PGA Tour Confidential: The Dubai World Championship

Thursday December 15th, 2011
Luke Donald finished in third place at the Dubai World Championship, which was enough to clinch the European Tour money title.
Paul Childs / Zuma Press

Editors Note: PGA Tour Confidential will be on hiatus for the next two weeks. We will resume our weekly roundtable with a preview of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions and the 2012 season on Jan. 2.

DONALD'S BIG YEAR
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Welcome back, Tour Confidentialists. Hats off to Luke Donald for clinching the European tour's money title to go along with the PGA Tour money title. He's the first player to officially top both lists. Tiger Woods would have done it several times with his winnings from the majors and the WGC events, but he wasn't an official European tour member. How historic is Luke's double dip?

Have a question for Gary Van Sickle's mailbag? E-mail editor@golf.com or ask it on Facebook.

Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: The fact that he's the first guy to officially do it says it all. The fact that he had to win the PGA Tour finale -- and did so in spectacular fashion, going head to head with the guy he was chasing -- makes it all the more impressive.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Interesting. Incredible, really. But not at all historic. Money, over time, diminishes in importance. Titles mean everything. Majors mean more. How many majors for Luke? How many times has he even contended?

Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: Pretty cool effort by Luke, but I think you answered the question, Gary, by pointing out that Woods could have done it multiple times.

Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Luke is the first on the books, but he'll never be mistaken for Tiger.

Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Luke needs to a win major -- yesterday.

Van Sickle: I don't think Donald has anything to prove because he's majorless. His consistent play, plus that clutch win at Disney and two money titles, makes a convincing argument that he's the true No. 1. I don't think it's debatable anymore.

Bamberger: Oh, I disagree. Donald's had a remarkable year. But I would pour Gatorade on any computer that said he should be ranked higher than Rory. My own is safe.

Godich: Don't start that again. Rory has won, what, five times in his career? Will you also rank Luke behind Charl Schwartzel, Darren Clarke and Keegan Bradley?

Van Sickle: Michael, did you want grape or lemon-lime Gatorade? Luke has four wins this year and won both money titles. Rory faded after his U.S. Open before winning twice in Asia later in the year. I'd agree that his upside is unlimited, but the stats from this year say it's no contest. Would you seriously pick Rory as Player of the Year over Luke? I wouldn't.

Bamberger: One U.S. Open is worth three lesser events. When you lap the field, make it four. Lou Graham, Jack Fleck and Scott Simpson are golfing legends because they won U.S. Opens.

Van Sickle: Lou Graham is, indeed, a U.S. Open champion, but he's not a legend, even though he looked swell in that Amana hat. With two U.S. Opens, then, surely Andy North should already be enshrined as a double legend in the Hall of Fame?

Bamberger: The U.S. Open is sui generis. North is in the pantheon. He should be in the Hall of Fame. Janzen, too.

Van Sickle: Somebody get Bamberger a translator.

Bamberger: I treat Player of the Year like Time Magazine's Man of the Year. Who had the biggest impact on the game? To me, it's Rory.

Godich: The most impressive thing about Rory's victory was that it came in the first major after his collapse at the Masters. Unfortunately, he did nothing to build on his four spectacular days. Even using the Time Magazine theory, I would argue that Darren Clarke's victory at the British had a bigger impact. That was totally out of left field. And who didn't get a little teary-eyed after seeing that?

Bamberger: I believe Phil Mickelson did not get a little teary-eyed.

Van Sickle: Good point by Mr. Godich. I could even argue (though I won't) that Keegan Bradley's PGA victory might have had the most impact. It cemented the belly putter as the phenomenon of the year. We're still feeling the fallout.

Gorant: Clarke's win was a nice moment, but it has no impact because it has no future. Rory's win potentially augurs a thrilling tomorrow.

Godich: We were saying the same thing about David Duval a few years back. And there he was last week at Q-school.

Van Sickle: I don't disagree with the impact theory. Player of the Year is different from Best Player. Michael, will you admit that Donald was the Best Player of 2011?

