Every week of the 2010 PGA Tour season, the editorial staff of the SI Golf Group will conduct an e-mail roundtable. Check in on Mondays for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.
MCILROY WINS QUAIL HOLLOW. HOW GOOD CAN HE BE?
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I never saw this coming. I thought Tiger would contend, and he missed the cut. I thought Phil would ease his way back in, tapering like a swimmer for the U.S. Open, but he jumped right in with both feet after his Masters win. I thought the days of a Monday qualifier contending were pretty much over, but Billy Mayfair pretty much did it.
Watch enough golf and you’ll see something you’ve never seen before, and millions saw it Sunday: the arrival of Mr. Rory McIlroy. It was breathtaking. It was the Tour before Tiger. Seven threes on the back nine! His game had seemed dull all year. It wasn’t really the back; it was the head. But in golf, as in life, one good thing will lead to another. And so I ask you, fellow golf heads: there are many things that make this 20-year-old golfer special. Tell me the trait that most captures you.
Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: The hair. Definitely the hair. Lost his mojo after he cut, but it’s back, and so is he.
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: I was most struck by his ability to finish, and to keep distancing himself from the field once he had the lead. The knock on him was that he looked shaky squandering a few early opportunities as a pro, but I recall that Tiger looked shaky when he gave it up to Ed Fiori at Quad City. Today felt like the dawn of a new era. I know that sounds like hyperbole, but we may look back at this week, with Woods missing the cut and Rory shooting 62 and Ryo Ishikawa shooting 58, as the passing of the torch. Mind-bending.
Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: I love his ballstriking. Every shot seems so crisp. And how about that approach from the bunker on 16 today? Game, set, match right there.
Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: How pure are the young man’s irons? Oh, what a sound. And who shoots 62 at Quail Hollow? On Sunday? With Phil chasing and A.K. in the same group? Magic is what that was. Only a handful of folks on the planet have a gear like that. Scary good.
Morfit: I’m very excited about what this could mean, assuming Rory’s back is okay. It could mean a lot, with ramifications all the way up to and including Tiger’s chances of winning five more majors. McIlroy’s blitz was so amazing it could easily inspire some of the other young guys to become even more fearless. Their boldness will come in handy when they come up against Woods, whenever it happens.
Herre: Agree, Cam. The emergence of a young player of McIlroy’s caliber could really change the landscape on the PGA Tour. Tiger is vulnerable. Whether he remains so is the big question.
Hack: Tiger said he looked forward to watching how it was done on the weekend.
Couldn’t have asked for a better exhibition.
Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Nobody will come close to what Tiger has done and will do, which is win a LOT more tournaments, including majors. Rory is a terrific talent, but Tiger is Tiger. And he’ll be back. The facts: Rory’s won twice in two-plus years as a pro. That’s awesome, but everybody needs a reality check on the New World Order ideas.
Gorant: Tiger won his 19th Tour start. He was 20 years old. Rory won his 18th Tour start, at 20 years old. The door is open.
Herre: I’m not talking about what Tiger has done. His legacy as a golfer is secure. I’m talking about what he might or might not do from this point forward.
Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Tiger’s vulnerability is going to give a lot of players more confidence. Gone are the days when Tiger’s name at or near the top of the leader board makes everybody else wilt.
Morfit: I agree with Rick that Woods can’t possibly be done at 34, but he sure looks like he has a lot of work to do. I’m looking forward to seeing how he gets his act together.
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Funny that Rory was paired with Anthony Kim, who had his own breakthrough on the same course. How fun will it be to watch these two go at it for the next 15 years? And I love Rory’s strut — like he owns the place. This week, he did.
Godich: He owned the weekend, anyway. He made the cut on the number. Talk about turning it around.
Morfit: First winner to make the cut on the number since Chris Couch in New Orleans like three or four years ago. That may be the first and last comparison between the two players.
Godich: Rory was three over par with three holes to play on Friday, two shots over the cut line. Then he eagled the seventh and parred the last two to make the cut on the number. We might look back at the seventh as the hole that jump-started a spectacular career.
Shipnuck: Or maybe his up-and-down on the 72nd hole to win in Dubai. It’s not like Rory wasn’t already a proven commodity. This takes him to another level, but the guy has been living in the top 10 in the World Ranking.
Morfit: He had five eagle putts on Saturday, the CBS guys told us more than once. The way he overpowers a golf course is certainly Tiger-like.
Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: What I like most about him is the fluidity of his golf swing. Like all the great swingers of the club, he gets all the speed through impact with perfect balance. His lines, as Faldo said all afternoon, are wonderful. He’s always right on plane and in a position at the top of the swing that is close to where Tiger had it back in 2000. There aren’t that many players out there with his caliber of golf swing.
Shipnuck: Fluidity is a good word for the young lad. He makes it look effortless. With a lot of these other guys — even top players — it looks the club is heavy and it’s work to swing it. Not Rors.
Evans: That’s because he’s the rare young player who’s also a swinger as well as a hitter. I don’t think you can be fearless with a golf club in your hands unless your swing is working on all cylinders. And most of these young guys — Dustin Johnson, Camilo Villegas, Anthony Kim — are big-time hitters of the golf ball, which gives the impression that they are fearless. But what all that power masks are some deep flaws.
Morfit: Tremendous balance. If that round doesn’t inspire A.K. to get his hand fixed and get back to full strength, I don’t know what will. I noted that he was somewhat muted in his reaction to McIlroy’s brilliance.
YOUNG GUNS’ CHANCES AT THE PLAYERS
Bamberger: Rory will play for a few quid, and his caddie, J.P. Fitzgerald, is the same way. I mention that only because Rory is one who can get on a roll and make golf so damn exciting, in the tradition of Phil, in the tradition of Palmer. Earlier this year his parents told me it was his confidence that he was struggling with most. It’s hard to stay that hot, but the Players just got more interesting, and it was interesting enough to begin with. Is there anybody in the 25-and-under crowd you like more than Rory at the Players? Who would that be and why?
Godich: I still like A.K. Yeah, he is hitting it all over the place, but his putting stroke is so smooth. He burned a lot of lips this week and still walked away with a top 10.
Shipnuck: I’ll stick with A.K. He was already my pick, and this week he showed he hasn’t lost his Augusta mojo.
Evans: Kim is playing well enough to contend, but the Players is a crapshoot.
Lipsey: Yeah, the Players has as many fluky or out-of-the-blue winners as it does top-shelf champions.
Gorant: They were saying on TV that Kim’s compensating for the injured thumb is starting to cause pain in other part of his body. He should play Sawgrass and then go under the knife before he hurts himself worse or messes up his swing.
Van Sickle: Kim should get the surgery now. Playing hurt can mess up your swing, not to mention other related body parts. Don’t wait, don’t play with fire. His whole future is ahead of him, as the late Curt Gowdy would say… if he wasn’t dead.
Morfit: Totally agree. I kept asking myself while I watched the final round, what is he waiting for? Get the surgery earlier, come back earlier. He has shot some huge numbers at Sawgrass in his early career, so it’s not like the place is perfect for him.
Shipnuck: It has nothing to do with not wanting to miss the Players. He doesn’t want to miss the majors. He’s playing so well he thinks he can pick one off. Maybe more than one. Surgery puts him out for three months. He’s trying to get through the Ryder Cup and then he’ll shut it down.
Hack: A.K.’s thumb doesn’t scare me as much as Rory’s balky back, long term.
Bamberger: Rory’s back will be fine, is my guess. He’ll lose the reverse C over time, he’ll get the stomach stronger, he’ll play less football (soccer). He’ll still drive fast, on the course and on the back roads.
Morfit: I’ll take Rory for the Players. When the hole looks that big to a guy, he’s just as likely to win back-to-back as anything.
Gorant: I like Fowler just as much. Hard to do it two weeks in a row, especially since Rory turns 21 on Tuesday and is throwing a big party for himself. Letdown is almost inevitable.
Hack: Fowler’s my dark horse Players pick. He’s played well all year, and I liked that closing 67 (though it was understandably lost in Rory’s hail of threes at the end).
Morfit: He’s gotta lose that orange outfit, though. Or mix it up a bit. Nothing against loud colors, but, uh, we’ve seen that particular ensemble.
Van Sickle: I’d like the orange outfit better with a white or black shirt and the rest all orange, but it’s eye-catching on TV and his new Sunday uniform is what we call building a brand. Keep it orange, Rickie. Could be a Creamsicle endorsement in your future.
Herre: If a kid like Fowler should win the Players, or maybe even A.K., what Cam has been saying about a changing of the guard will be the theme du jour heading into the U.S. Open and beyond.
