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Rory McIlroy, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and the Hulkster in the Van Cynical Mailbag

The PGA Championship avoided a Monday conclusion - barely.
Fred Vuich / SI
The PGA Championship avoided a Monday conclusion - barely.

Second thoughts in the wake of the PGA Championship at Valhalla, the first major championship played at night…

Rory McIlroy’s attempts to deflect talk about his career arc that so far is on par with a young Jack Nicklaus -- four majors before age 26 -- are yet one more reason to like the guy. Rory knows it’s there, he knows where he is and yet he’s still humble enough that he’s a little embarrassed being compared to Jack or Tiger already. Also, it’s a headache and a distraction that he doesn’t need. By the way, only eight months until the Masters

Is Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson really going to consider Tiger Woods for one of his three wild-card picks? Watson said he was in a post-PGA press conference Monday morning but his comments suggested more questions.

Woods isn’t healthy, obviously. How long will it take him to get healthy? And his lack of reps was evident even in Akron before his back flared up. Tiger’s game was not sharp.

Even if Tiger is added to the team, it seems unlikely he would play more than one session per day given his back surgery. With that kind of limitation, how much sense does he make as a pick? Barring a rapid turnaround, Woods isn’t looking like a pick…

Ditto for former PGA champ Jason Dufner. He’s got bulging disks in his back, tried to play at Valhalla and lasted only nine holes. He’s got the same problem as Tiger. First he’s got to get healthy, no small feat, and then he’s got to get his game back in a short amount of time.

And, like Tiger, Dufner would likely be only a one-session-a-day guy. Plus the threat of re-injury makes both of them potentially risky picks…

Valhalla was the second time this decade that the PGA of America failed to react to weather issues by moving the final-round tee times up. Even a 20-minute bump would’ve gotten the leaders done in relative daylight instead of the controversial Let-‘em’-hit-up finish. Of course, CBS and the PGA want that 7 o’clock finish to grab a little piece of prime-time audience.

Allowing McIlroy and Bernd Wiesberger to hit tee balls on the 18th was standard courtesy on the PGA Tour so the twosome would have the option to finish if play was called. Allowing them to hit to the green before Rickie Fowler and Phil Mickelson played out was against normal protocol and caught Fowler and Mickelson by surprise. I don’t think they would’ve said yes if they’d been asked about letting Rory hit to the green before they putted out. Both players said it was no big deal but they weren’t convincing and appeared to be letting the PGA of America off the hook. The dark finish never should have happened, just like that Monday finish at Baltusrol when Mickelson won never should have happened but the PGA of America didn’t consider moving the tee times earlier.

At best, the PGA had less than a 90-minute window of daylight for a three-hole playoff or any kind of delay. They finished this one only because players were practically jogging to the next tees on the back nine and because of the jury-rigged faux foursome at the end. Twice burned…

One more question about that twilight finish. If McIlroy hadn’t had a comfortable two-shot lead, would he still have been in a rush to play the 18th? If he was only one shot ahead, or even tied, would he have been as willing to play those crucial shots in the dark?

And if Tiger Woods was in the group ahead instead of Phil, would he have agreed to do anything to help the guy in the last group he’s trying to beat? We’ll never know…

I prefer to avoid picking on the TV golf talking heads but here was Nick Faldo’s call when Phil Mickelson holed a clutch 30-foot par putt at the 12th hole Sunday: “Holy shockeroonie sauce!”

Sorry, Sir, I’ll take Ray Romano’s “Sweet sassy molassy!” trademark phrase in the Saturday Night Live SportsCenter spoof over that mouthful any time. Or as Will Farrell once offered, “Holy tornado!”…

The most discouraging rumor making the pressroom rounds last week was that Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course may be a candidate for the 2021 PGA. It famously held the 2012 PGA, also won by Rory, that featured three- and four-hour shuttle rides for fans thanks to miles-long bottlenecks on the one road to Kiawah Island. Funny, CBS and Snoopy One never managed to get a shot of that snarled traffic on the air. The Ocean Course is nobody’s favorite place to play, it’s not a great spectator course because of the many holes where fans were allowed on only one side of the fairway, and there’s the traffic disaster.

