PGA Tour Confidential: McIlroy wins in Shanghai

Tuesday November 8th, 2011
Rory McIlroy beat Anthony Kim (background) in sudden death at the Shanghai Masters.
Alexander F. Yuan/AP

Every week of the 2011 PGA Tour season, the editorial staff of the SI Golf Group will conduct an e-mail roundtable. Check in on Mondays for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.

RORY BEATS SMALL FIELD FOR BIG PRIZE
Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: It may have been a quiet week stateside, but there was plenty of buzz abroad with a couple of marquee names stealing the headlines. Let's start at the Shanghai Masters, where Rory McIlroy coughed up the lead in the final round and then rallied to beat Anthony Kim in a playoff. Rory had been winless since his romp at the U.S. Open and was playing for the first time since replacing agent Chubby Chandler with lesser-known Conor Ridge. What kind of statement did McIlroy make with his fourth career victory?

Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: Just win, baby! Every victory is special and makes the next one less stressful.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: He's looking a little Phil-ish -- exciting, unpredictable. He'll win big, he'll play indifferently, he'll lose focus and regain it. Just like the popular lefthander.

Mike Walker, senior editor, Golf Magazine: There was never any reason to worry about McIlroy. He took some time to enjoy a historic win. This win and his agent decision show the killer instinct is intact.

Charlie Hanger, executive editor, Golf.com: A good win, but this was a 30-man cash grab (Rory won $2 million!), so we shouldn't read too much into it.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I've always felt that victories in mini-field events, 30 or 40 players, should come with an asterisk. It may be more newsworthy that Anthony Kim showed signs of life than that Rory won again.

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

Bamberger: Which is why, among other reasons, a great player can dominate at Augusta, like Jack and Arnold and Tiger and Faldo. How many people do you have to beat after the cut -- 60? And do you want to put an asterisk on Bill Haas's selection to the Presidents Cup team?

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: It's hard to get too excited about a tournament that doesn't merit any World Ranking points, but I suppose it's still good to win the thing. Rory has to start turning those seconds and thirds into firsts on a regular basis to justify the hype.

Mick Rouse, SI Golf+ Intern: I think a lot of people were wondering where Rory's head was after leaving Chubby. Winning his first tournament will prove that his mind is still on golf.

Bamberger: Nobody asked, but I think Rory made a good, bold move, going to the obscure Horizon firm. He's staking his own ground, and why wouldn't he?

David Dusek, deputy editor, Golf.com: Winning can't be a bad thing, and maybe in the back of his mind this one feels good because it means he can do it without Chubby & Co. in his corner, but a win in a full-field European or PGA Tour event would be more meaningful to me.

Jeff Ritter, senior producer, Golf.com: It wasn't a huge statement, but I'm still convinced he's ready rise to No. 1 in 2012 -- maybe as soon as the Monday after the Masters.

Ryan Reiterman, senior producer, Golf.com: I don't think it was much of a "statement," but it got us back to talking about his phenomenal game and not about a laundry list of off-the-course shenanigans.

Hanger: Don't think it's quite fair to get on Rory's case for "shenanigans." He's switched managers and started dating a leggy blonde tennis player. Not like he's been doing anything out of line or neglecting his livelihood.

Morfit: I agree. I don't see that Rory has been doing anything all that out of the ordinary. Wozniacki is Yoko Ono? We sure seem to know a lot about Rory's life. Smacking the tree root has been his only unforgiveable post-U.S. Open gaffe, and even that you can partly attribute to his caddie's not taking a firm hand.

GARCIA ON A ROLL

Sergio Garcia, Andalucia Masters
 
Sergio Garcia won the Andalucia Masters for his second straight victory on the European Tour. (Eduardo Abad/Zuma Press)

Godich: After going almost three years without a victory, Sergio Garcia won for the second time in two weeks on the European Tour, edging countryman Miguel Angel Jimenez by a shot at the Andalucia Masters. Sergio looked like his old self, even playing one shot while standing in a pond. Look ahead. Are you buying or selling Sergio in 2012? And, dare I say, does he have a major in him?

 

Bamberger: How could you not be buying him? The Spanish players -- and I'm generalizing, I realize -- play so much according to how their lives are going. I'm thinking of course of Seve and Olazabal and Sergio. Unsettled off-course life = poor play. When happy, watch out. As for majors for Sergio, I'm not a believer, except maybe the British Open.

