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.
MCILROY VS. DONALD
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: What does Luke Donald’s win at the rain-shortened Scottish Open mean for the Open Championship at Royal St. George’s? Is Rory McIlroy still going to be the overwhelming favorite? Do these two have rivalry potential?
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I see them as co-favorites. Each player’s presence helps take a little pressure off the other guy. And it could definitely be a fun rivalry because of their differences in style of play and personality. The age gap is about right, too; Palmer was a decade older than Nicklaus, who was a decade older than Watson.
Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: Yes, Rory vs. Luke could be the Euro version of Tiger vs. Phil. It will be interesting to see who the British fans will be pulling for, a charming lad from the provinces or an Americanized grinder.
Ryan Reiterman, senior producer, Golf.com: Luke’s the man to beat, but I doubt he’ll get much attention with Rory returning.
Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Good point, Ryan. And all of that attention on Rory could work to Luke’s advantage.
David Dusek, deputy editor, Golf.com: The papers here are in full Rory mode. It’s Mc-Mania.
Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Rivalry? Easy, Turbo. Luke hasn’t even won a major yet. There is a lot of terrain between Rory-Luke and Tiger-Phil. The rivalry is just as likely to be McIlroy and Jason Day.
Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Luke’s win makes him the favorite to win the Open, and his game is sharper than Rory’s, who took a Tigeresque three-week break.
Herre: I was surprised by what Rory’s agent, Chubby Chandler, reportedly said to a European writer last week. He implied that McIlroy’s game was ill-suited to the British Open and that he would have a better chance of winning the PGA at Atlanta Athletic Club. Maybe Chandler was simply trying to lower expectations, but gee …
Hack: Aw, that was just more of Chubby’s Jedi mind tricks.
Shipnuck: Chandler’s comments were bollocks, definitely a transparent attempt to lower expectations. Rory played three superstar rounds at last year’s Open, and he’s now a much tougher, more seasoned competitor. His game fits any course.
Evans: Chubby is right. His man plays target golf.
Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Rory has been shaky in the wind.
Shipnuck: Rory grew up playing in the wind. I’m sure he has the know-how, despite his high ball flight. A Twitter follower of mine said that yesterday Rory played a tune-up round at Royal County Down and shot 61.
IS STRICKER AMERICA’S BEST HOPE?
Van Sickle: Steve Stricker won the John Deere Classic with what Brandel Chamblee said was “one of the greatest birdies I’ve ever seen!” Stricker, who gave up a big lead on the back nine when Kyle Stanley got hot, finished birdie-birdie. The capper came from an awkward lie in a fairway bunker, followed by a putt from just off the back of the green. Stricker has never won a major, and he’s pulled a few fades over the years when he had a chance, notably at Carnoustie and Oakmont, but his putting has to make him a contender at the Open. Is Stricker really the best American player?
Godich: I’d say Nick Watney is a close second. His two wins this year have come on quality layouts. With the debacle at Whistling Straits behind him, it’s time for him to get in the hunt at a major again.
Shipnuck: Stricker’s finish showed so much grit, which is a quality that Stricker has sometimes seemed to lack. If he plays with that much fire at Georgy, I don’t see how he’s not in the mix Sunday evening.
Godich: He certainly makes more than his share of big putts. It’ll be interesting to see how quickly he adjusts to the slower greens over there.
Evans: Stricker is as good as any American, and he has a workman-like game that makes him a threat whenever he tees it up.
Dusek: He usually hits fairways and greens, and he clearly knows how to make putts that matter. And he’s hot. I don’t see anyone else who wears stars and stripes playing any better than Stricker right now.
Van Sickle: Stricker wasn’t always a great closer, but that’s definitely out the window — the Memorial and now the Deere. The U.S. will be big Ryder Cup underdogs in 2012, but if I’m a Euro, I don’t want to play Stricker in singles. He makes everything.
Hack: Stricker is as good as anyone out there, and now he’s starting to believe it. Look out!
CANDIDATES FOR THE NO. 1 RANKING
Van Sickle: Donald’s win at Castle Stuart was his third this year. So who should hold the No. 1 spot in our ranking — Luke, Lee Westwood or Rory McIlroy? I’m giving the edge to Luke because he beat better fields than Westwood. What do you say, Confidentialists?
Gorant: Not only did he win, but he did it by shooting 63 to come from way back. I’ve been giving Rory the post-Open nod, but I’ll move Luke back to the top this week.
Dusek: A closing-round 63 is impressive, as are three wins, but Luke was not a factor at the U.S. Open, and majors count more than tour wins in my book. My vote still goes to the guy who won at Congressional.
