PGA Tour Confidential: Rory’s lost year, Tiger vs. Phil, and Presidents Cup picks

PGA Tour Confidential: Rory’s lost year, Tiger vs. Phil, and Presidents Cup picks

After four wins on tour last year, Rory McIlroy has yet to win a PGA Tour event in 2013.
Jim Rogash / Getty Images

Every Sunday night, conducts an email 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. Deutsche Bank Championship winner Henrik Stenson for “Comeback Player of the Year” and Rory McIlroy for “Biggest Disappointment.” Is anybody else even close in either category?

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: We could just give Erik Compton Comeback Player of the Year every year and feel pretty good about it. Rory is definitely Dud of the Year. Those who didn't see the folly in changing out every club in the bag, including the driver and the putter, plus the golf ball, should've learned something from this. Funny, haven't heard much from them lately.

Josh Sens, contributing writer, Golf Magazine: Hard to top Stenson. The man dropped his drawers during a tournament, then dropped to number 230 in the world. Now he seems to finish top 5 every time he tees it up. Yani Tseng started to unravel before this year, so her failure to return to form could also be seen as a disappointment. Given where she was and where she is now, she has probably fallen farther than McIlroy. But Rory deserves the label for the obvious headline-making reasons.

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: Rory has been a total bust in 2013 and it's rare to see a guy fall this far despite making no major swing changes and suffering no major injuries. So yeah, he's basically the 2013 Buzzkill Player of the Year. Trophy: a leaky rain suit. As for Stenson, I can't think of anyone else who has come back from the abyss like he has — except for Stricker, but that was ages ago, and surely a guy can't be comeback POY three times.

Mike Walker, senior editor, Golf Magazine: Stenson is Comeback Player of the Year, but fan favorite Boo Weekley has had made a great rebound in 2013 with a win at Colonial. And while Rory McIlroy has had a spectacular flameout this year, he’s only 24. At age 35, Luke Donald will never see a trio of major venues that set up for him as well as Merion, Muirfield and Oak Hill. He notched a T8 at Merion and missed the cut at Murifield and Oak Hill.

Jeff Ritter, senior producer, I'm on board with both. In fact, Rory's 2013 might be the single most disappointing season of the millennium. Tiger's 2010 would also land in that discussion, but given his No. 1 ranking, the Nike deal and all the hype entering the season, you could make a case for Rory.

Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: I'll agree on both of those, but I'd also give a nod to Steve Stricker for the comeback award, based solely on how miserable he performed (and looked) at the Ryder Cup last year. The guy has made the cut in all 10 events he has played and has been a runner-up twice, in the top 10 three more times and in the top 20 in all but two starts. He contended at the U.S. Open and was in the hunt at the PGA. And he cut back his schedule so he could spend more time with the family. That's a pretty good year if you ask me. Wouldn't it be something if he stole the $10 million FedEx Cup bonus?

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Oh, Tiger, for sure, in the disappointment category. And in the comeback category.

2. Paired with Tiger Woods in the first round, Phil Mickelson shot 63. Asked afterward if Tiger brings out his best golf, Mickelson said, "After today it's hard to think any differently." Why does Mickelson play so well when matched up with Woods?

Bamberger: Because his golf is rooted in emotion, for good and for evil.

Morfit: It's simple: Mickelson has played so much competitive golf he needs a little something extra to get him going. The Masters does that. The U.S. Open. The British, at least this year. And Tiger.

Godich: Everybody is motivated to play well when paired with Tiger. Everybody is also motivated to beat Tiger when paired with him. Everybody includes Phil.

Ritter: Pretty sure there was a section of Hank Haney's book that mentioned how Butch Harmon gave Phil all of Tiger's "secret" gamesmanship tactics. If that's true, maybe it helps give Phil some extra mojo when paired with Tiger. Either way, Phil really is golf's ultimate showman, and it isn't surprising that he's able to elevate his game alongside Woods. A Tiger-Phil pairing is, after all, one of the best shows in golf.

Van Sickle: Phil lives in rarefied air, like Tiger. Just teeing it up to win a Schlabotnik Classic or any old tour stop doesn't get his juices flowing. Major championships, or a chance to beat Tiger does.

Walker: Mickelson has Tiger’s number now and he’s exulting in it.

Sens: I'm not sure, but given how well Mickelson plays in Tiger's presence, Tom Watson should consider teaming the two of them up in the Ryder Cup. They'd be unbeat . . . oh . . . .wait.


3. There's always at least one big surprise who plays his way deep into the FEC playoffs. Who has opened your eyes the most so far?

Bamberger: Jason Dufner. Really. I thought he might take off the rest of the year after the PGA, with football season starting, new wife at home and all the rest. He's showing full-blown grinder. Earlier this year, when he was scuffling, I wasn't sure he had that move. He does.

Ritter: Graham DeLaet can hit it a mile and really play. As further proof he's taking this postseason seriously, he's even sporting a playoff beard. His future looks bright.

