and off the golf course.
I think there are four solid contenders here - well, 3.5, really, because I include Duke for sentimental purposes only. (It's hard not to like a guy who labors for that long before finally reaching the winner's circle.) Horschel was a monster for a stretch of about two months, and Stenson's renaissance was impressive to watch. But I like Spieth for this; he started with no status on any tour - not even the Web.com - and ended the year in the top 25 in the world.
Plenty of good choices this year, but If we are talking about guys who truly came out of nowhere, I'll go with Billy Horschel.
The other guys mentioned already had prior success somewhere. Stenson won here and abroad, Weekley on the PGA Tour and Spieth as an amateur, but Horschel had never even cracked the top-125 before this season. He slowed near the end of the season, but a win, more than $3 million in earnings and a top-5 is a pretty good year for a guy used to teeing it up at Q-School each year.
PART 3 - A PEEK INTO 2013-14
With the shift away from a calendar-year system, the fall events move from being a prelude to the silly season into something that's potentially quite meaningful. This is particularly true for fantasy leagues that may draft early so their season coincides with the Tour's new calendar. How does the change affect those few events?
What happens this fall is going to be very interesting, partially because of field makeup. There are six events and a lot of unknowns.
Here's what we do know: winning these events gets you into Augusta. I have a feeling the PGA Tour and The Masters Tournament Committee think we may have six different winners because of the number of eligibility slots they opened up for next year's tournament. As a result I think you could see some players who would like to desperately get to Augusta (Charles Howell III, for example) playing these events.
Now for the unknown:
1) These events are now REGULAR SEASON FedEx Cup events, allotting full points. So this will be a distinct advantage for some players (especially newcomers/Reshuffle List players) to try and get some valuable points early on.
2) I can say with pretty good confidence that three events will have good fields. The first is the HSBC Champions. That's a World Golf Championship event, and for those players going overseas anyway, whether it's for Australia or the World Cup or something else, I can see them going there and playing for a nice payday and some valuable FedEx Cup and world-ranking points. And with the World Cup being played at Royal Melbourne this year, that event has suddenly become attractive again; this could, in turn, help HSBC's field.
Next is The McGladrey Classic, which is run by Davis Love III and his brother. Since its inception it has always attracted the solid Sea Island-area contingent: Davis, Brandt Snedeker, Zach Johnson, Jonathan Byrd, I think Matt Kuchar, Dustin Johnson and a couple more. I don't know if all of them will play, but you get the picture: that area is a hot-bed for golfing talent.
The third is the CIMB Classic in Malaysia, which has already picked up some nice committals: Phil Mickelson, Keegan Bradley, Rickie Fowler, Snedeker and defending champion Nick Watney.
3) I have absolutely no idea what the fields will be like at the Frys.com Open south of San Jose, The Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Las Vegas and the OHL Classic at Mayakoba. That could be three no-name winners (huge opportunity for rookies) or maybe some name will choose to show up and steal the show. I have absolutely no idea.
I do think - and we've already seen quotes backing this up from Tiger and Jordan Spieth - that we may see a lot of big names take some time off and skip these events. In addition, those players with both PGA and European Tour memberships won't be playing over here as they'll be focused on the Race to Dubai, which ends the European Tour's season.
So for fantasy players, I think, to be honest, you may need to make last-minute decisions based on field makeup and hope that your choices have practiced enough to be successful selections for you.
I'm highly skeptical that the changes implemented will make much of a difference from an interest factor. Yes, there will be more middle-tier guys playing with the hopes of punching their ticket to Augusta along with racking some points/money along the way, but in the big picture I just don't think anything that happens this fall will matter much come next summer.
As for fantasy leagues: I've yet to encounter anyone who is using this part of the schedule this year. Honestly, I think it's just a bit too much. We've become accustomed to this break in the action from the "normal" tour over the years, and I don't get the sense that the public needed any more high-level golf after the Tour Championship.
Every major sport has a reasonable cooling off period and there's a good reason for that - it raises the anticipation level. For that reason, I expect a lot of golf fans to check out this fall because they prefer a break on the action that's longer than a month.
I think we may see a few more familiar names in these previously lesser events, as Jeremy points out above, and that might make it a tad harder for a guy to come out of nowhere to get a jump on the FedEx Cup race. But overall, the biggest names on Tour are still likely to take some time off now - particularly those who played almost nonstop from the PGA through the FedEx playoffs through the Presidents Cup. If you're looking for a chance to bet the field against the chalk, these are good opportunities.
Another thing to remember is that four of these events - Frys, Vegas, McGladrey, Mayakoba - are up against the NFL, while two others - Malaysia and Shanghai - are going to be taking place at very odd hours of the morning for the east coast U.S. So there's a visibility factor here as well.
But the PGA Tour had to do this, as those events were going to pull their sponsorships if they weren't incorporated into the FedEx Cup regular season. That means fewer playing opportunities for the guys who need it and bloated fields like we saw at some early-season events this year.
