PGA Tour Confidential: McIlroy rolls to eight-shot win at PGA Championship
Every Sunday night, the editorial staff of the SI Golf Group conducts an e-mail roundtable. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.
RORY WINS IN RECORD FASHION
Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Basically duplicating his record romp at the 2011 U.S. Open, Rory McIlroy won the PGA Championship by eight shots and became the PGA's youngest champion in the modern era. McIlory shot 67-66 on the weekend and was bogey-free on Sunday in extremely difficult conditions. He had pretty much disappeared since winning the Honda back in March, to the point that some pushed the panic button, questioning his commitment. Given Rory's talent, we shouldn't be surprised that he has two majors at age 23, but who saw this coming? And what impressed you most about his play?
Ryan Reiterman, senior producer, Golf.com: Those drives and those par putts.
Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: You could see it coming. He clearly lost his focus in the spring, and he's been working hard to get back on form since. The results have been getting steadily better leading into this week. Maybe you didn't see this type of beat-down coming, but you could see him getting back to playing like he had been.
Mike Walker, senior editor, Golf Magazine: How uncatchable he looked with the lead. It was like watching Usain Bolt separate himself from the pack.
Charlie Hanger, executive editor, Golf.com: He made it look so easy, again, which was reminiscent of Tiger in his prime. They said he napped between the morning and afternoon rounds. That's the sign of a confident player.
Reiterman: The perfect day – a nap and a major.
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: This puts him in a different stratosphere. In this age of parity, Rory is now the clear-cut No. 1. Most impressive was how ruthlessly he extended his lead. No fear, no let-up.
David Dusek, deputy editor, Golf.com: Gary Van Sickle said on Thursday morning that Kiawah's soft conditions, and the lack of wind at the time, played to Rory's strengths, but I wasn't as sure. I am surprised he has two majors now, but what most impressed me was that he went bogey-free Sunday on a course where so many big numbers lurk. He was as big as big-time gets.
Jeff Ritter, senior producer, Golf.com: It looked like he was on his way back last week at the Bridgestone, but Mack-trucking the field by eight? Didn't see that coming. Most impressive was the way he just kept pouring it on late in the round. He made three birdies on the back nine and just played his game right to the finish.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I saw it coming. Or I guessed right. Stehpanie did as well. Soft fairways and straight putts and something to prove.
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: He ran the table on the greens. Sure, they're a little slower than usual, like those softies at Congressional, but if he's really this good of a putter, he's got a dominant era inside him.
John Garrity, contributing writer, Sports Illustrated: I was impressed that Poulter's early charge didn't rattle him a bit. He was Mr. Cool.
Dusek: I agree John. In fact, I think it helped Rory avoid being too passive or complacent with the lead. Poulter pushed Rory just enough to make him keep hitting good shots.
Stephanie Wei, contributor, SI Golf+: I'm not that surprised after his finish last week in Akron, where it finally started to come together for him. I was most impressed with his putting. He made a lot of par-saving six- and eight-footers, and a few for birdies, and he got up-and-down from everywhere on the back nine.
Godich: I found it interesting that Rory said he had a target score of 12 under. That's showing a ton of confidence.
Tell us what you think in the comments section below: What most impressed you about Rory's win?
RORY'S FINAL MAJOR TALLY
Godich: After Rory won at Congressional, Padraig Harrington predicted that Jack's major record wasn't safe. When Rory went AWOL, some wondered when he'd win another. Now he joins Jack, Seve and Tiger as the only multiple major winners under the age of 25. Harrington was talking again on Sunday about how Jack's record of 18 is in reach. Is it time to take Padraig seriously? Look into your crystal ball and predict where McIlroy will finish. Alongside Mickelson's four majors? Hogan's nine? Tiger's 14? Jack's 18?
Gorant: It's tempting to say he'll finish in the Hogan ballpark, because he's a great talent, but he doesn't seem to have that burning driver that Tiger did/does. But maybe that take-it-as-it-comes attitude is an asset and he gets there by not trying so hard.
Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: Hard, if not impossible, to predict. I want to see him win one the hard way, which he'll have to do multiple times to challenge Tiger and Jack. Everyone pooh-poohs Bob May, but Tiger had to make some miracle shots to knock him off. I want to see if Rory can beat Bob May.
Hanger: Of course it's possible he'll catch Jack, but it's also wildly premature to talk about. After Tiger and Jack, it's Hagen with 11, Player and Hogan with 9, and Tom Watson with 8. To get to 10 would make him one of the greatest of all time. We shouldn't really be thinking about 19 at this early date.