Bamberger: Resolved: Luke Donald was the best golfer in 2011 not named Yani Tseng.

Van Sickle: Correct. We're talking PGA Tour here. Yani rules. She was the most dominant player in the world.

Herre: I guess Donald is the right metaphor for the 2011 season. He's consistently good but never great.

Van Sickle: I like the metaphor, but I disagree with the analysis of 2011. I think it was a great year. Four majors were fantastic in their own ways, starting with Charl Schwartzel and the best finish any champion has ever had at Augusta. (He birdied the last four holes.) As we look back on this year and the rise of Rory and maybe Webb Simpson, it may get even better.

Bamberger: Cue the music. It was a very good year. It was a very good year for Yani Tseng, bank accounts, Tiger views. It was a very good year.

Godich: I'll go with great. Four fabulous majors, an exciting finish to the Fed Ex Cup and a handful of intriguing winners in the fall.

Gorant: I think Jim had it right except for one word -- never. Consistently good with moments of greatness.

Mick Rouse, SI Golf+ Intern: We had the beginnings of a lot of storylines: the emergence of Rory and Webb, the dominance of Luke, the return of Tiger. But I don't think too many people are going to be looking back on this season with too much to say.

Tell us what you think in the comments area below: How historic was Donald's double dip? Is he a deserving No. 1, or does he need to win a major before you'll be fully impressed?

Alvaro Quiros, 2011 Dubai World Championship winner
Paul Childs/Zuma Press
Alvaro Quiros made a 40-footer for eagle to win the Dubai World Championship by two shots.


TOUR VS. TOUR
Van Sickle: The European Tour announced that its Race to Dubai will be extended for three more years. How do you think it's doing, and how's the European tour doing, versus the U.S. tour and its FedEx Cup? Better, worse or about the same?

Gorant: I think it's about the same. Started out with a bang but has cooled. The break-up of the Chubby cartel and their PGA Tour boycott has swung things back toward Finchem's boys after the Euros seemed to have all the momentum this time last year.

Bamberger: The Euros are ahead. They know what the stars want: guaranteed humungous paydays.

Van Sickle: I forgot to add the European Tour's latest coup: Mike Weir, ex Masters champ, has taken up membership. Get oot.

Herre: Hard to say which tour is doing better without all the financial data, but as a whole the men's tours seem to have weathered the economic storm surprisingly well. I will say the Euro tour was smart to expand to Australia, South Africa and Asia, places with an appetite for the game this time of year, and some of them emerging markets to boot.

Van Sickle: I agree with Herre. The European tour beat the PGA Tour to the far corners of the earth, especially Asia, where the game and the sponsorship money seem to be growing. I'm not sure the PGA Tour can catch up there, and I'm not sure an American-based tour should try.

Bamberger: Unless that American-based tour is called the LPGA.

Tell us what you think in the comments area below: PGA Tour vs. European Tour. Which one is stronger?

QUIROS VS. JOHNSON
Van Sickle: Before we move on from Europe, how about some parting thoughts on Alvaro Quiros? He's impressive and obviously could be seen as the Spanish Dustin Johnson, minus the major championship gaffes. Between Quiros and D.J., who's going to have a better career, and why?

Bamberger: I like Quiros. He came from nothing, economically. He's gotten this far, and he doesn't even have a short game yet, and I think he'll get one.

Godich: I'll take Quiros, solely on the fact that he doesn't have the scar tissue in majors that Dustin has piled up. I won't be sold on Dustin until he shows he can close the deal.

Van Sickle: Quiros is endearing because, unlike Johnson, he smiles a lot, seems energetic and appears to be having tons of fun while in contention. You can't overstate how important it is to the public to see a player who enjoys the competition and shows it. I think Johnson has a better game right now, but Bamberger may be right about how much more room Quiros has to grow.

Rouse: Quiros is one of those guys you just find yourself rooting for. His attitude is infectious.

Tell us what you think in the comments area below: Who will have the better career: Quiros or Johnson?