Herre: I also went for Donald, with McIlroy dropping to second. That’s the breaks when you take three weeks off.
Evans: Rory’s been great for a few weeks this year, but Luke has earned the top spot with his consistency.
Van Sickle: Couldn’t agree more, Farrell. Luke won three pretty good events, which tops Rory’s lone major win. Using the logic that one major win is enough, then Charl Schwartzel ought to be in the conversation. And he isn’t. It’s Luke’s world… for the moment.
Godich: I had it Westwood, Rory and Luke, but I’ve got to move Luke back to the top. Not only did he win, but he also lapped a strong field.
Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Assume Luke and Rory take the rest of the year off. I’d definitely rather have Rory’s U.S. Open massacre than Donald’s three wins, nice as they’ve been. Rory is the man.
Van Sickle: The rankings are based on quantity and quality. Luke’s quantity outdistances Rory’s one big win.
Godich: And, like Gary said, you’d also rather have Schwartzel’s Masters victory, Kaymer’s PGA or Oosthuizen’s British. Rory was lights out for one week. Now he needs to validate that victory.
Hack: I’m going with Luke. Wins on both sides of the pond, stroke play, match play, desert, heathland and links? Strong stuff.
Shipnuck: Luke brings it every time he tees it up. He has three wins in the last six months. Rory has three wins as a pro.
Reiterman: I’ve been the lone person voting Donald No 1. Rory’s win was impressive, but Donald has finished out of the top 10 just one time since February.
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: And that was at a piano recital.
Godich: Funny, but everybody used to knock Donald because he didn’t win. Now that he’s winning, it’s still not good enough.
Dusek: Not to be Swiss about this, but don’t Rory AND Luke need to validate something this week at Royal St. George’s? Luke has to prove that he can win a major while Rory needs to show that he can play Congressional-quality golf again.
Van Sickle: Let’s go all in, Dave. Lee Westwood, he of the Asian tour victories, could stand some validation, too. Kaymer and Rory have the majors; Westwood and Luke have the consistency. It would end a lot of No. 1 debates, at least for the next five minutes, if Lee or Luke were to win the Open this week.
Dusek: Totally agree Gary. That’s why they’re all coming to this crispy, brown, wind-swept course.
Reiterman: I know “a win is a win,” but Lee’s wins aren’t doing much for me. He’s still a notch below Luke and Rory right now.
Shipnuck: Kaymer didn’t win anything big when he was No. 1. Westwood won the season-ender in Dubai and some B-list events. I think Luke’s reign has already been more impressive: his knockout of Westwood at the BMW to ascend to No. 1, and now winning a premier event on a great links with a stellar final round.
Herre: I don’t know, Alan. Three rounds. The place was still pretty much under water on Sunday and didn’t play like a links.
PICKS FOR ST. GEORGE’S
Van Sickle: The way things are going in golf, odds are that this week’s Open at quirky Royal St. George’s won’t settle anything — it will just muddy the debate. Last time the Open was played here, it was Ben Curtis, No. 396 in the world. This time, they’re having a drought and the course is dry, firm and fast. So, who’s going to win the Open? Any Americans on your list of contenders?
Shipnuck: If the course remains a racetrack, short game becomes crucial, and that plays right into Donald’s hands. Cabrera played nicely at the Scottish, and on those fairways he may drive it 400 yards. Dude gets up for the majors. I’ve always thought Phil, with his touch and creativity, should thrive on a firm, fast links. He’s most dangerous when we’re writing him off, so maybe this is the year.
Reiterman: I just don’t see Phil contending this week. Outside of Houston and Torrey Pines, he’s looked out of sorts for most of the year.
Hack: Phil’s British Open record is one of the more confounding things in an otherwise brilliant career. I know he hits the ball a mile high, but Phil has a million shots. He never has looked comfortable on those molasses greens.
Reiterman: Matt Kuchar is going to win one of these weeks, why not at Royal St. George’s?
Herre: I think everyone is expecting an unlikely winner, because of the course and some of its history. Everyone is also expecting a European winner. For those reasons, I’m also going with Matt Kuchar.
Godich: I think we’re going to see some crazy things, and we’ll have an off-the-radar winner. That said, if you’re looking for a big name, I’ll take Graeme McDowell. He seems to be rounding into form.
Shipnuck: Did you see today’s telecast from the Scottish? McDowell played absolute rubbish!
Godich: He got frustrated after he couldn’t get the ball in the hole. He’s close.
Gorant: How about King Louis to repeat?
Reiterman: Gosh I hope Louis doesn’t contend. We still can’t pronounce his last name!
Evans: Oosthuizen has dumped his caddie from last year’s Open, and he’s looking like the middling player that he was before he won last year. No chance he competes this week.
