PGA Tour Confidential: The Honda Classic

Monday March 5th, 2012
Rory McIlroy shot a 69 to win the Honda Classic by two shots.
Lynne Sladky / AP

Every Sunday night, the editorial staff of the SI Golf Group conducts an e-mail roundtable. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in our all-new live Readers' Confidential or in the comments section below.

RORY RISES TO NO. 1
Ryan Reiterman, senior producer, Golf.com: Greetings, fellow golf nuts. We usually say the season doesn't start until the Masters, but not this year. My oh my, are we getting spoiled or what? Another week in the books, and we've got another exciting tournament to talk about. Rory McIlroy, 22, is now the second-youngest player to become No. 1 after he won Sunday at the Honda Classic. But first he had to hold off Tiger Woods, who fired a flawless 62. We'll get to the on- and off-the-course theatrics of He Who Must Be Talked About in a moment, but first let's hear your reactions to Rory's week and what impressed you the most about his run to No. 1.

Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: I've been as hard as anyone on Rory for his inability to close the deal. Today, on tough finishing holes with you-know-who lurking and already in the clubhouse, Rory didn't so much as blink.

Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: I liked the way Rory held it together on Sunday with his B game. So many terrific saves. I wondered about his short game after a couple of miscues at the Match Play, but no longer. He was terrific today under pressure.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Rory won it with his short game. Those up-and-downs on the back nine were superb, and crucial. If he had missed the one at 14, all of the sudden the pressure would have increased and maybe he wouldn't have held on. It's a page right out of Tiger's book; make pars no matter where you hit it. Rory has had the ballstriking, but this is the best his short game has looked. If this is his new normal, then the Rory McIlroy Era is officially under way.

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

Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: He deserved to win. From start to finish he played the best. Good to see it, too. If he wants to earn all the recognition, he needs to start piling up Ws, not just top 5s. I expect he will.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: His walk. He has the best walk in golf since Fred.

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: Excellent point about the walk, Michael. I can ID Rory from a few fairways away even if I only see him in silhouette. Very jaunty stride.

Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I love how Rory learns something from every win and loss and keeps plowing forward.

Stephanie Wei, contributor, SI Golf+: I was also impressed that Rory didn't let the roars for Tiger bother him, or the fans around the Bear Trap who were either chanting Tiger's name or saying things like, "It's only Tiger!" Even when the cheers were for Rory coming down the stretch, he kept his focus because he knew it wasn't over until the last putt dropped.

Morfit: Rory had eight one-putts today, which absolutely saved him. McDowell said it best: "Yes, he was not a standout closer two years ago because he didn't have the putting ability." Now he does. Watch out.

Jeff Ritter, senior producer, Golf.com: That was about as solid as it gets in the Sunday spotlight. The TV broadcast said he led the field in scrambling for the week, and all those up-and-downs under pressure say a lot. I think we already knew this after last year's U.S. Open, but Rory's the real deal.

Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Nice to see a No. 1 with such class and grace. He seems to have the will to stay there for a while.

David Dusek, deputy editor, Golf.com: Rory showed a lot of determination and focus in wining the Honda Classic, but what impressed me the most about his ascension to No. 1 was that after finishing second at the Match Play, he nailed it this time. Phil Mickelson had several chances to become the world's No. 1 while Tiger Woods was out of the game, and he couldn't do it. Rory's been getting one top 5 after another, and this week he was clearly ready for the challenge.

Morfit: I was struck by how low-key Rory was this week. I actually struggled to hear what he was saying into the microphone in the media center. I doubt the party tonight will be low-key, though.

Wei: I followed him for most of his round Sunday, and he got up and down from everywhere. His short-range putting is like night and day compared to last year. So is his mental game. He looked like a completely different player tackling the Bear Trap from the one I saw make three doubles in a row in the third round last year.

