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Tour Confidential: Rory McIlroy's SI Cover, Should Tiger Make the Ryder Cup Team, and Who Will Win PGA's Long-Drive Contest?

Rory McIlroy
Thomas Lovelock/SI
Rory McIlroy was the first golfer not named Tiger Woods to appear on the cover of SI in more than three years.

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. 2014 British Open champion Rory McIlroy made the cover of Sports Illustrated last week, the first non-Tiger SI cover since McIlroy won the 2011 U.S. Open. Where does pro golf currently stand in the American sports firmament? Is there more, less or the same interest in golf as there was before Tiger Woods won the 1997 Masters?

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Way less. Bring back Hubert Green, John Mahaffey, Lou Graham. Golf needs closers. Golf needs hungry players. Also Twitter is killing golf. Our whole society is on speed.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): Golf has greater exposure than ever before thanks to Golf Channel and the PGA Tour's television contracts. Does more exposure lead to more interest? I don't know. With some runaway majors this year, interest in golf seems like it's down, just as golf participation is. Is that because of Tiger, because of fantasy football and fantasy baseball, computer gaming or some combination of assorted factors? But my gut answer is interest is less.

Eamon Lynch, managing editor, Golf.com (@eamonlynch): I'll redirect this question to older colleagues with kids: back in 1997, were you at risk of being considered a piss poor parent if you didn't attend your 5-year-old's every sports game? That seems the case today, and that decreased leisure time robs the game of casual fans. Core fans remain committed, however, so I'm not subscribing to the doom-and-gloom scenarios being painted this week. Perhaps the game isn't measurably better off, but I'm unconvinced that it is significantly worse off.

Mike Walker, Assistant Managing Editor, Golf.com (@michaelwalkerjr): Golf feels less central to American sporting life than it used to be. Hogan and Palmer appeared on the cover of Life and Time, not just SI. Part of that’s the rise of soccer and extreme sports, part of that’s the noise of modern life. But the game still belongs just outside the big four of football, basketball, baseball and hockey. The Masters is one of the premier events on the sports calendar and Tiger’s 2008 U.S. Open Monday playoff victory affected Wall Street trade volume.

Josh Sens, contributing writer, Golf Magazine (@JoshSens): Toward the bottom of the top 10, after football, baseball, basketball, auto racing, tennis and hockey -- well above badminton but not so distant from bowling and MMA. But its hold on the general public is stronger than it was pre-Tiger. The Eldrick bump was powerful enough that we're still enjoying its residuals.

Jeff Ritter, senior editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Group (@Jeff_Ritter): Golf won't bump the NFL off its pedestal, but there's more interest now than in March '97, and it's still largely thanks to Tiger, even as he fades into his twilight. Look at the prize money. Look at the equipment. Look at the companies involved (Nike!). Look at Golf Channel. Look at the Olympics. Look at (cough, cough) the websites. He's taken the game to new heights, and even as courses close and ratings sag, golf is still bigger now than pre-Tiger.

Joe Passov, senior editor, Golf Magazine (@joepassov): I'm guessing less interest now than in the pre-Tiger days..or at least less momentum. Back in the early (pre-Tiger) '90s, golf was already gaining steam via the cool factor. Rock stars and athletes (think Alice Cooper, Michael Jordan) were going public with their obsession for the game, equipment innovations from companies such as Callaway (Big Bertha) and TaylorMade (Burner Bubble) were attention-getters and the economy was humming along, providing for spectacular new courses to emerge, along with new golfers and others who had the time and money to play them. These days, not so much.

2. Jack Nicklaus said this week that Tiger Woods should “absolutely” be on the Ryder Cup team and that he expects Team USA captain Tom Watson to pick Woods. Do you think that Watson will pick Woods -- and do you think he should?

SENS: I don't think he will and I don't think he should. Even when he's been in form, Tiger's impact on the team has been mixed. Sweet in singles, but sour in partner play, and not just because of his losing record. How much time and energy has been expended over the years agonizing over who should be paired with Tiger? It's ridiculous, and though it may not be Tiger's fault, it's still bad for team chemistry. Give me a feisty squad like the Tiger-less one we had at Valhalla, where no individual seemed larger than whole.

LYNCH: There is no love lost between Woods and Watson, so this coy dance they're playing -- Tiger saying he wants to play, Tom saying he wants him if he's healthy -- is more entertaining than illuminating. I don't think Tiger's form right now (nor his past record) justifies a pick, but that could change quickly. In any event, Watson won't be listening to advice from the cheap seats. But I'm sure the suits at the PGA of America and NBC have some strong views on a potential Ryder Cup without Woods, and Watson will give those folks more of a hearing than he'd probably care to admit.

PASSOV: Yes, Woods should absolutely be on the Ryder Cup, and no, I'm not entirely sure that Watson will pick him. One the one hand, it's tough to pick a guy who's off by so much with the driver right now. On the other hand, Tiger Woods is still Tiger Woods. He's got two months to figure things out. I'm not passing final judgment on the state of his game based on six post-back surgery rounds. Also, it's match play. A few bad holes or poor shots doesn't hurt as much as in stroke play. Finally, this is Tiger. See what the TV ratings were for a Rory British Open win, without Tiger (or Phil) in contention? Dismal. Golf needs Tiger on every big stage right now, and that includes the Ryder Cup.

VAN SICKLE: Tiger has to show some form and have a high finish in the PGA or at Bridgestone. If Tiger doesn't do anything in either event, I think Watson has to take a pass on him. You want Tiger if he's still Tiger. We haven't seen enough to make a fair determination.

BAMBERGER: I think he won't and I think he shouldn't. Unless he wins somewhere between now and D-day, no way. He's not shown that he's close.

WALKER: 100 percent yes Watson should pick Tiger and 100 percent yes he will. I don’t understand why this is a debate. Tiger’s not in a slump, he’s recovering from back surgery. If the Ryder Cup was held last year, he’d be at the top of the qualifying list. By this September, he will be one of the 12 best American players. He belongs on the team for many reasons, but that’s the biggest.

RITTER: Watson started hedging at Hoylake when he said he'd pick Tiger with the caveat that Woods show well in his upcoming events and qualify for the FedEx Cup. Tiger didn't do Tom any favors when he said he's ready to go and that Watson should pick him, but I think Watson now has it right: No free rides. Not even for Tiger.

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