Rory McIlroy, 2011 Dubai World Championship
Jumana El Heloueh/Reuters
Rory McIlroy won the 2011 U.S. Open by eight strokes.


RORY VS. TIGER
Van Sickle: A minor commotion was raised last week when Luke Donald suggested that Rory McIlroy has more talent than Tiger Woods. And here we thought we could go a week without mentioning Tiger. Thanks, Luke. Did you get what Luke was trying to say, and if so, do you agree? My take: Rory may or may not be better than Tiger right this second, but he's about 65 victories and 13 majors short of convincing me he's more talented.

Bamberger: I don't know if Rory has more talent, and it doesn't really matter in the end, but I know what Luke means. I've always thought that John Daly was the single most talented golfer I've seen in person. Fred Couples might be right behind him. They have three majors between them; Tiger's won three in year. I'll take work over talent any day of the week, in any field, really.

Gorant: Rory is awesome, but I don't think he'll be what Tiger was/is. Rory is 22, and you get the sense that despite the talent he's still figuring out how to win. Woods had that pretty well down by that age. Overall, I'm still not sure Rory has all the shots Tiger does and the ability to pull them off under pressure.

Rouse: I thought Luke was saying that Rory has more natural talent than Tiger, but that Tiger has the x-factor with his mental game. But Luke's Twitter backpedaling made me wonder if he even knew what he was saying.

Herre: Right now, at this moment, I think Rory is best. Donald's point was that McIlroy is a natural. So was Tiger -- 20 years ago. Rory also has a young man's stroke, while we've seen Woods struggle.

Charlie Hanger, executive editor, Golf.com: Right. Natural is the word he was going for -- Rory's a natural, and right now he's a more natural golfer than Tiger. But it's preposterous to say he has more talent. As Rory himself pointed out when asked about it, there are lots of talents, including natural ability to swing a golf club, mental focus, toughness and work ethic. They're both naturals, but as far as we know right now, Tiger has more talent than anyone ever except for Mr. Nicklaus.

Tell us what you think in the comments area below: Which player has more natural talent, Rory or Tiger?

KONO AND THE LPGA
Van Sickle: The LPGA was in the news twice for the wrong reasons last week. One, the long-time State Farm Classic in Springfield, Ill., pulled the plug after a 36-year run, reversing a stretch of good sponsorship news for the tour in recent months. You hate to see Springfield leave. It was in a class with Corning and a few other spots where the LPGA coming to town was a highlight of the year. Maybe it's business, maybe it's better to be in bigger markets, but it's a blow to the tour as it tried to turn around its recent schedule reductions. The real loser here is Springfield.

Two, Stephanie Kono of UCLA went to all three stages of Q-school after tour officials gave her coach incorrect information -- twice -- about the tour's Q-school policy. Kono just wanted to assure herself a Futures Tour spot, which she would've had if she stopped after two stages, and she could've finished her last semester at UCLA before turning pro. She instead went to the third stage, thinking she had to, and won her LPGA card, which can't be deferred. So she has to turn pro now. Should the LPGA have offered her a deferment after giving out incorrect information?

Godich: I don't see why not. The LPGA set a precedent when it waived the age requirement for Lexi Thompson. If you are going to make exceptions, why not do it in this situation?

Herre: Kono can still finish her last semester at UCLA, but she can't play for the Bruins. It's hard to imagine the LPGA and Kono won't be able to find a solution to this problem. I think commissioner Whan is a practical man, and I expect common sense to prevail.

Rouse: At the same time, Kono's just made the LPGA, which you have to think was her ultimate dream as a golfer. I got the sense that Kono felt almost guilty for having to miss her final season at UCLA. (They're defending champions.) Once the craziness subsides, I don't think Kono is going to push too hard to make the LPGA reverse its decision. I do think the LPGA needs to do something to make sure this doesn't happen again. How do you give out the wrong information twice? Get your act together.

Tell us what you think in the comments area below: Will the LPGA miss Springfield? Should the LPGA give Stephanie Kono a chance to finish school and keep her card?

 

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