Shipnuck: There's so many what-ifs, with health and life. But one thing we don't have to worry about is Rory blowing up that gorgeous swing. If he stays healthy, I say double digits for sure. Maybe even 19.
Dusek: It's a totally unfair question to ask, but that doesn't mean it isn't tempting and fun all the same. I could see Rory floating to Hogan- and Tiger-like numbers, but I can't predict a Nicklaus-level total until I see a multi-major season.
Bamberger: I love Paddy. He is a quote machine. But to talk about Rory and Jack or Tiger in the same breath, in terms of career achievements, is absurd.
Wei: I second that. I loved Rory's reaction to Paddy's comments after the U.S. Open win. He shook his head and covered his face with his hand: "Oh, Paddy, Paddy…"
Garrity: If I were a betting man, I'd say single digits for majors, no more. Who do we think Rory is, the next Nicklaus?
Reiterman: If Tiger doesn't break Jack's record, no one will. Rory won't even come close. If he finished with seven, one better than Faldo, that'd be a phenomenal career.
Van Sickle: Rory is remarkable. We thought young Ernie Els was pretty remarkable, too, and here he is with four majors. Could've been more, but Tiger and Phil happened to him. Seven is a good number to shoot at.
Walker: I think best way to think about Rory McIlroy and golf history is that Nicklaus is Bill Russell, Tiger is Michael Jordan and McIlroy is LeBron James. Long way to go, but he's off to a great start.
Ritter: Ridiculous to try to predict, but fun all the same. Sign me up for eight, which would still place him among the all-time greats.
Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Pick a number: How many majors will Rory have at the end of his career?
TIGER FIZZLES ON THE WEEKEND
Godich: Repeating his pattern from the U.S. Open and British Open, Tiger Woods was solid if not spectacular for two rounds, only to disappoint on the weekend. When it was over, he offered up that he came out on Saturday too relaxed. Say what? What's really going on? I believe Tiger is finally showing his vulnerability, knowing every major that passes without a victory is an opportunity lost to close on Jack? How do you explain Tiger's lost weekends?
Bamberger: His head.
Shipnuck: It's simple — his self-belief has been shattered. That's tougher to fix than any swing flaw.
Gorant: Looks like he just ain't good enough right now. He can't hit the shots or make the putts when he needs them.
Hanger: He didn't look too relaxed to me. It's such a tired expression, but I agree with many, including Mr. Bamberger, that he "wants it too much" now. Since the scandal, everything's been harder, and he is pressing on these major weekends.
Herre: I didn't think he looked relaxed at all on Saturday. In fact, I thought he looked annoyed. Also thought he made the mistake of trying to do too much, short-siding himself a couple of times by trying to be perfect. That's the thing with Tiger these days — sometimes he has it, and sometimes he doesn't. Sometimes he can pull off the perfect shot, and sometimes it gets him in trouble. Sometimes he makes everything, and sometimes he struggles on the greens.
Shipnuck: I don't know, I was out there walking with him and he seemed strangely disengaged. Something was definitely missing. I guess it was intensity.
Dusek: This is what Tiger now is, an excellent player on a tour full of excellent players. He'll win tournaments, and I think he'll win another major, but like Vijay, Bo Van Pelt, Ian Poulter and lots of other guys not named McIlroy this week, he couldn't put four very good rounds together. He missed several putts short on Sunday morning and never ran together a string of birdies to create buzz or momentum. I explain Tiger's lost weekend by accepting that he'll never be the player he was.
Van Sickle: When conditions were tough, with Friday's high winds, his shotmaking skills gave him an edge over the field. He can still play shots. With little wind, he has no edge. And his wedge play, especially his distance control, is a weakness. He's still got a ways to go to be consistent enough to win with regularity.
Ritter: I also think he's pressing. He had a chance to win three out of the year's four majors heading into Saturday. It's shocking that he failed to break par on any of his eight weekend rounds in the majors. The pressure is affecting him much differently from the way it did in his heyday.
Wei: It's all between the ears. I think he is feeling the heat, and he wants it so badly that he puts too much pressure on himself.
Walker: He's been through a lot. The important takeaway from 2012 is that Tiger's not that far off. And once he wins that 15th major, 18 is going to look a lot closer.
Godich: But because of his inability to finish the deal, you could argue that he is that far off. He has also lost the intimidation factor.
