Every Sunday night, Golf.com 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. Tiger Woods withdrew from the Bridgestone Invitational on his ninth hole Sunday after jarring his back, three months after having back surgery, which he described as “way more debilitating than I thought.” So why did he come back so soon, and what’s next for Woods -- this year and in the future?
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@AlanShipnuck): That's how Woods is wired, and his biological clock is ticking. He'll be 40 next year, so rushing back to play two major championships on courses where he'd won before made a certain amount of sense, especially knowing that worst case he could shut it down for six months and then try to patch himself up for next year's Masters. Of course, if this is a major setback that carries deep into next year, then the plan failed. Going forward, this is the new reality for Tiger. He's always going to be fighting his body.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: After the five wins last year, I thought Tiger was going to have a monster year this year, no matter how poorly he drove it. As I always am with Tiger, I was wrong. A back is a golfer's engine. He'll figure out a way to make a swing, just as Trevino did, and he'll win again, I would think, but from here on out my guess is it will be only when everything aligns just right for him. That and $4 will get you a small coffee.
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): Only Tiger can answer why. I've said repeatedly that three months was too soon to return from back surgery. Is Tiger's newest injury related to his surgery? We don't know yet. Obviously, Tiger didn't want to let this year go to waste especially with two major venues -- Hoylake and Valhalla -- that he'd won at. Tiger needs to get healthy, first and foremost. If that means skipping the PGA, the FedEx Cup and the Ryder Cup, that's what he needs to do.
Josh Sens, contributing writer, Golf Magazine (@JoshSens): I’m not a doctor. I just play one on this forum. But the awkward moment from the bunker’s edge did not look too awful, so let’s say, after looking through rose-colored glasses at his MRI, that his withdrawal was a precautionary measure to protect his chances of playing in the PGA Championship. I’m also not a psychiatrist, but even an armchair one can diagnose Tiger with a case of hyper-competitiveness. Throw in his surly, stubborn eagerness to prove the doubters wrong, and he was destined to come back almost as soon as he could make a shoulder turn. Lastly, I’m no fortuneteller, but you don’t need a crystal ball to perceive that Tiger is an aging, ailing great who has changed to a swing that does him no favors. I foresee no more majors for him, unless he goes back to Butch.
Eamon Lynch, managing editor, Golf.com (@eamonlynch): If he doesn’t play the PGA -- and that seems unlikely given his obvious discomfort Sunday -- then U.S. golf fans probably won’t see him until Torrey Pines next year. For more than six years, Tiger has been collecting scars at the pace he once collected majors: ACL, Achilles, bulging disk and recurring back issues. Two factors make it reasonable to wonder if he is finished as a dominant force: his physical frailty and his unreliable swing. Even before he tweaked his back, his play was woeful. It may take longer to fix the swing than the back, and at almost 39 he doesn’t have many prime years left.
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine (@CameronMorfit): I would guess he came back too soon because he's been able to perform superhuman feats in the past (with a club in his hand) and figured this was just one more way he was above average. To some extent every world-class athlete has to believe that. What's next is very likely shutting it down for the rest of 2014.
Jeff Ritter, senior editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Group (@Jeff_Ritter): The majors set up so well for Tiger this year, it had to be a driving force in his rushed return. As for what's next, judging by the way he was carted out of there, he's likely hit his last competitive shot of 2014. When Woods returns, the pressure to bag major No. 15 will be just as intense, and the odds of him pulling it off will be slightly worse thanks to Father Time and the continued emergence of so many young and talented competitors. For Woods, Sunday looked like a surreal ending to a lost season.
Joe Passov, senior editor, Golf Magazine (@joepassov): Tiger has always been stronger than most, and superhuman when it comes to pain tolerance. Maybe he thought he was ready, maybe he felt he was close -- close enough to attempt to play at Congressional (Quicken Loans), the Tour stop that supports the Tiger Woods Foundation. Did he come back too soon? Perhaps. But can any of us say for sure? I don't know the extent of his immediate injuries, so I can't predict what's next. I just wish he wouldn't go at it so gonzo on funky lies.
Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated (@MarkGodich): Returning three months after major back surgery raised eyebrows, but this is a man who's on a desperate quest to catch Jack. Is anybody surprised that Tiger's having issues? I think it's safe to say that we've seen the last of him in 2014. Backs are tricky, so who knows when he'll be back. What we do know is that Tiger turns 39 in December. And he'll be an old 39 at that.
2. Rory McIlroy overtook Sergio Garcia in an exciting final-round duel to win the Bridgestone Invitational. Is McIlroy just on a hot streak or are we watching the emergence of the game’s next dominant star?
VAN SICKLE: Rory has shown that his best golf is dominant. He hasn't shown the consistency of Tiger, but who has in the history of golf besides Nicklaus and a few others? Rory is your No. 1 player for the years to come. Who's going to challenge him? I don't see it right now. It'll probably be someone who's 14 right now.
LYNCH: Both. Today we saw the sad decline of the once king, and the inexorable rise of his successor.
PASSOV: He's approaching GOAT status on soft, windless courses, isn't he? Two or three years ago, we labeled him the same way -- absolute "can't-miss." That Sam Snead swing, so smooth and yet so powerful, was going to rule the golf world. It did, for a brief period, and then the real world intervened. However, he's made some tough, but heady decisions since then, and we may be seeing the successful results. Due to his length off the tee and his ability to put it in play when it matters, it's likely we're witnessing the next long-term No. 1 in our midst. Of course, I said that back in 2012. Let's just give him a little breathing room this time and see how it unfolds.
RITTER: McIlroy has always been streaky, but this feels a little different than his first charge to No. 1, doesn't it? McIlroy's driving has reached a new level, and no one can match him when he's at the top of his game. He's clearly the star of this new era.
GODICH: Rory is on a hot streak, all right. It's the kind of hot streak that the best player in the game gets on. Get used to it. I'd say he's just getting warmed up.
BAMBERGER: I am amazed by what McIlroy did at Firestone. I really thought he'd have an Open hangover. He's not on a hot streak. If he continues to drive it as he has been, no course is more than a par-69 for him.
MORFIT: Next star for sure. Glad to see things settling down in Rory's life and his talent re-emerging. Funny thing: No one I spoke to this morning thought Sergio would win, despite his three-shot lead. Says a lot about both guys.
SENS: He’s hot, but we knew this was coming. His recent romp only qualifies as an “emergence” if we’re measuring in geologic time. The guy won his second major two years ago, and greatness was forecast for him more than a decade before that.
SHIPNUCK: Both. Rory is the guy, and will be for the next two decades, unless he gets hurt, bored or marries the wrong woman. But he's always going to be streaky, and this is one of those molten periods.