Van Sickle: Kevin Stadler has had a nice run despite obviously not being the best putter on tour. He's never won on tour, never played in the Masters (which his dad won!) and he's got a chance to go to East Lake and cash a big check. He's got a good swing, too.

Morfit: Graham DeLaet has a sweet swing and a pretty solid playoff beard going. His third-place finish while trying to hang onto 10th in Int'l Presidents Cup team points was pretty solid, and it gave Boise State fans a much-needed reason to be cheerful after the football team's abysmal showing vs. Washington.

Godich: Jordan Spieth. The 20-year-old has ice water in his veins. He was right there through 63 holes at the Barclays, and then he shot 62 on Monday to get a T-4 at the Deutsch Bank. It's all the more amazing that he's doing this on golf courses he is seeing for the first time.

Walker: Definitely Jordan Spieth. Final-round 62 really gets your attention. We’re now looking at the best rookie season since Tiger Woods, and it’s not over yet.

Sens: Graham DeLaet. Not sure he has opened my eyes so much as lulled me to sleep. But he has played really well.

4. Who would be your two Presidents Cup captain's picks for the U.S. team? Do you go with Jim Furyk-type experience or the youth (and current form) of Jordan Spieth?

Godich: Spieth is a no-brainer. His ranking is deceiving because basically he has only been accumulating points for one year. With my second pick, I'm taking Jim Furyk. He's trending in the right direction, and he's had success at Muirfield Village, with a win in 2002, a runner-up in 2009 and a couple of other top 10s since 2005.

Bamberger: Youth! Youth makes more putts in times of patriotic pressure. Fred has all the veterans he needs. Presidents Cup is not that exciting. You need players really happy to be there.

Van Sickle: Always pick good putters. Since Stricker broke into the lineup, I'd go with Spieth after that impressive closing 62.

Sens: If by "Jim Furyk-type" you mean someone who agonizes over crucial putts then misses them, I would go with Jordan Spieth.

Walker: Spieth is the hot hand, he needs to be on the team. Other than Spieth, there's not a strong case to pick anyone over Simpson, who just missed making the team on points.

Morfit: You have to put Spieth and Simpson on the team, no doubt. Easy call.

Ritter: I think Freddie will choose the old warhorses like Furyk, but he could add some juice to his team if he went for Spieth. Look at what Rickie Fowler and Keegan Bradley did for their respective Ryder Cup teams as first-timers. Actually, on second thought, maybe Freddie should pick Furyk now and save Spieth for Gleneagles next year.

5. Boston-area sports fans showed their love of golf with great galleries at the Deutsche Bank Championship. Based on the experience at the 2012 U.S. Open at Merion, should the USGA bring the U.S. Open back to the Country Club in Brookline, Mass.?

Bamberger: Absolutely. The Country Club is American golf. The question is not whether the USGA wants to go back. It's whether the Country Club wants it back. Well, the Country Club does want it back. But does it want all the conditions — course changes most particularly — that come with it. And while the USGAers are in New England, they should look at Newport, too.

Godich: Considering the blue blazers passed on the 100th anniversary of Francis Ouimet's historic victory in favor of Merion, it might be a while before we see another U.S. Open at the Country Club.

Morfit: Boston sports fans get so into it, and I'm generally in favor of any excuse to visit, so yes, by all means.

Walker: The USGA takes it stewardship of golf history seriously, so the U.S. Open will come back to the Country Club, site of two of the greatest moments in American golf — the 1913 U.S. Open and the 1999 Ryder Cup. Plus, the fans will be phenomenal and Boston shines in the summertime.

Van Sickle: There are a lot of great golf courses in this country. The Country Club is one of them. It's worthy of an Open or a PGA. Shinnecock Hills is a little more glamorous, however, and Bethpage Black has a huge edge in sheer total acreage that makes it a more attractive venue to the USGA.

Sens: Absolutely. As a Boston native, I can say with confidence that we are the world's classiest sports fans, known for our polite applause, our classy commentary and our warm embrace of the finest golf traditions. Plus, what could be better than an Open paired with fans yelling "Mashed buh-day-dahs!"

6. Kate Upton got a golf lesson from Arnold Palmer this week. If you could get a golf lesson from one of the game's legends, whom would you choose and why?

Morfit: I'd pick Johnny Miller because spotting a swing flaw is one thing but being able to help a guy fix it is another. Johnny is a master communicator.

Godich: Ben Hogan. I'd be curious to see what suggestions he'd have for my awful move and after which I'd turn around to find he had left the range.

Walker: Seve Ballesteros. I’d love to see the game through his eyes.

Bamberger: Sean Foley. I saw what he did for Stephen Ames.

Van Sickle: Old Tom Morris. Forget the lesson, he'd have stories no one's heard in a century. On account of being dead and all.

Ritter: Jack. Why not?

Sens: Legend, shmegend. I'd go with Veronica Felibert.