PGA Tour Confidential: Rory McIlroy Wins 2011 U.S. Open

PGA Tour Confidential: Rory McIlroy Wins 2011 U.S. Open

Rory McIlroy won his first career major title at the U.S. Open.
Fred Vuich/SI
Every week of the 2011 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.

Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Welcome to the Greater Milwaukee/U.S. Open version of PGA Tour Confidential. Record-setting performance by Rory McIlroy. So which was more impressive, Rory in 2011 or Tiger Woods at Pebble in 2000?

Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Tiger was 12 under and won by 15. He was the only player to finish under par. The second place finishers were three over. This was a great win for Rory and the sport, but it didn’t meet the USGA’s own standard for its biggest championship.

Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Rory didn’t just meet the USGA standard. He exceeded it. That was a ball-striking clinic.

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: I talked to Ryan Palmer in the locker room about this very subject. He raised it, actually, and said he thought Tiger’s was more impressive.

Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: Different conditions, different times. Tiger at Pebble was about Tiger at the peak of his powers. Rory at Congressional was about an emerging star at the vanguard of a new generation of players.

Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Tiger. He won by almost twice as much. Enough said.

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: The math tells the story, as a 15-stroke margin was unprecedented. But Tiger was already a multiple major champion with a long resume. For this to be Rory’s first major victory is pretty mind-blowing.

John Garrity, contributing writer, Sports Illustrated: Good as Rory was, Tiger at Pebble raised the bar so high that nobody could even see it. But I found Rory’s performance more satisfying on several levels.

David Dusek, deputy editor, I think the course at Pebble Beach was more stout, but Rory’s performance is just amazing. I’ll give the nod to Rory because coming off his meltdown on the back nine Sunday at Augusta, he showed serious resiliency. Tiger already had two majors on his mantle and no scar tissue on his brain when he won at Pebble.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Tiger at Pebble Beach gets the nod. Twelve under par on a course that kicked everyone else’s rear end was more amazing than 16 under on a course where scores were unusually low. That said, Rory’s win is also one for the ages.

Shipnuck: Rory’s ball-striking is insane. In the last 11 months he’s now torn up the Old Course (63), Augusta National (65) and the U.S. Open (-16). Long, high and straight plays anywhere. And even his misses are good, usually only a few paces off the fairway. Tiger and Phil have trouble keeping it on the planet.

Morfit: Johnny Miller told me this week that he was happy to see a pure ball-striker at the top, as opposed to Phil Mickelson getting it done with mirrors, but I suppose as wild as Tiger’s been, he could have included Woods in that backhanded compliment.

Garrity: Rory will be a different kind of superstar. Nicklaus and Tiger hit shots that no other player could hit. Rory doesn’t do that; he just plays better than the rest of the field. If he dominates, he’ll dominate the way Tom Watson did, or Annika Sorenstam.

Tell us what you think: Which performance was more impressive: Rory in 2011 or Tiger in 2000?

Gorant: Lots of things to like about Rory — swing, short game, putting stroke, personality — what do you like best about him?

Stephanie Wei, contributor, SI Golf+: If I have to narrow it down to just two, swing and personality.

Godich: His pace of play.

Herre: I love his pace of play. Did you notice that Rory didn’t mark his ball on EVERY SINGLE PUTT, like a lot of pros do because they are slaves to some silly, time-wasting routine? Plus, he’s likeable and seems genuine.

Morfit: I love that Rory is actually happy, and he seems like he would be happy no matter what he did for a living. I like his swing, which is so fluid and rhythmic it seems like he has fewer bones in his upper body than the rest of us.

Garrity: Don’t make me choose. I’d have to say his personality — the openness, the lack of pretense. If I didn’t know he was Irish, I’d say he was from Kansas City.

Dusek: I love how approachable Rory is, how much we know about him not only as a golfer but as a person. He communicates with the media and the fans naturally, and I think sincerely.