The PGA could make it work as a major venue but only if it doesn’t park cars on Kiawah Island. Park the cars on the mainland and send fans in on shuttle buses from there, keeping the island road clear. What went wrong in 2012 was the on-island parking. Some of the PGA’s corporate friends wanted that parking revenue—at $25 per car, it might’ve added up to $1.5 million by the end of the week, but allowing the public to drive onto the island on one road gridlocked everything. The Ocean Course again? Just say no…

Let’s go to the Van Cynical Mailbag:

Van Cynical, Can a Ryder Cup captain have more points than one of his players (Tiger)? And any reason not to expect a Euro blowout on the order of 17-11 or 18-10? -- Rick Fisher via Twitter

He could, Fish Bait, but I don’t think it’s going to happen this year. I see Tiger better-served getting his back issues straightened out. As for a blowout, it does seem logical, doesn’t it? Yet the Ryder Cup is practically a putting contest and its very setup is designed for a close competition. Big deal, so the Euros have Rory, Martin Kaymer and Henrik Stenson. The U.S. has Jimmy Walker, Patrick Reed and Zach Johnson. Wait, that sounded better in my head than it looks on paper.

Cynical One, The emperor is wearing no clothes. You can’t beat the captain in the last two majors, it’s time to shut it down. Your thoughts? -- Michael (Mannix) O’Connor

Time to shut down, yes, unless that emperor you’re talking about is Kim Kardashian. In which case, it’s party time!!

Vans, What concerns Tom Watson more -- Jason Dufner’s neck or Tiger’s back? Has to be Dufner, right? -- Bob Ashley via Twitter

I don’t know, Bobber. Right now, they both look like pretty easy decisions. Why saddle up a pair of broken-down palominos when the stable is loaded with healthy Clydesdales? Which reminds me -- beer me, Marge.

Vans, The PGA was more evidence that the USGA philosophy for majors is wrong-headed and in need of a serious rethink. -- Lionel Mandrake via Twitter

I vote You for USGA president, Train Magician. I’ve been saying and writing for years that the lower the winning score in a major, the better the quality of the winner and the leaderboard. Valhalla proved that point again. Any major where the course is stupid hard and birdies are by accident leads to offbeat winners such as Ben Curtis, Paul Lawrie and Shaun Micheel, to name three recent examples. With even small guys like Rory blasting it 340 off the tee, par is pretty much 68 everywhere anymore. Without weather or too much trickery, -12 ought to be the winning score. I am birdie, hear me roar.

Van Cynical, I’m tired of the pro game being a mockery because of how far they hit the ball. Rory carried the ball over 320 and made Firestone look like an executive length course. Ditto for Valhalla. Any chances the USGA stuffed shirts will ever have enough hutzpah to do something about distance? -- SoCal Phil via Twitter

Doubtful. The Shirts are still in denial about the problem. Hey, Shirts, did you see 5-foot 10-inch Rory McIlroy drive a 436-yard par 4 during the Scottish Open? Oh, didn’t think so. If two-fisted Walter Driver didn’t lead a charge against technology, it’s never going to happen. Bring on the 300-yard par 3s.

Sickle, USA wins the Ryder Cup if Captain Tom Watson plays Hulk Hogan’s theme music before every match, right? -- Brian Bailey via Twitter

Isn’t the old Hulkster about 80 by now, Bail Money? What’s his theme music, something by Glenn Miller’s Orchestra? If we’re going music, we’ve gotta go slightly more contemporary but hey, I don’t think inspirational tunes are going to make a difference with the U.S. team members “dropping like flies” in Watson’s own words. Maybe the underdog role is exactly what a U.S. team needs. Hey, it’s always darkest before the dawn—well, that and the finish of a PGA in Louisville.

Van Sickle, Golf should start earlier, anyway. I never understood the 3 p.m. start. -- George C via Twitter

Couldn’t agree more, George, but it’s all about the greed. The later the finish, the more expensive the commercial buy-in as prime time nears. It’s too bad even major championships are now TV shows first, golf tournaments second. The Valhalla shot-in-the-dark finish proved that yet again.

Van Cynical, Does Rickie Fowler get to play every match at the Ryder Cup? -- Brian Bailey via Twitter

Yes. He’s going to go all out for the U-S-A and the red, white and orange.

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