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: The future is now for McIlroy and Ishikawa (the new Mr. 58). The future is soon for Fowler. Maybe for A.K., too, if he decides he really, really wants to be a great player. Hope he gets the surgery and it turns out well. He’s too bright a talent to lose.
Evans: Fowler is a swell guy, but he’s one of those types who’s going to have two or three bogeys a round along with six or seven birdies. So I don’t know about him being able to go really low like he may need to.
Van Sickle: Odd thing about Rickie is that he hasn’t really gotten the putter working like he did in college. He was a deadly chipper and putter, and that part of his game hasn’t been as sharp since he turned pro. If the putter heats up — and he just got a tip that he was standing too close to the ball, he told me today — he’ll contend to win this week. You can’t win without great putting. See Mr. Rors today.
TIGER’S SWING TROUBLES
Evans: Tiger Woods has to get his golf swing in order. Period. All the marital stuff has nothing to do with the way he played this week.
Shipnuck: Can’t say it’s had no effect. Missing two-footers, quitting, that’s mental and emotional fatigue. Obviously his swing’s a mess, but so is his life away from golf. That’s definitely going to show up between the ropes. Dude’s human, after all.
Lipsey: Does anybody really think that Tiger’s swing is in tatters? One week doesn’t change my opinion. We get way too caught up in the swing. Once his mind begins to clear, and his family gets sorted out, Tiger will roar back like the world economy. I bet Buffet would invest big-time in Tiger now, when everybody is questioning him. Be greedy when others are fearful.
Shipnuck: Rick, Tiger has now made more one-handed follow-throughs than George Brett.
Morfit: I do think his swing is in tatters. Geoff Ogilvy said at Quail that he wasn’t surprised by Tiger badly missing the cut, because his swing looked so off at Augusta.
Godich: You can’t overlook the notion that nobody fears Tiger as they once did. He’s not invincible any more, and everybody knows it, including Tiger. Until, of course, he proves otherwise.
Evans: Tiger’s rush to hit the golf ball on the downswing mirrors his approach to fixing his personal life. He just needs to slow down a little bit, all around.
Gorant: Maybe the new question for Tiger is: Who goes first, Elin or Hank?
Herre: Sounds like Elin has already left the building.
Morfit: I wonder how long Hank will stick around. He coached Woods to a lot of majors, but it seems like their relationship has run its course. Tiger looks so lost with the full swing that I think he needs to start over with a fresh set of eyes.
Shipnuck: How about no eyes? All he has to do is think about what Earl taught him and go play. Use the force, Luke, etc.
Van Sickle: I already wrote my thoughts on Tiger, but I thought I saw him experimenting with some iron shots, getting a little more upright like the Tiger of old a few times, though his tee shots were usually the same Haney plane. Maybe I imagined that, but I think he’s got swing issues and no answers. There was no mention or sign of Hank this week even when Tiger was talking about how poorly he played. I think that’s telling.
WHAT’S WRONG WITH TIGER?
Bamberger: Let’s address the cause of Tiger’s problems. Do you see the shocking golf as rooted in his personal life, his physical health, a swing that’s out-of-sorts — surely it’s a combo platter, but what’s the No. 1 issue for him? I’m voting for home, and all that must be going on there. I just don’t know how you could do good work on the road when there’s so much turmoil.
Godich: The swing isn’t what it used to be. He knows it, but he’s not sure what to do next. It’s probably time to move on from Hank, but where does he go next? Certainly not back to Butch, who has to be quietly be enjoying this.
Morfit: I agree with Michael. The way his life has gone since November, it’s a wonder he hasn’t checked himself into someplace for exhaustion, or simply disappeared to a remote island location. He’ll work out the golf over time, somehow. He always does.
Gorant: Hard to separate. If he didn’t have all the home trouble, I think his game would be in better shape, obviously. But even if everything was perfect at home, I still think he’d be struggling with his ballstriking. He hit six fairways in Charlotte, and he didn’t do much better in Augusta, especially on the weekend.
Shipnuck: Tiger has always been a master of compartmentalization. I think the swing and the home life are both big factors. Easier to fix the swing.
Hack: Not sure who said it first, but when the mind suffers, the body cries out.
Tiger’s wife and two small children are gone, and it’s because of him. I don’t care how mentally tough you are, that’s going to weigh on a person — and a golf swing.