Tell us what you think in the comments section below: How do you explain Tiger's lost weekends? Will his win a major in 2013?
Godich: When a guy wins by eight, it's easy to overlook quality play by others in the field. Which player not named Rory were you most impressed with?
Herre: Adam Scott had a nice bounce-back from the British, and of course Pettersson was terrific, especially in light of his penalty on the first hole on Sunday. Bradley also had a good week.
Bamberger: Vijay. He is still so good at 49.
Dusek: Carl Pettersson. He was at or near the top of the leaderboard all week, drained some nice putts and didn't seem to wilt in the spotlight. He didn't make enough birdies, and there were some loose shots to be sure, but Carl showed some guts.
Ritter: It was great to see him put up back-to-back birdies after he was slapped with that ridiculous penalty. Wouldn't be surprised to see him bag a major sometime soon.
Reiterman: A week after winning at Firestone, Bradley, the defending champ, finished T3. Can we please get Keegan and Rory a late tee time next April?
Van Sickle: Bradley probably set the record for getting the least air-time of any third-place finisher at a major. Who did he tick off at CBS?
Herre: And John Daly, who has actually been playing pretty well this year.
Garrity: Harrington. No, he was never in contention, but he's been getting better week by week. He might surprise us with an Els-at-Lytham-style victory somewhere.
Wei: Carl Pettersson. He's a great underdog, and sneaky funny. To be told you were assessed a two-shot penalty from the first hole (silly penalty, IMHO) on the fourth tee could have completely thrown him off. His reaction was classic. The rules official told him and Carl said "f—" and kept walking. About 30 seconds later, he stopped and asked the official if he was sure. The answer was yes. Pettersson birdied the next two holes. Tough penalty because it didn't give him an advantage or affect the outcome of the shot.
Godich: How is removing that leaf on his takeaway any different from removing it with his hand before he addresses the ball? Silly rule? Maybe. But it was enforced correctly.
Gorant: The ones that defy logic always bug me, but as the rule exists it was called correctly. Annoying but correct.
Van Sickle: The penalty doesn't fit the crime. One shot, instead of two, would be a lot more tolerable. But I also think you ought to have a fair chance to swing at a ball and not be penalized for that. Something else for the ruling bodies to consider for the 2016 rules conference.
Shipnuck: Gotta be Poulter. He was electric for a good long while. He was too far back at the start to ever win, but he made the day a lot more fun.
Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Who was the biggest surprise at the PGA?
A RETURN TO THE OCEAN COURSE?
Godich: Gary Van Sickle said to call it a links course was nonsensical. Michael Bamberger called it a joke. John Garrity didn't have many great things to say about it either. Yet early results from a poll of Golf Magazine's Top 100 Teachers suggest otherwise. What was your take on the Ocean Course? And is it worthy of hosting another major?
Herre: Almost all the writers on the scene were kvetching about Kiawah because the logistics were so bad. Many fans were complaining too. But the players seemed to like the place, and it looks great on TV. What's wrong with trying something different? The place is truly magical, as is the Low Country in general.
Bamberger: I did not feel the magic, just the bug bites.
Dusek: If organizers are looking for something unique, how about trying to find something west of St. Louis? The entire western half of United States is out there, but we don't have a PGA Championship west of the Mississippi scheduled. How about Riviera, the Broadmoor, Castle Pines, Sahalee?
Bamberger: How about Bandon? If you stage it, they will come.
Van Sickle: The course isn't playable in the wind, as was proven Friday. And there are about 10 days a year when it's not windy. It's a terrible course for spectators; there are few sight lines and it's tough to walk outside the ropes. Also, you can't get there from here. You'd have to pay me to play there.
Dusek: I don't think Kiawah is worthy. As Gary pointed out, the wind blows 90 percent of the time, but the course plays soft so you can't hit low, running, links-style shots. The greens were wonderful this week, but it's a terrible walk for everyone; it provides bad viewing and no shade for the fans; steamy South Carolina is the second-wettest state in August (after Florida); and the parking and traffic issuers were of Biblical proportions.
Shipnuck: For three out of four days, I thought it was a good, stout test, with breath-taking visuals. In high winds, its design idiosyncrasies make it close to unplayable, but Friday was kind of morbidly fascinating. The Open wouldn't go back to Turnberry until they fixed the roads. Same thing here. The logistics are a nightmare and have to be solved to even consider a return.
Walker: I thought the fan viewing areas were great, especially from the top of the dunes on the back nine.
