PGA Tour Confidential: Rory McIlroy WDs, Michael Thompson wins Honda Classic
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.
RORY WALKS OFF
Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Rory McIlroy escaped the Bear Trap, walking out on the Honda less than halfway into his second round. Let's ignore our journalistic instincts and speculate wildly about what's up with RM -- pressure, clubs, love life, etc. -- and what does it all mean as we steam toward the Masters?
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Rory's takeaway is still a bit off and he hasn't yet shaken off the rust from the off-season. So he quit after nine on Friday -- he was going to miss the cut, anyway. It's kind of bad form, especially when you're No. 1. Rory needs a few intensive days on the range to get his swing straightened out and regain some confidence. He's not a player who doesn't have ups and downs. Remember the stretch after last year's Honda when Rory got off the boil. It's still not time to panic. It's still not a big deal...yet.
Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Plain and simple, Rory is frustrated over the adjustment to his new equipment. But remember: The switch wasn't about the money.
Ryan Reiterman, senior producer, Golf.com: Who knows if Rory really has a sore tooth, but he's definitely got some swing issues. He's admitted to picking up some bad habits earlier this year, and he's having a hard time working it out. This week he was on a very penal course, with a bad swing and no confidence. Toss in high winds, and it was the perfect storm for his embarrassing score. Will he get his swing in-sync before the Masters? That's why the next few weeks will be compelling TV.
Mike Walker, senior editor, Golf Magazine: Rory McIlroy's secret weapon is his bulletproof confidence. He's generated so much goodwill with the fans, his fellow players and the press that his petulant walk-off will be quickly forgotten, but his confidence looks shaken. Plus. if Tiger Woods is giving you media-relations advice, you're not in a good place.
Jeff Ritter, senior producer, Golf.com: If we're ranking the three most important people Rory should see this week, I'd go 1.) Dentist, 2.) Swing coach, 3.) Psychologist. Look, he'll be fine. Toothaches aren't fun, but the WD wasn't a great decision. He's a classy guy, and he'll learn from that. But there's no question this whole Nike/life adjustment is going to take some time. If I'm picking five favorites for Augusta, he wouldn't make the list.
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: I started wondering the other day: What if Rory went back to his old clubs? What legal superstorm would ensue and how much money would it cost him? It's an interesting thought experiment if nothing else. I think the pressure got to him and this is turning out to be the most awkward adjustment period since Kardashian-Humphries.
Eamon Lynch, managing editor, Golf.com Why not just wait until Wednesday and find out for real when he talks?
THOMPSON BREAKS THROUGH
Gorant: In his third season on Tour, Michael Thompson grabbed his first win. What do you think of Thompson's performance and who do you think will have a better 2013, Thompson or surprise runner-up Geoff Ogilvy?
Godich: As we have seen so many times, it was Thompson's week. After doing next to nothing in 2013, he got a couple of nice breaks, and he putted his ball better than anybody. That said, I'll take the proven U.S. Open and Match Play champion.
Lynch: The real winner here was PGA National Resort, which proudly markets the course as being tough, which helps obscure the fact that it's neither good nor interesting.
Morfit: I'll be contrarian and pick Thompson. After Olympic Club last June and what he did at the Honda, I'm like his career trajectory. As far as pure quotability, though, I hope Ogilvy keeps playing well.
Reiterman: Don't know if I'd call Ogilvy a "surprise runner-up." Sure, he's been struggling, but the dude has a U.S. Open trophy and three WGC titles to his name. I don't know if either one will have a big year, so I'll go with Thompson since he already has a W against a very strong field.
Van Sickle: Great question. Ogilvy obviously has a far better pedigree but Thompson's scrambling ability was fantastic. Since Ogilvy has been battling his putter, I'll go with Thompson, whose chipping stroke and putting stroke looked unflappable.
Ritter: It was a great win for Thompson, and nice to see a guy who's paid his dues finally break through. But based on track record alone you've gotta like Ogilvy's chances of having the better season. The Aussie's been on a downward slide for a couple of years now, but that strong final round in tough conditions feels like a sign he's on his way back. I think he'll be more of a major factor than Thompson.
Walker: Great to see Ogilvy play well, but I'll go with Thompson. We're nine events into the season and have nine American winners. Decline of U.S. golf was slightly exaggerated.
TIGER FADES AT HONDA
Gorant: With the chance to reassert himself as something more than Rory's sidekick, Tiger Woods failed to impress, shooting three rounds of 70 before finishing with a penalty-filled 74. In the aftermath, TW expressed confidence, saying that if he eliminated the bad swings and the penalties he would have shot a good score, making him sound a lot like me after 18. Is Tiger officially out of sorts (first-round loss last week) or is he in fact "close"?
Reiterman: Followed Tiger for the first two rounds, and he was out of sorts all week. He was not only missing fairways with his driver, but he was finding trouble with 3-woods and 2-irons off the tee, as well. It's a credit to his competiveness that he was recording 70s the first three rounds and not 74s or 75s. Sunday was just a brutal day, so it's hard to read too much into one bad day where very few guys broke par. He's got a win under his belt already, and he's heading to two courses (Doral and Bay Hill) that he's had a lot of success on. He'll be fine for Augusta.
