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PGA Tour Confidential: Tiger's challengers, McIlroy's rebound and the absolute worst golf shots in history

Rory McIlroy
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Rory McIlroy notched his first win of 2013 at the Australian Open, denying Adam Scott the Aussie Triple Crown in the process.

Every Sunday night, conducts an e-mail roundtable with writers from Sports Illustrated and Golf Magazine. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.

1. Every year, we like to speculate about the most likely suspect to supplant Tiger Woods. But as 2014 approaches with Woods in the top spot, THREE players -- Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson and Rory McIlroy -- look like the main contenders. Of them, who do you think will have the best year?

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): It's got to be Rory. When he's right, he's got the total game. Remember, the main reason Tiger got back to No. 1 this year is because Rory vanished without a trace until Sunday. Stenson historically is a streaky player, and Scott is not a great putter. Those two are capable of very good years, but Rory has potentially great years in him.

Joe Passov, senior editor, courses and travel, Golf Magazine (@joepassov): Tough call, but I'll go with Adam Scott. He's had some painful losses, but he seems to handle everything with grace and calm, and comes right back the next week and contends. He's at or near the top every week and with his Masters victory, the proverbial monkey is off his back. Until he's forced to abandon his present putting method, I see him having him several more monster years.  

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@AlanShipnuck): I need to see a bit more consistency out of Rory to put him on a level with the other two. I can imagine Stense winning four or five tourneys, but with Scott playing better in the majors -– he’s turning into a real big-game hunter. So it could lead to the kind of debate we had this year, weighing season-long consistency vs. the import of majors. If I have to choose, I’ll say Scott.

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine (@CameronMorfit): I like Rory to bounce back in 2014. I think he'll win Tiger's tournament at Sherwood this week and keep going. He's going to be hungry and a little angry after the year he just had. 

Jeff Ritter, senior editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Group (@Jeff_Ritter): Just have a hunch Rory is going to bounce back in a big way. Scott and Stenson are two of the hottest players on the planet, but it's a cyclical game. Rory's year was a bust, but it's not like the talent disappeared. More wins are coming.

Josh Sens, contributing writer, Golf Magazine (@JoshSens): McIlroy. With Stenson distracted by his part-time radio host duties and Scott rattled by the news of Stevie Williams' part-time retirement, how could either of them possibly compete? Seriously, though, I'm a believer in the bounce-back effect, and I expect McIlroy to enjoy it.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I think Stenson. Overall, I just think there's less pressure on him than the other two, meaning he might have a better chance of getting out of his own way. Sounds like a good theory until you have to make the shots down the stretch. 

2. Rory McIlroy came from four shots back to capture the Australian Open, birdieing the 18th to win by one over Adam Scott. How much do we make of Rory's win -- and how much do we make of Scott's sloppy bogey on the 18th to lose?

BAMBERGER: Closing has always been hard for Scott -- it's part of his DNA. McIlroy's win just has a great sound to it: the Australian Open. He won a great national championship. Two down, many to go. I've been lucky enough to caddie in national championships for the United States, Canada, Spain, France, Italy, Scotland, Great Britain, Ireland and some others. There's a little something extra there.

PASSOV: Nobody should declare that Rory's ready to ascend to No. 1 until there's evidence he can do this again fairly regularly on big occasions -- but this win is huge. This wasn't some T2 at the Texas Open. This was a 65 in a significant national Open against the game's hottest player on his home turf. This has to be a massive dose of confidence for Rory, which might be enough to catapult him back to rarified air. Scott didn't hit a great shot into 18, but it wasn't a miss, either. He got a bad bounce into a worse spot, then hit a semi-horrendous chip. Admittedly, it was a tough shot, but he never should have been down there. Not much to criticize about Scott. He was one unlucky bounce away from an Aussie Triple Crown.  

SHIPNUCK: Well, it’s massive for Rory … and golf. This has to free him up, and it propels him into the new year with such a different mindset. We know the kid’s streaky -- it would be awesome to see him rip off a few more wins here so we know he is, in fact, back. Per Scott, fatigue (mental, physical, spiritual) was probably a factor, so I’m not inclined to make too much of it. His run down in Oz was truly awesome. But to blow the triple crown on the last hole does reveal that he’s not quite yet a ruthless closer we can always count on.

RITTER: It's continues Rory's recent trend of improved play and offers more evidence that he's coming out of the fog. Not worried about Scott -- he's a deserving No. 2 in the world right now.

MORFIT: Scott's many misses with the putter were a reflection of the caliber of player chasing him. As for what we should read into this, I don't normally put much stock in the Australian Open, but I think with everything that's gone down, it's a big deal for Rory. He really needed a win. 

VAN SICKLE: Rory was able to swipe the title because Scott couldn't hole any big putts and because he made the one mistake he couldn't make on 18, and that's hit it long. There, he's on a tight downhill lie chipping back uphill to a pin behind a slope. A bump-and-run chip might've been a better choice, but the real problem was, you can't hit it there. I'd call it a mental mistake as much as anything. 

SENS: The sensible answer is "not too much." But since hyperbole is more fun, let's say it's a sign of doom for Scott, who will soon be on the road to Ian Baker Finch-ville, and an indication that McIlroy is poised for a meteoric rise back to No. 1.

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