Garrity: Well, I've got ONE great thing to say about the Ocean Course — the putting surfaces were sensational. But I agree with most of the players, who privately complain that it is unplayable when the wind exceeds 20-25 miles per hour, which happens with some frequency. And Kiawah shouldn't get another major purely for logistical reasons. If somebody had died in yesterday's thunderstorms, the organizers would have had a hard time explaining their fantastical spectator-evacuation plan.
Bamberger: It's a joke because the Friday rounds in the wind took nearly six hours. The greens are pushed up when they should be pushed down. You can't run the ball anywhere. It's not meant to be walked. The paspalum greens have no life to them. The run-off areas take chipping out of the game. It looks great on TV, though. It looks beautiful. It feels like real golf, but it's not. I would not go back.
Hanger: It's a beautiful place, but clearly flawed from a course-design perspective and as a spectator venue.
Wei: Pete Dye is the master of designing courses that are aesthetically pleasing for TV and stupid hard. To clarify, hard and fair is okay. Hard and unfair is what makes it stupid. It was fine when the conditions were relatively calm, but on Friday there were holes that were unplayable.
Walker: What's the problem with the design? It's not a links course, it's a Pete Dye course. And it was great for spectators. I'd rather see another PGA at the Ocean Course than another U.S. Open at Olympic.
Hanger: I'm not a fan of Dye's stuff, which seems overly penal. And links or not, when the wind is up, it doesn't allow for the kind of wind-cheating shots that the best players want to hit, and that fans want to watch.
Wei: It was AWFUL for spectators. First, they had to sit in traffic to park, then they had to take a shuttle to the golf course. Last night at 9:30 there was still an endless line of cars waiting to exit the lot. It was also a tough course for spectators because of the marshes and the small walkways. (It reminded me of Whistling Straits, but not as severe.)
Bamberger: The unsung heroes of this PGA were the fans, all 10,000 of them who actually made it to the course. Their devotion to golf inspires me.
Walker: Most of the fans I talked to were happy to have a major championship come to their area and understood why they needed shuttle buses to get there. Bethpage was a mess in heavy rain at the 2009 U.S. Open too.
Gorant: Maybe, but they set a new low for yelling stupid stuff after tee shots.
Bamberger: Sadly, that is deeply true.
Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Should the Ocean Course host another major?
CLUB PROS MISS THE CUT
Godich: Twenty club pros were in the field of 156. None made the cut. In the previous six PGA Championships, no more than two club pros made the cut in any one event, and no one finished better than 68th. Some would say it's time to retire the club pros from the PGA. I say give them back the 40 spots they used to have. As Michael Bamberger so eloquently pointed out, it's part of the charm of the PGA. What say you?
Dusek: I am totally fine with having club professionals playing the event because nearly every golfer ranked in the top 100 was also in the field. Their presence certainly doesn't detract from the event, and on the odd occasion when one makes the cut, or contends after Thursday or Friday, it adds an interesting and welcome storyline to the tournament.
Herre: Let 'em play. The PGA of America is their organization, and having club pros in the field is a point of differentiation that helps give the event an identity. Still a very strong field.
Gorant: Agree. Without the club guys it's U.S. Open light.
Hanger: Definitely keep them. All the majors have something unique about them – the Masters is exclusive and has Augusta National, the U.S. and British Opens have the meritocracy of the qualifying systems. The PGA lacks the aura of the other three, but the fact that regular guys who make their living in the game get a chance to play is the coolest thing about it. And how cool would it be if a club pro someday careered it and made a run?
Garrity: I'm with Bamberger. The club pros are the equivalent of the guys who get into the Opens through qualifying and the guys who get special invites to the Masters. Not many make the cut, but fresh faces relieve the same-old same-old of consecutive majors. And also, in case everybody's forgotten, it's THEIR tournament. The PGA ought to be able to showcase its few good men.
Bamberger: Golf, like baseball, covets its roots. It's so important to the game, and a PGA without club pros is a far lesser event. I think 20 is too few. You could also expand the definition of what constitutes a club pro and the path in.
Godich: The number used to be 40, but then the PGA wanted to be able to say it had the strongest field in golf. So now guys who hover around 100 in the World Ranking get an invite they don't deserve. Sad.
Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Should PGA pros still be allowed to play in the season's final major?