Evans: Rory has a great golf swing. His combination of great hand-eye coordination, wonderful fundamentals and effortless power will set him apart from the pack for the next several years.

Morfit: Farrell, that’s the big question I have now, is whether it really will or not. I thought he was off to the races after his final-round 62 at Quail Hollow, but it didn’t work out that way. This is definitely much bigger, though.

Evans: Rory could be as big as Greg Norman. I say Norman because no one has ever been straighter and longer with the driver than the Shark.

Shipnuck: Bigger than Norman, because he has a much better head, or so it appears.

Lipsey: Winning won’t make Rory bigger than Norman. Shark was and still is so huge because of who he is and also because he lost so much, and Shark’s losing will be more memorable than Rory’s winning, unless Rory wins a zillion majors.

Van Sickle: Off the course, Rory is everything that Tiger isn’t: normal, friendly, easy going, relaxed, down to earth and just plain nice. A fan-friendly and media-friendly future No. 1 in the world would be a nice upgrade for golf. There’s a lot to be said for a No. 1 player you can root for, not just be amazed by.

Tell us what you think: What do you like best about McIlroy?


Gorant: After the collapse at Augusta, what do you think the difference was this time around? Staying aggressive, feeling more comfortable, staying “in the moment,” as they say?

Shipnuck: All of the above. Augusta was painful, but the bounce-back is remarkable. Hogan, Watson and Mickelson (among others) kicked away numerous majors before they learned to close. Rory’s figured it out at age 22.

Garrity: He may say it’s a maturing process, but I like that he stayed aggressive. I’m a firm believer that you can’t protect a lead; you have to keep adding to it.

Godich: He kept attacking, but he played smart golf when the situation called for it. Look no further than the shot out of the rough at the third on Saturday. He might not have made par (it turns out that he did and almost jarred the shot from the fairway), but he wasn’t going to make a big number. He just seemed so much more comfortable.

Evans: He learned some things about himself that he wouldn’t tell us. Plus, I think Augusta is just a bigger stage and that brought out some more nerves in Rory.

Herre: Maybe Rory’s a quick study and simply learned to stay in control, no matter what.

Morfit: Edoardo Molinari told me that he thought it was Rory’s putting changes under Dave Stockton. Molinari said Rory just wasn’t a good enough putter to get it done on the weekend until now.

Van Sickle: I picked Rory and Dustin Johnson to be in a Monday playoff (glad I was wrong about that, by the way) because I liked that Rory had gotten some perspective in his life by going to Haiti. He learned there, amid the poverty and destruction, that losing a Masters doesn’t matter. And maybe winning one doesn’t matter, either. If I had to pick one thing, though, it would be a putting lesson with Dave Stockton, the ultimate putting coach. Rory’s stroke was solid, unlike past events, and I believe that worked through his entire bag and freed him up to play nearly flawlessly tee to green.

Dusek: Rory talked about setting small goals before the start of the third round, and again before the fourth round. He clearly wanted to stay focused and keep being aggressive, which he talked about in his press conferences. He didn’t need four 65s, and the way he was striking the ball, there weren’t any holes out there where he was in danger of carding a triple or another big number … except maybe the 10th.

Mike Walker, senior editor, Golf Magazine: He’s growing up before our eyes. Flamed out in the second round at the British. Hung around the lead at the PGA Championship. Held the lead alone on Sunday at the Masters. Won the U.S. Open. Fast learner.

Wei: I think he felt a lot more comfortable. He looked almost in awe that he was holding the lead going into the final round at Augusta. He got a little defensive. This time he had a different demeanor: cool, calm and confident. Loved that he kept firing at pins. I was next to the green on No. 10, and I really thought that was going in the hole. Then after he made bogey on 12, he took dead aim at a tucked pin on the par-3 13th instead of hitting it to the safe side of the green. Oh, and like Cam said, his putting. He believed every putt was going in, and it looked like they were.