Van Sickle: Maybe I’m agreeing with Chubby, but if “Georgy” is fast and bouncy, that’s going to put a premium on scrambling. Nobody is going to go around there and hit 16 greens in regulation. As Alan said, that plays into Luke’s hands, the best scrambler in golf. It also favors my pre-tourney pick, Ian Poulter, who is a fantastic scrambler. Ben Curtis scrambled his way to that win in 2003.
Lipsey: Bubba Watson. He LOVES Europe.
Hack: Lee Westwood likes Sandwich, and he’s due. Even on a course of quirks, I’ll take the straight driver. Going with the hot hand, the vet Steve Stricker would be my top American.
Herre: Stricker might be worn out from all his fist-pumping on Sunday — what an unbelievable birdie to win!
Evans: I always seem to pick Matt Kuchar to win at majors because he’s the most consistent player on the PGA Tour. I like him and Donald in a duel. Rory’s going to be there at the end if he can control his emotions. He expects to win.
Van Sickle: We always think the Brits have the edge when it comes to playing bump-and-run links golf, and they do, but not as much as they used to. Not many pro events are contested on true links courses. The European tour travels the world and plays a lot of American-style setups in the Middle East and Asia. I don’t think their edge is as big as it was. Two other names to throw out as Open contenders, your Masters champ Charl Schwartzel and last year’s runaway winner, Oosthuizen.
Dusek: I have a funny feeling that this is the week that Lee Westwood finally gets his major. With all the attention on Rory and Luke, a win by Lee would make the discussion about No. 1 as clear as tar. Kuchar is the logical American pick. I think Phil’s comments about changing his approach on the greens show that he’s already out-thinking himself.
Reiterman: Totally agree about Phil. He’s just now having an “ah-ha!” moment on how to putt on links courses?!
Evans: Phil is a natural. I will never understand why he feels he needs to prepare so hard. When he retires from golf he should be a football coach.
Stephanie Wei, contributor, SI Golf+: Westwood, because super agent Chubby Chandler thinks so. Oh, and he’s in contention every week and at nearly every major. He is hungry for it and wants that monkey off his back (maybe too bad). Don’t count out Rory. Lots of pressure, but I’ll still put my money on him for a good week. Royal St. George’s is firm and fast. The weather has been beautiful here the past few days, about 70 and mostly sunny with a nice breeze.
Van Sickle: I’d be tempted to say Bubba Watson, with his high ball flight, is a guy in the won’t-win category, but he’s contended in Hawaii when it was windy. Crazy sleeper pick might be ex-Clemson superstar Kyle Stanley, who just got in the Open thanks to his runner-up finish at the John Deere. Any other American long shots?
Reiterman: I’ll take Brandt Snedeker. Five top 10s and a win this year. He missed the cut at the Scottish, but he fired a 66 after opening with a 77.
Herre: This is the longest of long shots, but it looked to me like the U.S. Amateur champ, Peter Uihlein, was having a blast playing wacky Chambers Bay last summer. Maybe he shows the links gene again at RSG.
Godich: Harrison Frazar.
Dusek: Another interesting “longshot” to watch this week will be Adam Scott. He’s been playing so much better with the long putter, and the last time Stevie Williams caddied for a guy on a super-fast Open course (Liverpool ’06), his man won. Maybe the Aussie gets it done too?
THOMPSON HEADING TO Q SCHOOL
Van Sickle: The LPGA finally relented and said it would allow Lexi Thompson to try to earn member status before she turns 18. I think the move is long overdue. Golf isn’t a game of gray areas. If you can shoot the numbers and qualify, you ought to be able to play. Anything less is age discrimination. Her scores prove she’s qualified to play. Glad to see the LPGA see it that way. Are you OK with the LPGA’s decision?
Godich: Yes. What took them so long?
Shipnuck: Definitely. Michelle Wie has proven you can go to school and still play a bunch of events. I’d like to see Lexi do the same.
Lipsey: Yes, but as Mike Whan told me this week, his decision to let Lexi play if she can get through Q school is a one-off decision. It’s not setting an example for others to follow.
Godich: Good luck with that.
Van Sickle: I don’t think attorneys believe in “one-offs.” They call those precedents.
Herre: We debate whether American men would make better pros if they skipped college. Not much of an issue on the ladies’ side. And it’s generally accepted that girls mature faster than boys. Keeping Lexi off the LPGA tour could be viewed as age discrimination.
Evans: The LPGA is in survival mode, and it’s up to Lexi and her parents to manage her growth as a young woman. The LPGA shouldn’t be in the business of legislating or controlling any qualified woman’s right to make a living.