PGA Tour Confidential: Rory McIlroy wins BMW Championship

Tuesday September 11th, 2012
Rory McIlroy shot a 67 to earn his third win in his last four starts.
Warren Little / Getty Images

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 the comments section below.

ANOTHER COMMAND PERFORMANCE
Mike Walker, senior editor, Golf Magazine: On a day when the leader board looked like golf's version of The Avengers (Phil Mickelson! Vijay Singh! Dustin Johnson! Lee Westwood! Tiger Woods!), Rory McIlroy pulled away for a two-shot victory. He's won three of the last four events he's played in, including the PGA Championship, and he's more than a decade younger than his closest rivals. How good can McIlroy get? Are we witnessing the beginning of a Tiger-like run of dominance on the PGA Tour?

Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: Geez, I've been saying no, but now it's time to reconsider. Very impressive. He didn't look a bit fazed by the scary leader board this week. Seems like he gets extra energy playing with Tiger, and the dynamic of their relationship -- at least on the course -- is really interesting.

Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: We'll never see another run like Tiger had, but based on the way he attacked the par-5s at Crooked Stick, Rory is my slam-dunk favorite for Augusta next April. Everyone else can have the field.

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: I think it depends on whether Rory's putting remains this good, as it has for his victories in three of his last four starts. Then again, he's not playing too bad tee-to-green, either. For all the big names chasing him, Rory never looked very flustered.

Herre: That's what impressed me, Cam. Rory had to get up and down a few times today, and even though some of his chips and pitches were just OK, he only made one bogey. Cool as a cucumber.

Morfit: And I almost don't even count that bogey, since it was over by then.

Stephanie Wei, contributor, SI Golf+: Yeah, he kept attacking and playing his game, which of course is made for a soft course, but that bogey came on the 72nd hole when he knew he could double and still win. No big deal.

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I'm not sure Rory can summon Tiger-like intensity every time he pegs it, but he's clearly a big-game hunter who peaks for the majors and other important tournaments. He's going to own this sport for the next couple of decades.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Every time the tour goes to a big, long golf course that plays wet and soft with no wind, Rory is the guy to beat. The hang time on his shots is remarkable. Players always look great when they win. Let's not forget Rory was missing in action this summer for a couple of months. But he's clearly the No. 1 player in the world, and I don't think anyone is going to take that away from him for years. Not even Tiger.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Who knows? My guess he's on a roll, an incredible roll, but it would be unlikely that he's going to go Tiger-like here. For one thing, you need the cooperation of others for that to happen, and that's not likely to happen.

Charlie Hanger, executive editor, Golf.com: I don't think anyone will ever have a run like Tiger had, with, for instance, four consecutive majors, but this is certainly as close as anyone is going to come. Rory is pretty much untouchable right now. The Euros appear to have a few points locked up later this month.

Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: What's amazing about him is not how good he can get, but how good he already is. So much of his game is already so polished. It'll be all about desire for him going forward.

Van Sickle: The putting help Rory got from Dave Stockton was the last piece of the puzzle. He looks pretty good with the putter now. That's the key club for him. For everyone.

Jeff Ritter, senior producer, Golf.com: He's the man of the moment. Not sure if this will turn into a Tiger 2000 type of run, but he's the guy to beat every time he plays until further notice.

Wei: I've been on the Rory bandwagon from day 1, and no one can keep up with him right now, but I'll put away my pom-poms for a minute to agree with Gary. Rory's been winning on soft courses. I'd like to see him do it on a firm and fast track.

David Dusek, deputy editor, Golf.com: It's impossible to say whether or not we are seeing the next Tiger-like run, but there's no denying that he is playing at an incredibly high level right now. Everyone cools off, but the truly great players are still exceptionally good on their normal days. That's what separates them from everyone else.

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Is McIlroy about to go on a Tiger-like run?

MICKELSON SIGHTING
Walker: After a lost summer, Phil Mickelson looked a little like his old self with a T2 finish this week and a T4 at the Deutsche Bank Championship. What's been different about Mickelson these last couple of weeks, and do you expect a return to form in 2013?

Morfit: I love to see Phil playing well. The game is just so much more exciting with him in the mix. But I've been watching too much golf for too many years to try to predict anything he's going to do that far out. I do like his chances at East Lake, though.

Gorant: Mickelson has always seemed to run hot and cold, although in the past he's usually been hot early and cold late. This year he's fired up for the finish.

Godich: This is Phil being Phil. Streaky should be his middle name. I'm guessing the new putting stroke is a big part of it, but I wonder how long he'll stick with it, Phil being Phil.