Evans: Tiger is a self-centered golfer who has already turned the corner on his personal life. He can’t right things with his wife. Tiger is trying to heal himself and his ego by winning golf tournaments. That’s what makes him happy. We’re trying to write a narrative that he doesn’t care about being a part of.
Shipnuck: Easy, turbo. Tiger can always find another woman — clearly — but I believe it’s very important to him to be a good father, and he was quite moving at Augusta talking about how much it hurt to miss his boy’s first birthday. I’m sure it’s tearing him up, what all of this means for his future with his kids.
RYO ISHIKAWA’S 58, AND HIS FUTURE
Shipnuck: Can we get a little love for Ryo? I would think a 58 to win would merit some mention in this conversation.
Godich: With pars on the last two holes, no less!
Herre: What do we know about the course?
Gorant: 6,545 yards, par 70.
Herre: So, not up to PGA Tour standards.
Godich: You are tough!
Evans: A 58 is a 58, no matter the course.
Hack: Agreed. Nobody else is throwing around 58s in professional (or otherwise) golf tournaments.
Morfit: I can’t believe he’s not in the Players field. What’s up with that? Seems like that tournament, with all its boasting about strength of field, would have to have Ishikawa, especially after the 58.
Bamberger: In the Players field or not, attention must be paid to a 58. I think it approaches what Rory did at Quail. What are your thoughts on the kid and his future? Have you seen anything that makes you not a believer?
Morfit: I was on the first tee at Harding Park when Ryo was playing a team match against Tiger and Stricker in the Presidents Cup last fall. It was captain’s pick Ishikawa’s first action of the week, so naturally there was curiosity about how he would react. When he followed Tiger’s long, straight drive with his own slightly longer, straight drive, then signaled to Greg Norman that all was good, I became a believer.
Evans: An exhibition made you a believer?
Morfit: No love for the P-Cup!
Shipnuck: His game and demeanor make me a believer. I’ve watched him at Augusta and Riv, too.
Evans: Ishikawa is a good young player. But he’s got to win in the U.S. for me to place any bets on him. Rory got over that hurdle today.
Hack: He’s 18. He just shot 58. I don’t care if it’s on the dark side of the moon, that’s unheard of and something to be cherished. We’ll see how he holds up here in due time. Something tells me he’ll be fine.
Shipnuck: He kicked butt at the Prez Cup. That was in the U.S.
Godich: Not the same, as you know. Think of all those Euros who played lights out in the Ryder Cup over the years. They went right back into oblivion.
Shipnuck: True. Sort of. But they didn’t have three dozen photogs chronicling their every swing at age 17. Ryo’s more or less pressure proof at this point.
Bamberger: To generalize, the Euros who kicked butt in Stateside Ryder Cup play were big-time talents: Langer, all the Spaniards, Faldo, Paddy. Ryo at Harding might have been a real look at him.
Godich: What about guys like Paul McGinley and David Gilford?
AI MIYAZATO WINS AS LORENA OCHOA EXITS
Hack: Pretty strong day for Japanese golf.
Evans: It was her third win of the year. I have to say, Miyazato is the best women’s player in the world.
Shipnuck: Yeah, Ryo’s not even the best player in Japan right now.
Gorant: Bummer for Lorena. After Shin won overseas, Ochoa needed to finish fifth or better to go out atop the world rankings. She finished sixth.
Bamberger: That was a GREAT event in Mexico this week for the LPGA, and the total purse was about what Rory won at Quail. Do you think Lorena ever experienced the thrill Rory did today, the lustiness of the fans, the thrill of the roll, the big-timeness of it all? I’m guessing not, or she might never have walked away. Everyday life cannot give you what Rory experienced today, as Arnold Palmer and Nancy Lopez and others could tell us.
Shipnuck: You shoulda been at the Dinah that Lorena won. Plunging into the lake with her family, to the accompaniment of mariachis? Pretty damn lusty!
Bamberger: Good point, Alan. That Dinah event, along with the U.S. Open and the Solheim, gives the LPGA three superb events. Charlotte figured out that a great event comes from within. The Players never really had enough confidence to figure out the same thing.
Hack: Lorena felt those things. She dove into Poppy’s pond. She won the maiden St. Andrews Women’s British Open in long sleeves. I think she walks away a woman in full, with no regrets.
Bamberger: That’s a really nice way to put it, Damon, and I hope you’re right. She deserves it — one of golf’s special people, and too brief a heyday for my selfish purposes.