Herre: I'm buying. Sergio started to turn things around earlier this year and had top 10s in the U.S. Open and British Open.

Dusek: Two wins means last week's victory on his home course was no fluke for Sergio. For Garcia and his fans, I hope it can continue long enough to make things interesting on Sunday at Augusta, but I'm not sure his putter is up to Sunday-at-the-majors pressure.

Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I'm buying El Nino. If Darren Clarke is sipping Guinness out of the claret jug at his ripe age, Sergio is going to be drinking a velvety Rioja out of it one of these years.

Hanger: I don't know how you can be anything but bullish on Garcia. No question he has the ability, and maybe now he's showing that golf has his attention again. I think he has a major in him, and maybe in 2012.

Van Sickle: It's the magic of The Claw. Sergio has a putting stroke that looks good and, he has proven, will hold up under some pressure. I'm buying that he's going to play his way back into the top 15 in the world. I'm willing to consider the major thing. Especially if Tiger remains out of the picture.

Ritter: I could maybe see one win on the PGA Tour next year, but I wouldn't wager on El Nino breaking through at a major. Save that money for a better bet, like shares of NetFlix.

Rouse: I admit I wasn't sold on Sergio being back after his home-course win, but back-to-back victories are impressive. I hope he can continue this momentum, and I think he will be a contender for at least one of the majors next year.

Reiterman: Sergio has too much talent not to win at least one major in his career. Who knows if it's next year, but it looks like the old Sergio is back.

Godich: Haven't we said that about a lot of folks?

Reiterman: Yes, but do you really think Sergio's never going to win a major? Way too early to write him off.

Hanger: I think Sergio was a cut above the rest of the players we've made similar comments about. He was on the short-short list of candidates to be Tiger's biggest rival, so for him to show his old form seems significant.

Dusek: That was a decade ago.

Hanger: Sure, but he's only 31.

Godich: I'm not saying Sergio won't win one. Just saying we've said the same about Westwood, Monty, Stricker ...

Dusek: There are a lot of majorless guys with too much talent not to win a major -- Luke Donald, Lee Westwood, Dustin Johnson, Steve Stricker, Adam Scott , etc. And yes, I really think that Sergio is never going to win a major. When Destiny knocked the ball out of the hole on 18 at Carnoustie in 2007, that was her way of saying, "I'm going to tease you, but not let you win one."

Reiterman: I'll bet a six-pack four of those five guys win at least one major before they're done.

Morfit: Sergio's still a young man, David. He'll win one, and it'll be a British.

Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: The demons are hard to shake, and they get meaner and more unyielding as time passes. That said, Sergio winning a major would be very cool.

Van Sickle: It's absurd to write off golfers. One good swing change, one bad swing change, the onset of yips can change things dramatically. Tom Lehman wasn't even on tour when he was 30, and he got a major. Sergio has a chance.

Godich: Sergio is an old 31, just like Tiger is an old 35. Every future opportunity brings back memories of opportunities missed -- and only increases the pressure.

Dusek: Right. Garcia hasn't had the physical injuries Woods has, but his mind and psyche are carrying so much baggage that we should call him "Bell Hop" instead of "El Nino."

Reiterman: We have no idea what's going on in his head. I doubt he's thinking about the Open at Carnoustie every time he takes back the putter.

Hack: We could have called Mickelson Bell Hop back in the day, too. Payne Stewart got him. And David Toms. And, endlessly, Tiger. Now Phil has 4 majors. Sergio has plenty of licks left.

Van Sickle: Payne Stewart was also a Bell Hop for quite a while. There was a reason his nickname on tour for years was Avis. One good win erases all that.

DELAYING THE INEVITABLE
Godich: The PGA Tour curiously announced last week that it was holding off on sending out its Player of the Year ballots until after this week's WGC-HSBC Championship in Shanghai, saying it made sense because the winner would get credit for a PGA Tour victory. POY front-runner Luke Donald, who is skipping the event to be home for the birth of his second child, seemed a bit miffed at the decision to move the finish line, but does Luke really have anything to be worried about?

Dusek: No.

Lipsey: Bush move by the Tour. Changing rules midstream is not right.