So while it may not be good for fantasy leagues or the general golfing public, I do think this is a winning formula for the players and the PGA Tour.
Who do you favor to emerge in the 2013-14 season as a breakout player?
A guy that immediately entered my mind was Jason Day. He's so immensely talented and has contended plenty in majors the last few years but has just one PGA Tour win to his name. If not a major I predict a high profile win in 2014 for the young but experienced Aussie that will open the floodgates to greater things.
Is Jordan Spieth disqualified from this question after his recent run?
If so, then I have to go with Patrick Cantlay, who earned his PGA Tour card via The Finals. Assuming his back issues get straightened out, then I could most certainly see the kid who made waves a couple years ago as an amateur (including shooting a 60 in Hartford), having some dynamite performances on the PGA Tour next season.
The back issue could really come into play, however, if he can't play any this fall, where I could most certainly see some of these Reshuffle List players looking to get a head start on things.
I really doubt that we'll see a sudden emergence out of thin air, such as Spieth did in 2013. But I agree on Cantlay, assuming his back is healthy. He has tremendous poise to go with a solid all-around game.
The only way Day could be seen as a breakout player is for him to win two or more majors. The guy is already a star; he's regularly in the hunt at the big events.
Before the 2013 season, Steve Stricker announced a dramatic cutback in his playing schedule. Despite entering only 13 events, he managed to finish third in the FedEx Cup standings with eight top-10 finishes. What do you see for him in 2013-14?
I see more of the same for Stricker in 2013-14. He seemed much more content with increased family time and now has the confidence of knowing that his decision paid off. I see plenty of top-10s for the Wisconsin native and perhaps even a win.
The biggest thing, at least to me, about Stricker's season was that he constantly seemed happy. Happy golfers enjoy the preparation, and thus play well. When you feel obligated to be out on the course, then the burden gets bigger and poorer play usually shows up.
Now with that being said, I don't expect him to have three seconds like he did last season. But I most certainly think he could get more wins and possibly even that elusive major.
This was a wonderful season for the guy who's been named the nicest player on Tour. But I don't think he'll keep up his torrid pace in 2013-14 season. The odds are too stacked against it. Stricker is a very steady player who makes his money with accuracy, especially with his wedges and with putting. But time marches on, and if he enters a similar number of events over the next year at age 47, I don't think he posts that many high finishes; I even think he might not make eight cuts next year. I'd love to be wrong on this.
How long before Rory McIlroy straightens out whatever went askew in 2013? Does he turn it around in 2013-14 and become a dominant golfer?
I think 2013 was a year of transition for McIlroy. Coming off a 2012 late-season run that saw him win the PGA, Deutsche Bank and BMW Championships, McIlroy's 2013 expectations were astronomically high. Then after signing a huge deal with Nike, the subtle nuances of adjusting to new equipment coupled with extremely high expectations for winning put a lot of pressure on a then 23-year-old star.
My view on the situation is that he clearly has immense talent but has not quite developed the consistency that is expected of someone with such talent. He's more like a Phil Mickelson than a Tiger Woods at this juncture in terms of having the ability to win any given tournament while also having an equally likely chance of finishing 30th or worse. It's hard to label someone at his talent level as "streaky," but that's exactly what he's been in recent years.
All said, I think the 2013-14 season represents a great opportunity for McIlroy to resume winning again, as expectations have settled down and are more realistic as we enter a new season. It would be a big surprise to see McIlroy not improve upon his weak 2013 season so I expect him to take advantage of the lower expectation this year put up a win or two.
My concern with Rory actually has nothing to do with golf. I think he got the "OMG I'm actually here" syndrome that we've seen in other players over the years. In addition to that, he changed equipment. In addition to that, he developed some swing faults.
So you take all of that together and it's a horrible combination that can absolutely ruin a year.
On the flipside, he'll be able to disappear majorly off the radar screen twice this fall - the FedEx Cup playoffs were the first and after the Race to Dubai will be the second - and that should enable him to get some time alone to figure everything out.
I'm not overly concerned about 2014 yet ... but if he doesn't show form quickly, this could spell longer-term problems for Mr. McIlroy.
I believe that McIlroy is a high-risk/high-reward proposition for the coming season. He might get his act together, in which case he'll be a significant asset to a fantasy team. But if he continues to struggle - and there are no signs yet that he's turned a corner - then he could turn out to be barely more than dead weight on your team.
The question whether to draft McIlroy thus turns on each owner's risk tolerance. If you can absorb the chance of carrying an average golfer around with you all year, drafted from the position of a first-round star, then go for it. If you tend to play a more conservative fantasy-management style, I advise avoiding him.
On balance, I think the odds are a little better than 50/50 that he rights the ship and becomes, if not the beast he was in late 2012, something like a two-time winner in 2013-14, as Mike posits here. I believe that the combination of another year of maturity, and his growing more accustomed to seeing those swooshes on his sticks, will probably get him headed in the right direction. But if you draft him on the expectation that he's going to be the monster who buried the field at Congressional, you're overwhelmingly likely to be disappointed.