Mike Walker, senior editor, Golf Magazine: The most impressive thing about McIlroy's run to No. 1 is how inevitable it's seemed. He's 22 and his only real rivals are at least a decade older than he is. He could own this spot for a very long time.

Wei: It's seemed inevitable to me since I saw him play the sixth hole at Bethpage at the '09 U.S. Open. That swing was so pure and effortless. I was blown away. It sounds crazy, but it seemed obvious to me then that he was going to be the next big thing.

Tell us what you think in the all-new readers' live Confidential or in the comments section below: What impressed you most about Rory's rise to No. 1?

Rory McIlroy, final round, 2012 Honda Classic
David Walberg / SI
At 22, Rory McIlroy became the second youngest player to reach No. 1 in the world, behind only Tiger Woods.


TIGER'S COMEBACK vs. RORY'S RISE
Reiterman: As I mentioned in the intro, we're in the middle of a fantastic golf season, and Augusta is still a month away. With all due respect to Phil Mickelson, right now, to me, the most compelling storylines are Rory Mania and Tiger's comeback. Which story do you find more compelling right now and why? I'm sticking with Tiger, but if Rory gives another rock star performance at Doral or Augusta, I could be swayed.

Morfit: I think they're equally compelling, and we're getting a multiplier effect because they're happening at the same time. The Masters could be beyond huge, with Rory, Tiger and Phil throwing haymakers. Very excited for the game.

Van Sickle: Ultimately, Tiger will still be a bigger story because he is golf's biggest name in the last 25 years, and he'll be bigger still if he makes a run at Rory. Have we now finally found Tiger's rival? Stay tuned, Jim Herre.

Hack: I love Tiger-Phil for old time's sake, but getting a taste of Tiger-Rory today was an eye-opener. It felt like Nicklaus-Palmer or Nicklaus-Watson. A true clash of different generations.

Gorant: I think Tiger, because Rory's ascent had the feeling of inevitability while Tiger's return still turns up a lot of question marks. I think this week and today also proved that no one lights up a course like TW.

Godich: Agreed. I'm watching Tiger because I get excited watching him get in the hunt and seeing how he handles the pressure when he gets there.

Morfit: I saw two ghosts this week at the Honda: the first was Hank Kuehne, making his first start in five years. The second was Tiger Woods, in the red shirt, doing all that hero stuff the old Tiger Woods used to do.

Herre: Right, Cam. Great to see Woods into it like that again. He may have turned a corner today, and I like his chances at Doral. For the most compelling story, though, I'll go with Rory. It's fascinating to watch this generational changing of the guard. It happens in all sports, even to a transcendent athlete like Tiger Woods.

Lipsey: Tiger is the story as long as he plays. Everything else, as great as it might be, will always be second fiddle to Tiger. Honda didn't sell a jillion extra tickets because Rory was gunning for No. 1.

Dusek: I can't wait to see what the beginning of the Rory McIlroy Era is going to be like, especially this weekend at Doral when he'll face such a strong field, but the Tiger Woods Saga is absolutely the most compelling thing in golf. His comeback has taken longer than we thought it might -- and his putter is clearly streaky -- but there's no denying that Tiger is on the verge of winning golf tournaments. I'll be fascinated to see how much redemption will follow that first W.

Wei: I'm going to take Rory. He's the new generation, and I love his game and his attitude. He'll go down in the history books as the third greatest golfer ever when his career is over. Tiger's 62 was reminiscent of the pre-scandal Tiger, but he finished about an hour and a half before Rory did. I want to see his heroics while in the middle of it all.

Ritter: It's dynamite when the Rory and Tiger stories intersect, as they did Sunday. But if you look at TV ratings, Internet traffic, water cooler chats and every other way you can measure interest, Tiger's struggle to recapture his greatness and beat Jack is still the most compelling thing happening in golf.

Tell us what you think in the all-new readers' live Confidential or in the comments section below: What story is more compelling: Tiger's comeback or Rory's arrival?