Van Sickle: Awards are meaningless. They look nice on the resume. But I agree with him; it was baloney for the PGA Tour to pretend its season is going one week longer.

Morfit: It seems like there's some confusion about when and where the season is really over. We now have one start to the season (Hyundai at Kapalua) and a bunch of finishes (Tour Championship, HSBC, Presidents Cup, Dubai).

Herre: I don't see any grand conspiracy here. The Tour's logic for the decision makes sense.

Walker: Yes, the conspiracy theorists are reaching on this one. But seriously, how many year-end awards can golf give out? FedEx Cup, money list, Vardon Trophy, PGA Player of the Year, PGA Tour Player of the Year. No wonder they have trouble keeping track of them all.

Hanger: And that's why the average sports fan -- maybe even the average golf fan -- couldn't care less about any of them.

RULES CHANGES
Godich: The USGA and the R&A have rolled out rules changes for 2012. Among the changes: no penalty for a ball that moves if it's "known or virtually certain" that the player didn't cause the movement. Did any of the changes catch you by surprise? And is there a rule you wished golf's governing bodies would've addressed?

Lipsey: They should change the rule that requires each player to keep a scorecard. Golf needs to face the fact that this is the digital age, with every step recorded for history. In pro events, players should not have to keep and attest to their own scores. Purists can say doing that is pure golf. But it is really kind of silly and pointless. In no other sport do players keep score.

Herre: Overall, I was impressed with the changes. Most make perfect sense and are logical updates. The bunker-to-bunker and the wind rules were certainly relics that needed to be retired.

Van Sickle: I'm surprised that I can now win $1 million for a hole-in-one contest and remain an amateur. I'm surprised the ball-movement rule was changed. That has been there forever. Due to advances in greens mowing, and ever faster putting surfaces, it was a good change. I still don't like out of bounds being stroke and distance. The most obvious rules change would be to allow laser rangefinders in tournament play. They certainly wouldn't slow down play.

Godich: I was waiting for that. What took so long, Gary?

Van Sickle: I had to pace off the distance from my TV set to the computer first. I was dumbstruck at the U.S. Senior Amateur player dinner this year when a USGA official at my table said, after first blaming the R&A for being against rangefinders, that it was still debatable whether rangefinders were faster. I asked what there was to debate. Point, click and yardage! Three seconds, tops. That beats pacing every time. The official then said, oh, no, a lot of people don't even know how to use them, blah blah blah. Yeah, rangefinders won't be legal any time soon based on that backwards thinking. I have no false illusions.

Dusek: Different alphabet soup organizations say golf needs to be more inclusive and appealing, that the pace of play needs to be quickened, and yet you hear stories like that one. In a lot of ways, some golfers seem to relish the fact that they remain in the stone age.

Reiterman: Penalizing players for slow play would speed up play, but that's never going to happen.

Rouse: The AJGA gives out penalties for slow play, and their pace has improved dramatically.

LPGA DOWN UNDER
Godich: The amazing Yani Tseng collected her 11th worldwide victory of the year on Sunday, just days after the LPGA Tour announced it is adding an event in Australia to the 2012 calendar. It's part of a three-week swing that includes stops in Thailand and Singapore. I guess we shouldn't be surprised, but do you like the move?

Van Sickle: That's great. Where do I call to order tickets?

Herre: Sure. The LPGA had to go global to survive. Why not Australia? The tour is already holding other events in that neighborhood.

Rouse: I see nothing wrong with the move. You could argue that the LPGA should be more focused on playing events here, but will more tournaments stateside make it more popular?

Hack: Mike Whan has to go to where the money is, be it Australia or Jupiter.

NATIONWIDE GRADUATES
Godich: Finally, the Nationwide circuit concluded its season on Sunday in Charleston with its Tour Championship. Ken Duke, 42, was the winner, but more important, he jumped from 36th to seventh on the money list and was one of 25 players to secure his PGA Tour card for 2012. For all of the rotisserie players out there, throw out the name of a 2011 Nationwide grad who will have a big year on the PGA Tour in 2012.

Reiterman: Erik Compton will win a Tour event and continue his amazing comeback.

Hack: Daniel Chopra.

Herre: Would love to see Billy Hurley succeed. The pro from Annapolis will get a lot attention whenever he tees it up.

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