Shipnuck: Golf is definitely more fun/interesting with Phil playing well. (The U.S. Ryder Cup team also needs him in a big way.) No one knows what the deal is with his arthritis, so that could be the explanation. Or maybe he just got tired of playing poorly and moping around, and he's re-engaged. Who knows about next year. Phil has always been kind of week-to-week, which is part of what makes him interesting.

Godich: It's all about the majors with Phil these days, and he was undone by one swing on the fourth hole at Augusta this year. I'm not sure he ever recovered. He also loves the big events, so no surprise he is turning it on with the Ryder Cup looming.

Bamberger: The difference, I think, was making the Ryder Cup team. Again.

Wei: He looks re-energized. Something snapped him out of his funk. It's good to see, and right on time -- forget about 2013, let's focus on the Ryder Cup.

Herre: Phil has a lot of confidence based on his recent play, and confidence can be everything in this crazy game. He seems to be feeding on the new putting grip. I also thought his tempo was really good on Saturday. Very smooth.

Morfit: I'd love to see Phil have a monster Ryder Cup. It would begin to fix his lousy record in that event, which isn't up to the standards of a player of his caliber.

Dusek: I would love to see Mickelson return to the form that he showed on the West Coast swing, and there's no denying that he has looked really good the last two weeks, but I think he's going to remain streaky. The difference clearly is his putting. At the Deutsche Bank he was fourth in putts per green in regulation; at the BMW Championship he was fifth. With results like that, maybe he's going to stick with the claw grip long-term.

Hanger: I agree that this is Phil's form -- hot, cold, and unpredictable. I predict more of the same in 2013, but I have a hunch he's going to kick butt at Medinah.

Van Sickle: Phil made a bunch of birdies, had a chance to win and kicked it away with a pair of mistakes near the end. In other words, he's his old self again. As for 2013, what he's doing now has no bearing on next year. Remember when Phil had a big finish a few years ago and Johnny Miller bought into it and predicted Phil as the following year's Player of the Year? That didn't happen. Enjoy Phil when you can. Nothing lasts forever.

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Is Phil's recent run a sign he'll have a better year in 2013?

I LOVE YOU, MAN
Walker: At the BMW, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy were paired for the first two days. They laughed together, they did interviews together, and they even shared a post-round meal. Are you cynical about No. 1 and No. 2's new BFF status, or is this really the beginning of a beautiful friendship?

Godich: This is all good news for golf, not unlike Arnie battling Jack, Jack battling Watson, Tiger battling Phil. Nothing like a good rivalry. And don't think Rory's little run isn't motivating Tiger.

Morfit: I think Tiger is plenty motivated already. He just can't get enough putts to fall.

Shipnuck: It's a sign that Tiger has mellowed with age. He knows his glory years are behind him and it's time to transition into an elder statesman, like Arnie and Jack before him. Plus, Rory is deferential without being a suck-up, which is how Tiger likes it.

Van Sickle: Tiger is mellowing with age? I'll believe it when I believe it, right, Yogi?

Bamberger: There's nothing to be cynical about. They're two people with a lot of shared interests who enjoyed each other's company.

Morfit: Woods respects game. It's why he is/was friends with Federer. It's like a club membership more than a friendship, or at least that's the way it looks from the outside.

Van Sickle: I think Cam is right about Tiger respecting Rory. But also, Tiger has no choice. Rory is, in fact, kicking Tiger's butt on a regular basis now. Tiger knows he doesn't currently have the firepower to beat Rory, but he's probably thinking, "wait til next year."

Dusek: I have no idea if they are becoming good friends, but I think there is obviously tremendous mutual respect. In a lot of ways it's refreshing to see Tiger interacting and seeming to enjoy himself with the guy who is clearly his biggest rival right now. We never saw him do this with Ernie, Phil or Vijay.

Morfit: One interesting thing about Tiger and Rory is that when they're paired together, Tiger refuses to let Rory beat him. It's on the weekends that Rory pulls away. It happened that way at Dubai and the Barclays, and now again at the BMW.

Godich: Well, Tiger has refused to let pretty much everybody beat him on Thursday and Friday this year. The weekends? Not so much.

Herre: This may mark the official changing of the alpha dogs. Kind of reminds me of when Arnie finally warmed up to Nicklaus. Tiger is 13 years older than Rory. He has to realize that his days as a dominating force are either numbered or over.

Morfit: Numbered or over? I'll take the over.

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Are you buying a blossoming friendship between McIlroy and Woods?

HUNTER MAHAN STAYING HOME
Walker: Davis Love III made his captain's picks for the U.S. Ryder Cup team last week: Steve Stricker, Dustin Johnson, Jim Furyk and Brandt Snedeker. The omission of Hunter Mahan (ninth in points) surprised many, including European captain Jose Maria Olazabal. Would you have picked Mahan for the team? If so, whom would you have left at home?

