Have a question that you want answered? Tweet me at @RyanLavnerGC.
So we’ve finally made it to the last week of the golf calendar.
Surprisingly, not many of you are clamoring for up-to-the-second results from the Asian Tour’s Dubai Open, so in the absence of any notable tournament, here’s a recap from the most significant event in our little Golf Channel digital world: the third annual Red Solo Cup, which was held last week in beautif … well, let’s just say it was held last week in Howey-in-the-Hills, Fla.
The RSC is a spirited one-day competition that pits 16 GolfChannel.com writers, editors and video wizards in a battle for a makeshift, alcohol-stained trophy. The format for our little shindig at Mission Inn Resort was nine holes best ball, nine holes singles, and each of the past two years the matches have gone down to either the last pairing or a sudden-death playoff. Indeed, the winner is usually decided by which team wants it less or chokes the least, and our 18th-hole chop-fest serves as an annual reminder that we should always think twice before criticizing a professional athlete for crumbling under the pressure of playing for a $1 million payday.
Anyway, the Red Solo Cup once again proved to be golf’s fifth (or fiftieth) major. Several players pumped their opening tee balls into the wilderness. Others gagged over 3-footers. A nagging hangover crippled at least two team members. And when it was mercifully over, Team Coffin held on for a 6 ½ to 5 ½ victory. Managing editor Mercer Baggs, who went 2-0, was named Most Valuable Player – or the one who stunk the least when it mattered most.
Saddled with a slumping partner, I lost the team portion of the matches, then rallied to take down the previously undefeated Bailey Mosier – or, as she was briefly known on Twitter, “Bogey Bailey” – in afternoon singles, 3 and 2.
Alas, it still wasn’t enough to lead my side to victory, and Team Coffin celebrated in the clubhouse by snapping 46 blurry photos and drinking Guinness out of the trophy. Except the joke was on them – two days later, their captain revealed he had pneumonia.
The Red Solo Cup was the final leg of our two-day off-site retreat during which we discussed our successes/failures, talked smack about each other’s golf games and, eventually, developed a plan of attack for next year. So thank you, loyal reader, for pushing us to new heights in 2014. We’re excited about what lies ahead.
Without further ado, here are your questions for the year-ending edition of the #AskLav mailbag:
@RyanLavnerGC what did you think about tiger swing?— nulscal (@nulscal) December 9, 2014
To my semi-trained eye, his swing looked markedly improved. He had a weaker grip, a wider base at setup, and more speed and power through the ball. That’s something that had been lacking over the past few years, when his clubhead speed dipped to 115 mph while dealing with his back injury. (By comparison, in 2008, the last year he won a major, he topped out at 124.6 mph.) I have no idea whether this new-look swing will lead to lower scores, or if his brittle body will even be able to withstand the wear and tear of a full season, but the early returns at the World Challenge were promising. His full swing looked great. His short game, not so much.
Well, let’s break this down into two questions. Though the PGA Tour has never been deeper or more competitive, Tiger still has more than enough firepower to win at least one event next year. And yes, while swing changes take time, Woods should still be full steam ahead by summertime, given that he’s reverting to old motor patterns and not starting from scratch. As for the major question: It would be a surprise if he won No. 15 in '15. The first three majors of the season set up particularly well for Rory and his power draw, and Whistling Straits isn’t a venue on which Tiger has traditionally fared well (no top 20s in two tries). A successful 2015 season would include a win and a few chances in the majors.
Well, you must not have been listening very closely. Actually, what I said was that I was fading the idea of Tiger Era Expectations – or the assumption that Woods can still four or five times a year, including a major. Those days are over. He’s entering his age-39 season, he’s coming off major back surgery, he’s on his third swing coach since 2010 and now he’s dealing with the chipping yips. He couldn’t afford that lost year in 2014, not at his age and not with that ideal slate of major venues. Embrace the new reality that there are better, younger players on Tour, and that Tiger’s best might not always be good enough. I’d argue that his race against Father Time and history – not to mention the Rorys, Rickies and Jordans of the PGA Tour – is the most compelling battle in all of sports.
Easy: Rory McIlroy. The kid has shown what he can do there, throwing down an opening 63 in 2010 en route to a T-3 finish. Plus, he didn’t look too shabby while shooting rounds of 64-68 on the Old Course during the Dunhill Links in October. If the weather is decent next July, McIlroy will be a monster favorite at St. Andrews. His driving ability gives him a massive advantage, and the huge, flat greens place an emphasis on lag putting, one of his strengths. After spending the past few years unable to solve the riddle that is links golf, Rory is now positioned to go back-to-back.
Wait, we aren’t there already? That’s not to suggest that Rory is as popular among the mainstream sports audience as Tiger, but in our little golf media world there’s both a want and a need to document each and every one of his rounds across the globe – whether that’s a 64 or a 74. Adding to the intrigue for McIlroy next year is his impending court case against his former management company, slated for February, in which unflattering details are likely to emerge. As the new No. 1 in the men’s game, Rory is being thrust under the same microscope that Tiger has spent his past 20 years. That won't change anytime soon.
Bradley, but only because, quite frankly, he is the better player. Keegan switched to the 40-inch putter two weeks ago at Isleworth and said it was one of the most important tournaments of his career, because he was trying to convince not only fans but also himself that he could handle the move away from the belly putter. (It certainly helped that he finished in a tie for third.) Granted, Bradley made a similar switch at the Memorial, and he spoke just as confidently, but his comments at the World Challenge seemed to indicate that he’s converted for good.
Who wins a major first: Spieth or Fowler? – @mattieb1976, via Instagram
Right now, I think Rickie is better equipped to win a major. Spieth is arguably the hottest player in the game, and he’ll continue to roll in 2015 if his driver and putter cooperate. But with top 5s in all four majors this season, Rickie has experienced what it’s like to be a factor on major Sundays, and the sharpness of his tee-to-green game gives him an opportunity to factor more often. Obviously, both players are more than talented enough to win one in 2015, but Rickie’s big-game experience gives him an edge, however slight.