Tell us what you think: What was the biggest change in McIlroy that enabled him to get over the hump and win his first major?

Gorant: Jason Day, 23, just snagged his second straight runner up in a major. Why doesn’t he get the hype of some of the other 20-somethings out there?

Herre: He will, when he finishes one spot higher.

Morfit: I’ve been voting Day into our SI Top 10 for a while now. He’s really coming into his own, and he’s playing his best in the big events. That’s a good quality to have.

Shipnuck: He will. He’s a likeable kid with a flair for the dramatic. He got tons of hype about three years ago and then fell into the abyss. People have been waiting to see if he’s for real. Obviously, he is.

Dusek: To the winner go the headlines.

Gorant: I don’t know. Previous to this week, McIlroy seemed to get a lot more headlines with the same amount of PGA Tour wins. Fowler has also gotten more with zero wins.

Godich: Give Day time. He was also ninth at the Heritage, sixth at the Players, fifth at the Byron Nelson. Not a bad year.

Tell us what you think: Why doesn’t Jason Day get the same kind of hype as some of the game’s other young stars? When will he win his first major?


Gorant: Tiger sent out a congratulatory message that made it clear he was watching the tournament. Do you think seeing Rory decimate the field and hearing all the endless comparisons to himself fired Woods up? Is he more motivated to get back out there and show the pack who the real alpha dog is?

Shipnuck: Oh, Tiger’s definitely fired up. As the kids say, Game respect game.

Godich: This will motivate Tiger. Loved how he ended the note by telling Rory to enjoy it. No secret what Tiger was saying there.

Garrity: Tiger may be fired up, but he’ll be doing himself a favor if he douses that fire until he’s fit to play again.

Evans: This week might mark the passing of the guard. Yet that seems silly to say about a man who is just 35 years old. Tiger is going to be a contender for a long time. A contender, not the main man.

Walker: It was nice of Tiger to send a note, but I don’t think McIlroy or any of the top players are paying that much attention to him.

Herre: Tiger’s alpha dog days are over. They ended on Masters Sunday when he was passed like he was standing still. It was gracious and appropriate of him to send congrats on this big day for golf.

Morfit: With the emergence of McIlroy as a winning, identifiable new star, Woods has seldom seemed more irrelevant. I am already missing him a whole lot less than I was just four days ago.

Dusek: Tiger is a lot of things, and near the top of the list is “competitor.” Seeing Rory rock Congressional, we can assume Tiger has got to be itching to get back into the game.

Godich: It will be interesting to see what the TV ratings are like, and how they compare to the Masters, when you-know-who was in the hunt.

Wei: Tiger has more important things to worry about right now, like getting healthy.

Tell us what you think: Will McIlroy’s big win — and the loss of some of his records — motivate Tiger?

Gorant: Did the USGA pull back too much, or did they get burned by unfortunate circumstances? They had to water early in the week to counteract last week’s heat wave, and then it rained every day during the tournament.

Godich: The USGA did nothing wrong. What’s not to like about the shot-making we saw from Rory and others? These guys are good.

Shipnuck: It’s been trending in this direction, and then the rain made the course defenseless. David Love said the last three U.S. Opens have been “fun.” Sorry, but the Open should never be fun. It should push the players to the breaking point. Where’s Oakmont or Winged Foot when you really ’em?

Morfit: Something went horribly wrong with the course setup. Twenty players finished under par. I know it rained, but isn’t that what the SubAir system is for? The 2011 U.S. Open was just like the 2004 U.S. Open at Shinnecock, only the USGA lost the course in the other direction.

Garrity: They had no choice. They nearly lost the greens playing it safe; if they had tried to push them to the planned-for firmness, it would have been worse than Shinnecock. As one of the greenkeeper guys told me, “The roots are just laying there. They’re not looking for water.”

Morfit: The first tee was largely dirt and mud, which was odd to stand on and look at. It looked like Wimbledon’s center court after two weeks of play.

