Tour Confidential: Rory McIlroy’s killer instinct at PGA, more Phil Mickelson drama, and will Tiger Woods win another major?

Rory McIlroy
Getty Images
Rory McIlroy hits his tee shot on the 12th hole Sunday during the final round of the PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club.

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. Rory McIlroy won the PGA Championship, making up a three-shot deficit in the final nine holes for his third straight win. (The other two? The Open Championship and the Bridgestone Invitational.) What did you learn about McIlroy at Valhalla this week?

Joe Passov, senior editor, Golf Magazine (@joepassov): What I learned about Rory is that for all of his nice-guy persona, he actually is a nice guy -- a nice guy with killer instinct, an ability to handle expectations and a talent for fighting back that is as good as golf has seen since Tiger in his prime.

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine (@CameronMorfit): McIlroy showed he can gut it out even when he's not in possession of his A+ game, as he wasn't this week. I suspected all week that he was tired from the events of the last month, and he just admitted it in his lengthy winner's press conference. He said he was physically worn out, and flat for the first six holes Sunday, and all of it made him appreciate what Tiger did for all those years. Rory willed himself to victory here, and it was impressive considering how bad he looked at times. 

PHOTO GALLERY: Check Out the Best SI Shots of Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler and Phil Mickelson From the PGA Championship at Valhalla

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: He's living in a cocoon of golf and it's working.

Eamon Lynch, managing editor, (@eamonlynch): That he can win from behind against a heavyweight field in vexing circumstances. In the long term this could be his most meaningful win, because he's surely going to be in tight major championship finishes with accomplished opponents more often than he strolls to comfortable wins.

Jessica Marksbury, associate editor, Golf Magazine (@Jess_Marksbury): I learned how gritty he can be. We saw a glimpse of that at Royal Liverpool, where he had to work a bit to win a major he wasn't going to run away with. But today was different. Rory trailed by three shots at one point and he was simply determined not to let this final round get away from him. He persevered where the other contenders faltered. His confidence never seemed to wane. It was an awesome performance.

Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated (@MarkGodich): Rory showed some serious guts. He didn't have it early on in the final round, but he hung in there. Then he turned the round around with the second shot into the par-5 10th, setting up the eagle. And kudos to him for admitting that wasn't the shot he was intending to play, as well as saying how lucky he was the tee shot on 18 didn't go in the water. So candid. So refreshing.

Jeff Ritter, senior editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Group (@Jeff_Ritter): He's become an even better closer than we realized. Rory's first two major victories were runaways. His third was fairly comfortable. This one was a blood quest. He didn't have his best form Sunday, but he pulled off the shots when he needed them. It was the grittiest win of his career.

Josh Sens, contributing writer, Golf Magazine (@JoshSens): That he’s got an extra gear he can slip into that, in the coming years, is going to leave a lot of talented guys settling for second.

2. Phil Mickelson went from totally lost to totally awesome in just a week. For Mickelson, was this PGA a welcome sign of a turnaround or a lost opportunity to burnish his legend with a sixth major?

BAMBERGER: It added to his legend. By allowing Rory to drive on 18, it set up one of the oddest and most interesting finishes ever.

RITTER: You'd have to say it was a lost opportunity, given that he had a piece of the lead on the back nine on Sunday. Phil's legend is already secure, but this one would've been his wildest, zaniest and Mickelsoniest victory of them all. He gave it a great run.

MORFIT: He played so well, I hesitate to call it a lost opportunity. Even though he made a sloppy bogey or two this week he really didn't give this away at all, since he never got to 16 under. He's got to take it as a positive, and a sign that he's on the verge of another victory somewhere in the near future. I know Tom Watson is taking it as a positive sign.

GODICH: Phil shot four rounds in the 60s and 67-66 on the weekend. He didn't lose this tournament. Rory won it. The best thing Phil can do is take this momentum with him to the Ryder Cup and put the U.S. team on his back. I think he will. 

LEADERBOARD: Final Scores From the PGA Championship

LYNCH: Both. For a few hours Mickelson conjured the magic that has been sorely absent this season. But he was also the frustratingly familiar Phil of old, the one who couldn't find fairways when it mattered most and who watched par putts slide by late on Sunday. And at 44, who knows if this was his last charge at a major? This one will hurt.

PASSOV: Welcome sign of a turnaround for Phil. Was anybody really worried? Despite his lousy year, he has always proved that when he's fully engaged, he can turn on a dime. He played incredibly well, and it was fantastic to have him in the mix.

SENS: Both. He’s got to be pleased to have shaken off the slump. But can a player like Phil, after being in the hunt all day, really be satisfied with second place?

MARKSBURY: A little of both. Phil was coming on so strong through the front nine that I thought he may challenge the low score of the week, but then he lost some momentum. Had he kept his energy and adrenaline up, I think he may have subdued Rory's late charge a bit. But when you think of where his season was before this week, his performance is certainly a huge bright spot and a very welcome turnaround. I'm so disappointed the major season is over!

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