TIGER ON RORY
Reiterman: When asked Saturday for his thoughts on Rory's game, Tiger said: "He's developed a lot, but also he's got a lot to learn, too, which anyone that age, they are -- even a guy like Ryo, who has won professional golf tournaments since he was 16 or something like that, he's been out here for a long time, but still, he's still learning." Some saw it as Tiger trying to knock Rory down a peg. I didn't, especially when reading the whole quote. But what, if anything, do you think Rory still needs to work on?

Hack: His Hall of Fame speech.

Godich: Tiger was trying to get into Rory's head. Why do we hear more and more of that from Tiger? Rory just needs to remember to keep that smile on his face, keep enjoying what he's doing, and stay hungry. I don't think that will be a problem. He would also be wise to reflect on how well he handled the pressure today.

Walker: I don't think McIlroy's too concerned about what the 21st-ranked player in the world thinks about his game.

Gorant: I don't know what Rory needs to learn, but he clearly likes dating famous women and being in the spotlight, and that could wear on a person over time. Also, he's not a big guy, so he has to do what he can to make sure his body holds up.

Herre: I don't think Rory can confidently dial up the arsenal of shots that Woods, Mickelson and some others can. But as Tiger said, Rory is still learning. He's getting better right before our eyes.

Wei: Even Rory's caddie, J.P., referenced what Tiger said yesterday and agreed with it. He still has a lot to learn, and that's exactly what he's doing. He's 22! How were you at your job at 22?

Lipsey: Rory is 22 in human years, but he's been a touring player for many years, even before he turned pro.

Tell us what you think in the all-new readers' live Confidential or in the comments section below: What, if anything, do you think McIlroy still needs to work on?

Tiger Woods, 2012 Honda Classic
David Walberg / SI
Tiger Woods shot a 62, which was his career-best for a final round in a PGA Tour event, and finished tied for second.


TIGER ON HANEY'S BOOK
Reiterman: Alright, we better get to the Week in Tiger. First, let's go back to the testy exchange during his press conference on Wednesday. For anyone following Tiger, it was really nothing new. When Tiger decides there is something he doesn't want to talk about, it doesn't matter who you are, or how you ask it, he's going to give you the Heisman. But do you think this will be the end of the questions about Haney's book? Remember, the book hasn't even come out yet!

Herre: No, I think Woods will be asked about the book again. I also wouldn't be surprised to see some "journalist" try to claim Tiger's scalp by creating an incident.

Van Sickle: One or two writers will try it again, and when Tiger shoots them down with "I already talked about it" (even though he hasn't) or gives them the stony silent glare, that'll be the end of it.

Godich: As long as Tiger keeps responding like that, somebody will keep firing the question. He'd be better served to find a polite, diplomatic response.

Dusek: There is no doubt we'll hear more about the book and Tiger will be asked to make more comments, but I think he will be more composed while refusing to talk about it.

Lipsey: Tiger sold a lot of books for Haney last week. The book will be much talked about for a while.

Herre: If what was in the excerpt is the most controversial stuff in the book -- and logically you would think it is -- readers are going to be disappointed.

Gorant: I think a lot will depend on what's in the book. The excerpt wasn't exactly riveting. People will ask, and they'll be ignored.

Ritter: I agree that it depends what else is in the book. What if Haney writes that Tiger enrolled in space camp when he was 28 because he secretly always wanted to be an astronaut? That would merit a follow-up question/no-comment. But if we've already seen the only big revelation, the media has no real need to ask anything else.

Reiterman: What did everyone else make of the excerpt from Haney's book? Was there anything there that raised your eyebrows?

Herre: It's ludicrous to believe that Woods could've actually become a Navy SEAL. If Haney truly believes that was a possibility, he is beyond naïve and has no clue about the SEALs.

Wei: One night Tiger probably had a few beers and was chatting with some friends and entertained the idea of quitting golf and joining the SEALs. We mortals do similar things all the time. How many times have you been out drinking with your pals and said, "I'm going to quit my job and become …"?