Van Sickle: Besides some angry old ex-Open champions who complained, what’s wrong with seeing some birdies and occasional eagles? Take Rory out of the mix and eight under is the winning score. Nothing wrong with that. And I don’t consider watching guys hack it out sideways back to the fairway a true test of golf. If the USGA erred on the side of keeping the course a little too player-friendly, I think that’s better than the alternative of making it so difficult that it negates skill, which was the misguided blueprint of Opens long past.

Lipsey: This wasn’t a U.S. Open. It was a regular Tour event. No real fear of anything on the course.

Garrity: The SubAir is great for quickly expelling excess rainwater, but it takes time to dry out the top three inches. That never happened because the storms were spaced pretty evenly. Ditto for the rough, which was battered by two weeks of heat and humidity, and now an already heavy soil is saturated. No growth.

Evans: It was too fair. What’s the point of making a big deal out of the national championship if the course has to be playable and fair like every other event?

Herre: Even the USGA can’t control Mother Nature. Yes, the course was soft, but so what? This wasn’t the first Open to be played under these conditions, and with the severe contours on some of the greens, we got to see some really creative short-game shot-making, which is not always the case in this championship.

Shipnuck: The other three majors can showcase shotmaking. I want carnage at my national championship.

Dusek: I don’t think there was much the USGA could have done differently. The timing of the rain, the lack of wind and the type of soil around here meant scoring conditions were pretty good and the greens were going to be receptive. But honestly, I liked seeing birdies in the U.S. Open. Players seemed to like the setup too.

Garrity: Hard to argue with this week’s top 10, which had three major champions, a couple of rising stars, and Lee Westwood, recently No. 1 in the world. If the USGA is trying to identify champions, they did a good job this week.

Tell us what you think: Did the USGA’s setup ruin this tournament, or did the lower scores make it more exciting?


Gorant: Will we ever see Congressional host the Open again?

Shipnuck: Let’s hope not. This course is criminally boring.

Morfit: Todd Hamilton was telling me this didn’t feel like a U.S. Open course. He added that every hole on the back nine called for him to hit the same 4- or 5-iron into the green.

Lipsey: If the answer is yes, it’s only because it’s near D.C., and that is a cool place to play a U.S. Open. The course is definitely not Open worthy, though.

Herre: Yes, if for no other reason than D.C. is a terrific golf market.

Van Sickle: Yes. The Washington market is big and lucrative and desirable. The fans here brought a definitive buzz. Still, the late weekend finishes saw streams of fans leaving for the shuttle buses after 7 p.m. because they’d had enough golf for one day.

Garrity: I’ve always described Congressional as unmemorable, but this Open changed my mind. The new par-3 10th hole, and making the old 17th the new finishing hole, gives it a character it didn’t possess before.

Herre: Yes, John. That bowl around 10 and 18 is awesome. It rivals the area around the 17th at Sawgrass.

Godich: The view from behind the 10th green was spectacular. Just wish they’d have found a way to bring the water more into play there.

Garrity: Phil found a way.

Van Sickle: Garrity is right on. The new 10th hole, with the theater around that green and the 18th, is one of the most exciting spots in major championship golf. There’s electricity in the air there, a real buzz. Plus it looks great on TV.

Morfit: I was standing on the tee when McIlroy almost aced the 10th. Very cool scene. In his presser he called it the biggest moment of his round because Yang had just birdied nine to close the gap. (Okay, he only closed the gap to eight, but … oh, never mind.)

Wei: I was standing by the green too, and I thought for sure it was going to roll back in the hole. The atmosphere was incredible. I had chills!

Tell us what you think: Should the U.S. Open return to Congressional?

Gorant: What happened to the young American studs? Is Matt Kuchar the top homeboy currently playing?

Wei: Americans Who? We can always count on Kuchar to roll in with a top 10, but it is about time he seriously contends in a major.

