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Tour Confidential: Would a conservative Phil Mickelson win more tournaments?

Phil Mickelson
Associated Press
Phil Mickelson's daredevil approach cost him two strokes in Sunday's final round.

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. Phil Mickelson starts his year with an impressive T2 at Abu Dhabi, but he had the lead on Sunday and mucked up the 13th hole with a double-hit, triple bogey from a bush. Everyone loves Mickelson’s go-for-broke style, but would he win more if he took a more conservative approach?

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: He would have fewer wins. A golfer has to be true to himself. His aggressive play has cost him some, won him more and made life more interesting.

Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated (@MarkGodich): For every questionable play that Phil makes, there's at least one spectacular shot that leads to victory. I'm thinking pine straw, 13th hole, Augusta National, 2010 Masters.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): That's just Phil being Manny, to mix up an old saying. But saying Phil would win more if he played more conservatively is like saying Mickey Mantle could've hit for a higher average if he hadn't swung for the fences. Phil swings for the fences. People love that about him. Phil's the football coach who goes for it on fourth-and-1 on his own 27. That's who he is.

Josh Sens, contributing writer, Golf Magazine (@JoshSens): Phil's swashbuckling persona makes a fun storyline, but I think the impact of his "aggressiveness" has been overstated in both his wins and losses. Phil has won majors with the help of carefully devised strategies (two drivers; Phrankenwoods) and hot putting as much as he has won them with derring do. And he has lost them with poor swings (I'm thinking, among others, of the wedges at 13 and 15 on the back nine at Merion this past year) and sloppy putting as often as he has hurt himself with overly ballsy decisions. It's fun to have Freewheelin' Phil as a subplot, but I don't think it would stand up to in-depth statistical scrutiny to the extent that we are made to believe.

Joe Passov, senior editor, courses and travel, Golf Magazine (@joepassov): Much like Arnold Palmer in his prime, Mickelson wouldn't have had as much fun or be as motivated to play if he adopted a more conservative style -- and we certainly wouldn't have been as entertained. Could he have won another 20 tournaments and a U.S. Open or two playing it safe? Probably. But would he have won the 2010 Masters without pulling off stunts like his 6-iron from the pine straw between the trees? Probably not. It's hard to argue with 42 wins and five majors.

Jeff Ritter, senior producer, Sports Illustrated Golf Group (@Jeff_Ritter): Well, he probably would've won at least one of those U.S. Opens, but how many of his victories would have become near-misses with a different style? Phil's place as one of the game's best 10 or 15 players ever is secure. I want to see him keep going for broke from now until the day he retires.

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@AlanShipnuck): Maybe, maybe not. But for all of our sakes, I pray he doesn't. The guy is simply too entertaining, win or lose.

2. Rory McIlroy got slapped with an after-the-fact, two-stroke penalty for an illegal drop on Friday. A competitor's caddie reported it. McIlroy called the rule, about having to take complete relief, "stupid," but blamed himself. Are all of these arcane rules an integral part of what makes our game great, or are they an unnecessary impediment to enjoying and growing the game? Further, do you have a problem with the other player's caddie calling the incident to the attention of the officials?

SHIPNUCK: The caddie was helping Rory -- he was afraid the penalty might come to light later and Rory would be DQ'd. What's wrong with that? Pro golf needs a lot of rules because so many unusual things happen in the course of a tourney. But beginning golfers need only one rule: play the ball down. Understanding red and yellow stakes is helpful, but if you're not sure, just drop the ball close to the hazard and be done with it. Everything else is pretty much common sense.

PASSOV: I used to be enamored with the whole "golf-is-better-than-other-sports-because-we-call-penalties-on-ourselves" thing. Now I'm just tired of these endless rules snafus. Golf needs to re-write its rules, make them much simpler, and have everybody who plays be able -- and choose -- to follow them. Now, unlike the snitches that dial up tournament and Tour offices when they think they've seen something amiss on their high-def TVs, I have no issue with a guy who's a critical part of the action -- a caddie in your group -- reporting something he thought he saw.

GODICH: There are plenty of stupid rules in golf. That's no excuse not to know what they are -- especially with the money that's at stake. It continues to amaze me that so many players are so careless with the rules.

SENS: I don't think they are an impediment to growing the game because the average weekday golfer doesn't let rules minutiae stand in his/her way. Certainly not enough that it sours their experience. Pace of play, cost, inaccessability. Those are impediments to the people golf hasn't reached yet, and the people it has turned off. Sure, some rules could be modified, and the one that McIIroy got slapped with certainly seems like one of them. But on the whole they're not what diminish the game. As for the caddie, I suppose you could take the purist's defense, that he was upholding the integrity of the game. But given the details of the story, he comes off as a weenie.

VAN SICKLE: The main thing in golf is to get it right. If that means another caddie has to speak up or a TV viewer has to call in to get it right, so be it. Justice should be served. Some of golf's rules are stupid. They could and should be simplified. That said, Rory should know the rules to the T. Just like Tiger should. There's no excuse.

RITTER: Some rules are more arcane than others, but here's the thing: professional golfers need to know them. When they don't, these things happen. The free drop from the crosswalk exists solely to help the player, yet McIlroy botched it. There's no excuse. And I'm fine with anyone inside the ropes alerting rules officials to a potential violation. Players are too focused on themselves to catch everything.

BAMBERGER: It is a stupid rule, but it is not an obscure one for a Tour player. What the caddie did was the right thing to do, painful though it was all the way around. Rory won't make that mistake again, and maybe the rule -- which isn't really needed -- can be eliminated.

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