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Scribe vs. Shot-maker: Sobel, Thatcher at odds on PGA predictions

PGA Tour player Roland Thatcher, who will be part of ESPN.com's coverage of the 90th PGA Championship this week, is out for the season with a wrist injury. But that won't keep him from typing his opinions for us during the year's final major.

The three-time Nationwide Tour winner isn't averse to controversial opinions, either. He shared his pick to win the PGA, which of the hottest players on Tour won't do so well at Oakland Hills, and whether one of the young guns can sneak up and snatch his first major title in the suburbs of Detroit.

ESPN.com golf writer Jason Sobel and Thatcher delve deep into these topics and more in our weekly e-mail chat, Alternate Shot.

OK, first things first, Roland: We here at ESPN.com are excited that you'll be joining us as a special off-site correspondent during this week's PGA Championship. Considering you're out for the remainder of the season with a wrist injury, I'm sure your doctor will be pleased that your recovery time is being spent banging away at a keyboard. That said, you've got to make one promise to me. Don't steal my job. Seriously. You're going to be analyzing all of your peers in action. If you do the job too well, they may not need me anymore. And you know I couldn't do your job. Hell, I could barely caddie, let alone play.

Well, I have to say that I was flattered and excited to be joining you this week. As you can imagine, the life of a professional golfer with a full cast on his arm might lack some stimulation. That being said, there is little chance that I could take your job. I may have a different insight into tournament golf, but I am sure that my responses will be filled with grammatical errors and incorrect spelling. I hope that I can provide some useful insight while at the same time avoiding any conflict with my fellow professionals when I return next year. And don't sell yourself short, you were a tremendous caddie.

Avoid conflict? C'mon, I thought you were going to give us the inside dirt on what Vijay Singh is really like behind closed doors or why Phil Mickelson absolutely, positively won't win this week. Well, maybe I'll get that out of you later. For now, tell me about how you go about preparing for a major championship. You've never played in a PGA Championship, but have had a few U.S. Open appearances. Did you treat them like any other week on tour? Did you practice more? Were you more nervous? I mean, I had butterflies looping for you in Chattanooga last year on the Nationwide Tour. Can't imagine teeing it up in a major would be any easier.

There is no doubt about it, majors have a different feel. The week moves differently than your typical tour event. With the exception of the Players Championship and some WGC events, majors are the only events that don't have pro-ams on Monday and Wednesday. The practice and preparation schedule immediately changes just with that fact. A major also has a buzz unlike other events on tour. There are thousands of spectators on Monday and there is an electric atmosphere from the start to the finish. Once the event starts on Thursday, the tournament becomes familiar and the players can get into a rhythm -- that is, unless you're a Nationwide tour player who qualifies for the U.S. Open and gets paired the group ahead of Tiger Woods and Ernie Els, as happened to me in 2003. In that case, there is no familiar rhythm.

Yeah, I'm guessing your pace of play wasn't too slow that day, huh? Don't want to get put on the clock with Tiger and Ernie behind you. But since you mention those guys ... is there any kind of intimidation factor for players when it comes to being around the elite guys? Whether you're playing in front of, with or behind a top-level player, or hitting balls next to one at the range, or just passing someone like that in the locker room, is there any difference in how you treat -- or are treated by -- a multiple major champion as opposed to a guy who's struggling to keep his card? And for that matter, do you ever care which players you're grouped with on the course?

There is a huge intimidation factor. The status alone makes them almost mythical figures when you meet them for the first time, not to mention that some of the most popular players today are huge men physically. Vijay Singh and Ernie Els are very imposing. That feeling of intimidation fades with your own success. When you play better, you feel you belong and are less likely to feel that pressure. Players tend to interact with other players who are in the same situation, so someone trying to keep their card will have more in common with someone else in the same situation. As a player plays better, the respect level grows and he gains a different status level. All in all, the interactions are positive and friendly from top to bottom, but there is a saying some of us have: The guys with private jets tend to hang out with the guys with private jets.

Interesting stuff -- and it may come into play at this week's event. After all, the PGA is the one that Rich Beem and Shaun Micheel won not that long ago, the one where Bob May very nearly stood toe-to-toe with Woods in 2000. And Oakland Hills doesn't exactly have a rep for seeing the cream rise to the top of the leaderboard. Sure, Ben Hogan and Gary Player each won majors at Oakland Hills, but so did guys like Cyril Walker and Steve Jones, so there's a very good chance that during the weekend rounds we could see a few lesser-known players residing amongst the giants in the final pairings. Everyone out there knows that Phil and Ernie and Vijay are extremely talented players. Who are some of the best players on tour that aren't exactly household names?

This event could be won by someone who is on their way up. I would not be surprised to see a 20-something win, like Sean O'Hair, Hunter Mahan or Anthony Kim. It may also be the year that the young European stars make their mark on the U.S. stage. Don't be surprised if you see Ian Poulter or Paul Casey hoisting the trophy at the end of the week. My pick, however, is a little more familiar. I am looking for Jim Furyk to take home his second major title.