Walker: Maybe not the Navy SEALs, but I believe that Tiger could have entertained serious thoughts about joining the military. It would have been the biggest enlistment since Elvis. Why can't reporters ask him questions about that again?

Wei: By the way, the "revelation" about Tiger wanting to be a Navy SEAL wasn't exactly a revelation. It was in Tom Callahan's book, His Father's Son, published in 2010. Here's a quote, via The Times:

"When Earl died, I thought there was a strong possibility Tiger was going to give it all up to go in the service," Haney said. Asked if he had entertained the notion, Woods said, "I didn't." When pressed, he added: "Well, I've always wanted to become a Seal. That's something that I told my dad from the very get-go, either I'm going to become a professional golfer or I'm going to become a Navy Seal."

Walker: Tiger has been pretty relaxed and talkative in his press conferences lately, so it's unfortunate that's the only exchange people talked about. The question was totally fair, and Tiger could have declined to answer without getting cranky. But the next time someone bumps me on the subway, I'm going to say, "You're a beauty. Have a good day."

Wei: I thought the most telling thing about Tiger's presser was how he lost his composure. His lip was kind of quivering and his hand looked like it was shaking. He was really rattled. I don't think it was so much about Miceli asking the questions; he's just extremely pissed at Haney.

Van Sickle: I'll be honest, I didn't find the part about Tiger "almost becoming" a Navy SEAL all that interesting or all that believable. There's got to be plenty of stuff better than that.

Dusek: Yeah, Gary. I'll have second thoughts about expensing the book if that excerpt turns out to be the best part.

Morfit: I was also surprised by how unremarkable the "revelations" were. That said, they may be saving the juiciest bits for later.

Walker: Right. If the big revelation is "Tiger thinks the Navy SEALs are cool," I want my $26 back.

Lipsey: I don't think the publisher would reveal the biggest stuff so early.

Godich: Unless there isn't any big stuff.

Van Sickle: You're a beauty, Mark.

Tell us what you think in the all-new readers' live Confidential or in the comments section below: Do you think journalists will continue to ask Tiger about Haney's book? Should they?

TIGER'S CLOSING 62
Reiterman: The New Tiger finally broke out on Sunday, and it cast serious doubt on those naysayers who think Woods's best days are behind him. Did one spectacular round, in tough conditions on a tough golf course, change your outlook on Tiger's season?

Van Sickle: It only changed my opinion about the date of his return, which will now be sooner, not later. My only remaining question was whether he could still make clutch putts and post a good score on Sunday. Question answered. If he's not yet back, he's about to be. Our preseason roundtable picks suddenly look better: Tiger to win in Augusta. It's oh-so-possible.

Lipsey: No. A great round, to be sure, but until we've seen Woods survive when he's in the hunt, not coming from nowhere, the book is still out on him.

Godich: He was awfully impressive, but the 62 will mean something only if he wins, and soon. All we've heard since he went to Sean Foley is that this is a "process." Enough of that. I want to hear Tiger say that it's time to turn his hard work into a victory.

Morfit: Tiger's 62 did change my outlook, yes. I'm a lot more optimistic that he's back or damn close to it. He was equating that second shot on 18 over the water to the second shot he hit to beat Grant Waite at the Canadian Open at Glen Abbey in 2000. Just as important, he's back to being able to score with his bad golf, as he did Friday (68).

Gorant: The 62 didn't change my opinion, but if he'd waltzed in with another 69 I would have started to have some doubts.

Dusek: More than anything, Tiger's 62 tells me that he's entirely capable of racing up the leaderboard on a Sunday. We think of Tiger as the frontrunner, but maybe he'll stay close through three rounds somewhere and hunt someone down to get his elusive win. Why not at Doral, or Augusta? A back-nine charge for a win at Augusta by Tiger Woods would be seismic.

Wei: He had a stupid good round. Let's see how he follows it at Doral, where he's had some success. It's also an easier course.