KIAWAH'S SAND RULE
Godich: If case you hadn't heard, the sandy areas at the Ocean course were played as through the green. Players were allowed to ground their club and test the surface with practice swings. I think it's time for the USGA and the R&A to adopt this rule for all sand traps. Tell me why this is such a bad idea.
Shipnuck: Because golf is slow enough without jabronis taking eight practice swings in every bunker.
Herre: My only concern would be adequate grooming. It's one thing to have a rule like this in effect at an event that probably had 100 volunteers raking every footprint, but such vigilance might not take place at your local course.
Godich: Who said they wouldn't be raked?
Dusek: Unlike weekend warriors, Tour players would much rather be in the sand than in the rough, so the advantage of being able to ground your club, make practice swings and remove loose impediments would just make bunkers even easier for Tour pros to play from. The Ocean Course is unique venue, so I had no problem with the local rule being employed. Now, if we want to have one set of rules for professionals and another set of rules for amateurs, then I might reconsider, but that's never going to happen.
Hanger: You just blew my mind with that question. Because it's always been that way I guess? I was actually wondering if it would somehow mess the pros up this week to ground their clubs in the sand because it's not what they're used to doing.
Garrity: I'm guessing that you'd never see another fried-egg lie if amateurs could ground their club behind the ball. Every sand wedge would become a spatula.
Tell us what you think in the comments section below: To eliminate confusion, should bunkers always be played "through the green"?
U.S. RYDER CUP TEAM TAKES SHAPE
Godich: Finally, the eight automatic spots on the U.S. Ryder Cup team have been filled. Now comes the hard part. Davis Love III has some interesting decisions to make with his four captain's picks. Hunter Mahan, Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk, Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler are among the guys who are on the outside looking in. Tell Davis the player who absolutely, positively has to be at Medinah at the end of September, and explain why.
Gorant: D.J. is nowhere right now.
Shipnuck: D.J., to attack in four-ball matches. Stricker, to hole putts and be Tiger's man-servant. Fowler, for his fight and versatility in either team format. Mahan, for his great ballstriking, and no one will be more motivated to earn points.
Reiterman: Steve Stricker and his putter have to be at Medinah.
Bamberger: Fred Couples. I cannot think of another golfer who would help the U.S. team more.
Hanger: Love that suggestion, and how about Love himself? Shoot, get Tom Watson out there!
Herre: Fred will be there — as an assistant captain. Also, Stricker always plays well in the Midwest. He's a no-brainer pick.
Bamberger: Fred as a playing partner is what I'm talking about. Fred in singles, 18 holes, is even money against any Euro right down to Rory McIlroy his own self. (Sorry, D.J.)
Garrity: If I'm Davis, I don't go to Chicago without Stricker's wedge and putter. My theory is to get great putters and long-ball guys when we play it here, great putters and straight drivers when we play in Europe. But great putters, always.
Hanger: I guess I like Mahan out of that group, having won the Match Play and all. The guys I'd normally be excited about — Stricker for his putting, Furyk for his mettle, D.J. for his ability to overpower, and Rickie for his fun factor – have not played their characteristic games of late.
Godich: Doesn't have to be out of that group. You could take John Daly.
Hanger: Daly would be great for ratings. I know I'd be interested to see how that played out. You want the hot hand, we always say, so maybe we need to just sit back and see who wins the next few weeks.
Dusek: Rickie Fowler. I have no doubt that Hunter Mayhan and Steve Stricker will get captain's picks, but Davis Love liked what he saw from Rickie Fowler in Wales two years ago and knows that a confident Fowler could be a handful in match play. The guy is ultra aggressive and can make a lot of birdies, and everyone in the team room loves him.
Walker: The next four in points — Mahan, Stricker, Furyk, Fowler — are the best choices, but Stricker is the must-pick because of his ability to play with Tiger.
Ritter: My one pick would be Stricker, but he's a lock. For what it's worth, the two best American putters not already on the team, according to the Tour stats, are Ben Curtis and Brandt Snedeker.
Herre: The real news is that all the key Americans made the top eight. I like our side a lot.
Dusek: As Jim points out, because the necessary Americans qualified automatically, Love has the luxury of using his four picks to really tinker and fine tune the overall makeup of his team. It's an enviable position.
Hanger: Very true. What a team. Ryan was comparing these guys to the 2006 team, which included Chad Campbell, Vaughn Taylor, J.J. Henry and Brett Wetterich. The yanks have come a long way in six years.
Tell us what you think in the comments section below: What one player does Love need to add to the U.S. Ryder Cup team?