Wow, that's soooo original. ESPN.com gets you as a special contributor for the week, someone who can take us inside the locker room, someone with inside knowledge of everyone's game, someone with special on-course insight ... and you pick the exact same guy that I went with at last month's British Open. Don't quit your day job. Actually, in my "expert" predictions -- and I use that term very loosely -- I never get 'em right. (I even pick Tiger when he doesn't win and pick against him when he does.) So I have no doubt that on your first venture into the prognostication game for us, you'll be dead-on correct. In all honesty, the same reasons I went with Furyk three weeks ago still apply. He's the type of guy who wins one pretty good event every year, yet he's still winless so far in 2008. And he's also a better player than his résumé allows. He just seems like a guy who deserves to be a multiple major champion at some point.

Jim Furyk should be coming into the heart of his season. I think he has been looking forward to this event and the Ryder Cup next month and I expect that he has been preparing for this stretch as the high point of his season. I would like to see him win multiple majors if not for any other reason than to see him get the appreciation that he deserves. He is often overlooked because his golf game is not flashy, but there are not many players who would bet against him on any course.

OK, that was the easy part. Now give me a big name who may not fare very well this week. I'll start by going with my "pick" in this category: Adam Scott. I think he's one of the top-five most talented players in the world, but for whatever reason he just doesn't show up for majors. In 30 career starts, he owns only four top-10s and has never finished better than within six shots of the eventual winner. I still think he's going to win at least three or four majors in his career -- if not six or seven -- but coming off a T-56 at Firestone and without a result of better than T-16 since the Wachovia back in May, it could be another lost weekend for the Aussie. Is he not intense enough to win one of these big ones or is it just a matter of time? And who's your pick to un-click, so to speak?

Adam Scott would have been my pick, but since you have already ridiculed me about my lack of originality I will suggest someone who may be on everyone's list of favorites: Kenny Perry. Perry has won three times this year and was the hottest golfer on the planet for a few months. He skipped the British Open to play in Milwaukee and he finished a respectable sixth, but he fell off the pace at Firestone last week with a 66th-place finish. He is still the active FedEx Cup leader, trailing only Tiger, but it is so difficult for most players to keep a hot streak like he has going. As for Adam Scott, your comments are dead-on. He is one of the few I stop to watch while at a tournament. I think he should win five or more events a year. But just because it hasn't happened yet doesn't mean it won't.

Unbelievable. Well, one of us is going look pretty smart at the end of this week and the other is going to look ... not so smart. That's because my pick to win the PGA is none other than Kenny Perry. No, he didn't play well at Firestone and he's an extremely streaky player -- both positively and negatively. But any guy who can drive it that straight and that long and has been putting well lately is a guy we need to keep an eye on. Wouldn't it be sweet irony if Perry could silence all the critics by winning in his first major of the year? I was among the dissenters when he decided not to try to qualify for the U.S. Open and when he later skipped the British, but I won't let that stand in the way of the fact that I think he has a great chance to win this week. His 48th birthday is on Sunday, and he'd become the second-oldest major champion of all time. Oh, and by the way, the folks in Ponte Vedra Beach headquarters must have loved the fact that you dropped a FedEx Cup reference in there.

Bold pick to take the hottest player on tour, but I guess that's why you make the big bucks. If he does win this week, you can bet he will be in the field for next year's majors. I am sticking with my pick of Jim Furyk, but I wouldn't be surprised to see the trophy head overseas or Down Under. With Tiger out of the field, this major is as wide open at the start of the week as any in the past decade.

Well, you've got that right, at least. By the same token, without Woods or an overly interesting host venue, and with the Olympics and other sports taking place, this might be the least-anticipated major since pre-Tiger, as well. The British Open was buoyed by Greg Norman lurking on the leaderboard for four days. If the PGA of America expects to get big ratings for this one, it had better hope for a similar feel-good story. A Rich Beem-Shaun Micheel type of matchup down the stretch won't garner too many eyeballs, other than the die-hards.

It is true that the PGA Championship has less appeal to golf fans than the other three majors, but Oakland Hills will prove itself as a great venue again. Sometimes golf tournaments have a way making themselves exciting. Who could have seen the drama of Winged Foot after Tiger missed the cut? The PGA of America will be hoping for that kind of excitement. Either way, I hope the tournament will be exciting enough that we can suffer through the PGA of America commercials. I make fun because I can -- I am a member.

What, you're getting sick of the little kid who makes a hole-in-one, then buys a drink for the groundskeeper? Or the guy who shows up to the course in his pajamas? Let's hope you're right, though. We've seen plenty of exciting PGAs before; this week has the potential to be yet another one. Well, I'll be there all week typing feverishly in the Live Blog. You'll be at home, but watching every minute of it in your new role as ESPN.com analyst (for the week). I guess it would be the polite thing to do if I let you have the final word here.

I have had a good time doing Alternate Shot and hopefully I have held my own. I will be giving my Top 25 picks later this week, and we shall see if I am a good handicapper or if I should just stick to playing.