Morfit: Mahan shot 80 in the third round at the BMW, pretty much making Love look like a genius.

Godich: I have no problem with leaving Mahan home. He won twice before the Masters yet couldn't make the top eight on points. Mahan has nobody to blame but himself. Plus, this is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately selection process.

Van Sickle: Great point, Mark. You really have to play lousy to win twice and still miss the team on points.

Shipnuck: Hunter blew it twice: not earning enough points to make the team and then laying an egg during the PGA and the Barclays, when a bunch of other guys were playing great while auditioning for captain's picks.

Bamberger: On a purely individual basis, Hunter must have been hard to pass on. But on a team basis, Furyk makes the team better.

Herre: Olazabal's (mild) surprise was surprising to me. Hadn't he been paying attention to Mahan's poor play? That said, I'm not convinced that Furyk will be much of a factor, and D.J. needs to see Stockton.

Van Sickle: I don't think Olazabal was really surprised. Let the gamesmanship begin.

Hanger: Totally agree Gary. He's trying to make the captain's picks second-guess their worthiness.

Wei: I felt bad for Mahan. He looked out of steam last week in Boston. It almost looked like trying to make the team the last few months took a toll on him. I hope he takes some mental health days in the break before the Tour Championship.

Morfit: I really believe the U.S. would benefit if the Ryder Cup started this week, with a hot Dustin Johnson, a hot Phil Mickelson, a hot Tiger Woods. It's hard to predict how any of these guys will be playing almost three weeks from now.

Van Sickle: Mahan is chillier than a Klondike bar. His wins this year feel like a million years ago. Form isn't everything for the Ryder Cup, but you've got to use it as a tiebreaker. Hence, Mahan and Fowler were out and Johnson, Snedeker and Furyk were in. I wasn't sure Love was going to go with two old warhorses, given Furyk's lack of closing ability this year (Akron, Olympic Club), but then again, aging captains tend to remember their peers from their primes. I wouldn't second-guess the picks. They're the best he could do.

Dusek: I would not have picked Mahan even though I know he would've given his heart and soul to the squad. I have no problem with Davis Love's selection of Stricker, Snedeker and Dustin Johnson, but I would have taken Nick Watney instead of Jim Furyk.

Walker: I think the U.S. has too many wild-card picks. It reminds me of a poker game we used to play in college called Russian Revolution. All red cards are wild, and if you don't have five aces, you should probably fold. It's a stupid game.

Herre: Mike, Azinger's changes to the timing and number of wild-card picks may be his greatest contribution as U.S. captain.

Van Sickle: Right. Four wild-cards are better than two. Olazabal seems penned in by having only two picks. I think it's a potential advantage for the Americans in the long run, and revising the team selection process was the most genius move Azinger did as captain.

Hanger: I think the four picks are huge for the U.S. side. You can get the guys who are hot right now, you can choose guys for specific strengths, you can grab a veteran (or a rookie) to tweak the team dynamic. It might open the door to over-managing, but overall I think it's an advantage for the Americans.

Godich: Look at it this way: With only two wild-card picks, Hunter Mahan is going to Medinah. And if Dustin Johnson is the odd man out, everybody would be talking about how Love had passed over one of the hottest American players.

Wei: I like the four captain's picks, and I think Love made the difficult but correct picks with veteran leadership and guys who are currently hot.

Walker: I'm not against wild cards. I just think it's excessive -- and maybe against the spirit of the Ryder Cup -- to fill a third of the team with them.

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Would you have picked Mahan for the U.S. Ryder Cup team?

MORFIT VS. BAMBERGER
Walker: The sunny congeniality of the Confidential crew was shattered this week when Cameron Morfit's column calling Love's captaincy "uninspiring," comparing him unfavorably with 2008 U.S. captain Paul Azinger and predicting a European win at Medinah prompted a pugnacious response from Michael Bamberger, who argued that Love's style as a consensus-builder will make for a strong U.S. team. Who's right?

Bamberger: Cameron.

Morfit: Knew you'd come around.

Godich: Ask me on Sept. 30.

Shipnuck: I think they're both right, but bonus points to Bamby for his glorious personal attacks.

Walker: Totally. I kept hearing Dan Akroyd's voice when reading Michael's column. "Cam, you ignorant..."

Hanger: I think Bamberger wins this one in a knockout. Cam's basic premise, that captains are hugely important to Ryder Cup success, is the first flaw in the argument. And Love's picks were spot-on, as is his demeanor.

Herre: Hard to argue against Azinger. Personally, I think you have to make it personal at the Ryder Cup. I get killed by some for espousing this philosophy -- bad for golf and all that. But, hasn't that been why the Euros have been so successful?