Lynch: And if I could eliminate my atheism I could be Pope. Stating the obvious doesn't make the situation any closer to becoming a reality. Perhaps this is Tiger's new reality: he's able to run away from the field at Torrey Pines then stink it up in his next few starts. In short, he's just like every other Tour pro. If you mean "close" in again becoming as dominant he used to be, I'm closer to becoming Pope.
Walker: Tiger's got a win and he'll have good vibes working at Doral and Bay Hill. He's as close as he's been in awhile.
Van Sickle: I'm not going to call a guy out of sorts a couple of weeks after he won at Torrey Pines. Man, is this a tough room or what? If Tiger had been playing a course that didn't have water hazards in every direction, he would've been fine. It's a penal course, which isn't the same as saying it's a good course. Since he's already won this year, I'll say Tiger is, in fact, "close."
Ritter: Not a great week for Woods, but I don't see any real cause for alarm. He's only a month removed from winning at Torrey. If I'm picking five favorites for Augusta, he's on the list, but probably not at the top.
Morfit: I'd say Tiger is closer than Rory. And I'd say either of them, or Phil Mickelson, could win at Doral. Things change fast.
Godich: I had to laugh when I heard Tiger talking about how things would've been fine if not for the two water balls and the lost ball. I see a guy who just isn't making putts like he used to. Until that changes, Tiger will be a mere mortal -- better than most everybody else, but not the dominator we'd grown accustomed to seeing.
FINCHEM VS. THE WORLD OVER BELLY BAN
Gorant: The world had a chance to chew on the PGA Tour's objection to the anchoring ban and deemed it tasteless and maybe even a bit sour. Most other tours offered their outright support of the ruling bodies or indicated their intention to do so. Where does this put the PGA Tour? Where does it put the USGA? Is bifurcation inevitable?
Godich: Bamberger said it best in his Golf.com columna. PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem can say he tried. The USGA and the R&A will get their way. I expect the PGA of America to encourage its members to adopt local rules. SI Golf Plus polled the Top 100 teachers last week, and 63 percent sided with the PGA Tour. The biggest concern: finding ways to grow the game. Whatever it takes.
Van Sickle: The USGA and R&A will go ahead and do what they were already going to do, which is institute a ban on anchoring. The ball will then be back in the PGA Tour's court. Is the Tour really going to defy golf's governing bodies? It's one thing to state your objection, it's another thing to back it up. When the ban is announced, it'll effectively be the USGA calling Finchem's bluff. Let's see if he goes all in. I doubt it.
Reiterman: The USGA and R&A will go ahead with the ban, and then it will be on the PGA Tour to create a local rule to allow its player to use anchored strokes. I can't imagine they'd go that route.
Ritter: The PGA Tour is in a tough spot, but I thought Bamberger nailed it in his column this week -- Finchem will do what he has to do to let his players know he's looking out for them. But in this case, bifurcation would be a bad thing. Assuming Finchem and Co. remain the lone outlier to the USGA's rule, they'd eventually have to fall in line ... wouldn't they?
Morfit: I'd say bifurcation is possible, and I really would have no problem with it. If the Tour wants to play by a slightly modified set of rules, it's the least of golf's problems.
Walker: As Michael said in his column, the PGA Tour's position on anchored putting is just political theater. Someday Finchem is going to tell us he was for the anchored putting ban before he was against it. The belly putter will sleep with the fishes on Jan. 1, 2016. Bifurcation will never happen, because there isn't a powerful constituency in favor of it.
Lynch: This fight is already over. The only folks who haven't realized yet are the vocal constituency of hobbled putters on Tour who think Tim Finchem might go the distance and split the game for them. That won't happen. In a few weeks the lords of Augusta will weigh in with the USGA and R&A (after all, they're basically the same people), which raises the prospect that someday only the PGA Championship may allow anchored putting, but not the other three majors. That's a farcical situation that Finchem won't help create just to defend Tim Clark's desire to make a living.
LEWIS WINS SIXTH LPGA TITLE
Gorant: Stacy Lewis won the HSBC. Considering the other (bigger name, more glamorous) contenders, are you surprised that she has emerged as the top American player?
Van Sickle: I'm not surprised by Stacy Lewis. I'm more surprised by such a dearth of talented American players. Other than Michelle Wie, what Americans are out there that Lewis has shockingly surpassed? Cristie Kerr? She's been around a long time. Paula Creamer? She's not a big hitter, she's had some injury bugs and she's had some putting issues. Who else is there? Amy Alcott? Beth Daniel? Lewis is better and tougher than we all think. She's a gamer. Except for her, American women's golf is a bit disappointing at the moment.
Reiterman: Nothing that Stacy Lewis does now surprises me. She just seems to have a chip on her shoulder and a determination to prove she is the best. Hopefully she can stay on top for a while, because she is a great ambassador for the LPGA.
Morfit: I'm not surprised. There's so much more to winning out there than having a pretty swing or great marketability. How's your motor? Does it keep revving even after you're kind of tired and don't feel like practicing five-footers at the end of the day? It's a fine, fine line. Lynch: Anna Kournikova was a glamorous big name, too, and I have as many professional tennis wins as she does. There's no surprise in Lewis's ascendancy. She gets it done, her peers don't.
Ritter: Lewis surprised me last year, but not anymore. Yani better watch out -- a new No. 1 is closing in.
Walker: Lewis is a closer and she's picking up where she left off last year. This could be a big year for her.
Godich: Stacy Lewis is a grinder. That has and will continue to serve her well.