Morfit: I loved Robert Garrigus’s reaction to making that par putt on 18 to finish tied for fourth. Maybe it was the putter he stole from Toys ‘R’ Us, but it made me laugh. He’s great. America’s best hope may be that Cantlay kid who won low am. Talk about a gorgeous swing.

Lipsey: There were no young American studs, just guys with lots of hype. Studs win titles, and the non-Americans are winning all the major titles.

Shipnuck: Kuchar ain’t that young. I could see him winning one major, but no more. Same with Stricker, who’s running out of gas. The only Yank out there with Rory’s kind of talent is Dustin Johnson, but we have reasons to doubt how much he wants to be The Man. All I can say is thank goodness this isn’t a Ryder Cup year.

Herre: The hard truth is that the current crop of Americans are terrific players, but they’re no longer world-beaters. I am optimistic about some of the young American amateurs who played so well at the Open. The game may be global, but the stardom thing is cyclical. We’ll be back.

Dusek: Right now Kuchar is the best, most consistent American player out there. I could see his Georgia Tech mojo giving him a little boost at Atlanta Athletic Club for the PGA Championship. Anthony Kim, Dustin Johnson and the other American young guns just haven’t shown their best games in the majors.

Walker: I agree with everything said about the Americans, but I find it just as compelling, and maybe more compelling, to watch McIlroy, McDowell and Yang as it is to watch Kuchar, Stricker and Johnson. These international players have done a great job of connecting with an American audience. That’s fortunate, because we’re going to be seeing them win a lot of majors.

Tell us what you think: What happened to the Americans at the U.S. Open? Who’s the best American golfer today?

Gorant: The “young stud from UCLA” no longer refers to Shipnuck. How much hope should we place on some of the real youngsters we saw this week, Patrick Cantlay of UCLA and Russell Henley of Georgia in particular? And is Kevin Chappell, also of UCLA, the real deal?

Shipnuck: They’re all nice prospects, but they have a long, long way to go. Although being Bruins should stand them in good stead.

Lipsey: Good players, all of them, but I don’t see any global studs among them. Not yet, anyway.

Godich: I’ll give them this much: they didn’t blink on one of the game’s biggest stages.

Wei: I think Kevin Chappell is the real deal, but he needs a few more years of experience on Tour. Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz, aka Mr. Nationwide, thinks so, and he’s the expert. Last fall at the end-of-year dinner, Foltz said there would be five players who would either win or never play on the Nationwide again: Keegan Bradley, Jhonattan Vegas, Kevin Chappell, Jamie Lovemark and Chris Kirk. Not bad.

Tell us what you think: Cantlaey, Henley, Chappell … anyone a future star?

Gorant: And what about the much-hyped Euro stars? Whither Donald and Kaymer and Casey and the rest? The Italians? Even McDowell was never really in it.

Herre: How can you diss the Euros when one of them won? Westwood looked pretty good in his bridesmaid way, and Sergio had a nice Open, too.

Godich: Good point, Jim. And lest we forget, nobody else was really in it by Friday night.

Van Sickle: Right. Only one player was in contention all week, and that was McIlroy.

Shipnuck: As of last year, a Euro hadn’t won a U.S. Open since Tony Freaking Jacklin. Now they’ve won two in a row and three of the last five majors overall. So I’d say the week was a success for the boys from across the Atlantic.

Dusek: The biggest-name Euros may not have come through, but Rory won, Fredrik Jacobson was around the top for a while, and Henrik Stenson was spotted on the leaderboard for a while on Sunday. Europe’s depth was certainly on display.

Gorant: Everyone was handing the trophy to Donald two weeks ago, and 10 months ago we were talking about Kaymer the same way we’re now talking about McIlroy. McIlory’s win doesn’t make their performances irrelevant.

Walker: Jim, I can’t hear you. The “Rory! Rory!” chants are too loud in here.

Tell us what you think: Westwood, Donald, Kaymer, McDowell … who was the biggest disappointment?