Morfit: I agree, Jim. Love's a nice guy (although our regular hearts game is probably over now), but if the PGA of America cared about winning the Ryder Cup half as much as the Euros do, they'd have rehired Zinger in a heartbeat.

Hanger: I think the captain can make it personal, as in, "this matters and it's us against them." But the captain should also strike a tone of respect for the other side. You don't want it to get ugly. I think Azinger struck a nice balance, and I think Love will too. It's quite possible to be a gentleman and still inspire the troops.

Dusek: Love and Azinger are both extremely competitive, but completely different. I think Love's team is a good reflection of him, and it's filled with guys who will play well for him. I don't think a scrappy, chip-on-their-shoulder squad would fit his style of leadership. Unlike 2008, the United States team is likely to be favored. That will require a little different type of captaincy from Love, so I say Bamberger is correct.

Wei: I think they're both right. (A cop-out answer, I know!) I like that Love has thrown in a friend (Hulbert) and a guy who everyone likes and who will keep things loose (Fred Couples), as well as a legend for a cart driver (Michael Jordan). But there's also an argument to be made that the Ryder Cup captain is the most overrated coaching job in sports.

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Who's on the right side of the argument: Morfit, who thinks Love lacks an edge, or Bamberer, who thinks Love is a good fit for the team?

FAVORITE DYE LAYOUTS
Walker: The BMW Championship at Crooked Stick was the fifth PGA Tour event this year played on a Pete Dye course -- Harbour Town, Sawgrass, TPC Louisiana and The Ocean Course at Kiawah are the others. What's your favorite Dye course and why? (I like Teeth of the Dog, which has the most dazzling oceanside par 3s I've ever seen.)

Morfit: You can't argue with Crooked Stick because you can't argue with that leaderboard. I mean, come on. The top 11 guys at the start of the day Sunday had racked up 181 PGA Tour victories, including 25 majors.

Wei: I guess if I have to pick, it'd be Harbour Town. It's a bit goofy, but it's a shotmaker's course.

Godich: Though it's been years since I've played it, I'll take TPC Sawgrass. Loved the finishing three-hole stretch, though I was surprised by how big the island green is.

Dusek: TPC Sawgrass is completely unique and a fun place to watch the pros during The Players.

Van Sickle: I'll go with Whistling Straits just because he created it out of nothing. I'm a fan of Dye, but not of his courses. He sparked an era of expensive-to-build and expensive-to-maintain courses that take average hacks five and a half hours to play. He started the trend that is killing golf in this economy -- high-maintenance, slow-play golf courses. Nicklaus even admitted to some culpability in that area this year. I was surprised that he finally gets it, maybe.

Shipnuck: Teeth of the Dog is my fave, too. Spectacular in every way. And one of the best named courses there is.

Bamberger: Teeth! Went there on my honeymoon and only played 36 a day.

Herre: And Christine was good with that?

Bamberger: Must set the tone early.

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: What's your favorite Pete Dye layout?

LPGA'S LONGEST DAY
Walker: In the quarterfinals of the 2009 Big East Tournament, Syracuse beat UConn in six overtimes. The Orange have nothing on Paula Creamer and Jiyai Shin, who remain tied after eight playoff holes at the Kingsmill Championship on Sunday. The women almost played the 18th for a ninth time before deciding to postpone the match because of darkness. Should they have kept playing?

Shipnuck: Nah, it's not a nighttime sport. There's a lot at stake for both players -- you don't want it decided because it's too dark to read the green.

Hanger: They should've quit debating it and played it a ninth time. They spent so much time hemming and hawing that it was impossible to finish by the time they actually decided they wanted to try. They should've said, "Yes?" "Yes." Then hopped in the carts, sped back and played it quickly.

Ritter: What is this, the Battle at Bighorn? No stadium lights, no night golf. They did the right thing.

Bamberger: They had to stop.

Wei: They couldn't see anything. I'm sorry, but this was an LPGA fail. They shouldn't have been playing a difficult par-4 over and over again. I understand they were trying to be "fan friendly" by making the extra hole No. 18, but now everybody loses.

Hanger: Don't think you can blame it on the hole. It just worked out that they kept tying. I think it's actually pretty smart because the fans weren't tromping all over the course in the twilight.

Wei: I think the fans would have preferred to tromp around when it was still light if it meant watching one of them win instead of watching them play the same hole eight times with no winner.

Walker: Both Creamer and Shin looked like they didn't want to let down the fans by stopping. That was nice. I don't think PGA Tour players would feel the same way.

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Did Creamer and Shin make the right call in stopping after eight holes of sudden death?

 

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