Tell us what you think in the all-new readers' live Confidential or in the comments section below: Does Tiger's final-round 62 change your expectations for him this year?

TIGER AT THE HONDA
Reiterman: Tiger played the Honda for the first time as a professional, and he is now a resident of nearby Jupiter. Do you think the Honda will become a permanent fixture on his schedule, or do you think Tiger just used this week "to get more reps."

Morfit: It would be stupid of him not to come back to the Honda, given what happened here this week. Tiger is many things, but he's not stupid.

Van Sickle: Honda is now on Tiger's schedule. Tiger has realized, according to one local story, that he "has to show up" for his local tourney. He got treated well, and he almost won. That may not bode well for Bay Hill in the long run, though, or possibly tourneys late on the West Coast schedule.

Reiterman: I'd be surprised if he keeps Pebble on the schedule.

Herre: Woods has been pretty good about supporting events in his community, although business conflicts do arise and he might not play every year. I'm excited to see the resurgence the Honda Classic has had. The tournament was on life-support not all that many years ago, moving from course to course, never establishing an identity or attracting top players. Thanks to the Nicklauses and the Bear Trap, the Honda has finally arrived. Fun success story.

Wei: That 62 will leave him with good memories of the week, and he'll be back. Before the tourney, I assumed it was a goodwill gesture from Tiger to the Tour and his new 'hood.

Van Sickle: A goodwill gesture by Tiger? That would've been a first. I'm waiting for the announcement that Tiger is now driving a Honda.

Walker: It does look like he's benefitting from the increased play. Maybe he should tee it up more often.

Godich: I have been saying that for two years. How many balls can you pound? He needs to get out there in the heat of battle more often.

Wei: I think just about everyone would agree that reps in competition are way more valuable than pounding balls. Everyone hits it well on the range.

Tell us what you think in the all-new readers' live Confidential or in the comments section below: Do you think Woods will become a fixture at the Honda?

LOOKING AHEAD TO DORAL
Reiterman: I'm really glad I have a plane ticket booked to Miami this week because we have another monster tournament ahead. Will we get another Rory/Tiger duel? Can Phil Mickelson keep his solid play going? Will former No. 1 Luke Donald get his game back on track? What are you looking forward to at Doral?

Gorant: All of that.

Morfit: I think we could be embarking on one of the most exciting years I've ever seen in golf. I look for Tiger to be in the mix at Doral for sure. Phil, who knows? Rory, probably. It depends on how actively he celebrates his No. 1 ranking.

Lipsey: Seeing Donald Trump do something outrageously silly but amusing to draw attention to the fact that he now owns the joint.

Reiterman: He's scheduled for a press conference Thursday morning. Should be good.

Godich: Tiger, Tiger, Tiger. Based on the success he has had at Doral, I expect him to win this week. Otherwise, the 62 at the Honda will be remembered as the score he shot to tie Tom Gillis for second place.

Dusek: I think we know what to expect from Rory, and I expect Tiger to play well, but I'll be paying close attention to three things at Doral. First, can Phil Mickelson pack his West Coast Swing mojo on the plane and bring it to Florida? Second, now that he's lost the No. 1 ranking, will Luke Donald rediscover the game he's lost over the last few months. And finally, will Webb Simpson, who was a walking ATM machine last season, start to show some signs of life?

Wei: I was super impressed with Tom Gillis. I thought for sure he would remember he was Tom Gillis for at least one round this weekend. And I loved his pace of play.

Morfit: Gillis is a profile waiting to be written. Having played in 26 countries, the guy has a zillion stories like the one about his caddie in Jamaica stealing his shoes. And he's a real family man. He lives in a veritable Gillis compound. He and his sister, parents, and aunt own houses on the same block in Lake Orion, Mich.

Tell us what you think in the all-new readers' live Confidential or in the comments section below: What are you looking forward to at Doral?

 

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