Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods in’s Tour Confidential

June 1, 2015

Every Sunday night, conducts an e-mail 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. What were your impressions from Rory McIlroy’s play in his two-week stretch on the Euro Tour that featured two straight missed cuts?

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, GOLF Magazine (@CameronMorfit): Rory will be fine. He just finally got tired and hit the proverbial wall after two wins (the first of which, at the Match Play, requiring seven rounds) and his efforts to promote the Irish Open. Plus he has played badly at Wentworth before. His club toss there was worrisome, though. He won’t want to make that a regular thing, lest he spawn imitators. 

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Rory showed in his fortnight in Europe that he’s more like Phil than Tiger, and there’s nothing wrong with that. 

Jeff Ritter, senior editor, SI Golf Group (@JeffRitter): Well, these past two weeks won’t land on the Rory McIlroy career highlight reel. It hasn’t changed my outlook for his summer, but I do think the true U.S. Open favorite is Jordan Spieth — he’s been more consistent this season, and he employs a caddie who knows all the humps and bumps of the course. Rory would be my second choice for Chambers and top pick for St. Andrews.

Josh Sens, contributing writer, GOLF Magazine: (@JoshSens): I wouldn’t draw any grand conclusions from the past two weeks. A lot sooner than most, McIlroy has reached a point in his career where all energy builds toward biggest events. I expect him to be right there in the mix come Sunday when it matters most to him later this month.

Joe Passov, senior editor, GOLF Magazine (@JoePassov): Rory’s play the past two weeks reconfirms that he’s hardly the world’s best when conditions turn dicey, and it also reconfirms that he is simply not yet in the class of Jack Nicklaus or Tiger Woods in their primes, for this reason: The Bear and the Tiger never disappeared the way Rory does from time to time. Yet, Rory remains a clearly deserving World Number One. His even-par second round at the Irish Open, following his nightmarish first-round 80, shows me he’s alright, if head-scratchingly inconsistent at times. 

Eamon Lynch, managing editor, (@EamonLynch): As the host this week, Rory elevated the long-diminished stature of the Irish Open and, more importantly, raised a substantial amount of money for a children’s cancer facility in Northern Ireland. He had more impactful week than many in which he has lifted a trophy.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): Playing five straight weeks when you have to cross the Atlantic for the last two weeks is probably not a good idea, especially when two of those first three were draining victories. Rory may have simply tried to please one sponsor too many. Nothing wrong with that.

2. Tiger Woods will compete at next week’s Memorial, his first event since barely making the cut at the Players Championship. He’s won at Muirfield Village five times, most recently in 2012, but is currently ranked outside the top 150 in the World Rankings. Given his results of late, what do you think constitutes a successful week for Woods in the run-up to the U.S. Open?

BAMBERGER: I would be surprised to see Tiger make the cut at the Memorial.  The course demands so much from the driver and so much good short putting, it plays right into Tiger’s weaknesses.  Plus, who knows where his head is? The U.S. Open, on a totally different kind of golf course will actually be a much better opportunity for him, and the British Open even better. 

VAN SICKLE: Making the cut and getting into contention on the weekend would be a nice step forward for Tiger. That’s quite a tall order, however, and we have no idea what condition his game is in. So let’s look forward to being surprised!

LYNCH: Four rounds, not derailed by his health or his driver.

RITTER: This is a course where he could — if his game is right — find some good vibes. The best-case scenario for Tiger would be to get into contention this weekend and see how his new swing holds ups. If he’s going to be any kind of factor at Chambers, this is the week things need to start coming together.

PASSOV: Jack may have named his Columbus, Ohio-area course after a treasured Scottish layout, but the design at Muirfield Village is an Augusta National homage. The course suits Tiger’s eye and given his top-20 effort at this year’s Masters, a similar effort at Memorial will be considered both successful and expected.

SENS: Sad to say, but at this point success would be lack of medical drama and National Enquirer headlines. A runaway victory for him would be if we spent the entire time talking only about his play.

MORFIT: I think Tiger will surprise us again at the Memorial. He had played some pretty unremarkable golf leading up to the 2012 tournament, and we remember what happened there: the highlight-reel hole-out at 16, a fifth W at Jack’s place, etc. I expect big things this week. 


3. Northern Ireland’s Royal County Down finally earned a close-up in professional golf while hosting the Irish Open. Did it live up to its billing as the world’s sixth-ranked course, and does it deserve consideration as a possible British Open venue?

PASSOV: If you pressed a bunch of players, I bet they would say they’d love to play RCD in a casual round, but not so much in tournament play. It’s narrow and riddled with blind shots, a fearsome combination when the wind blows–which is nearly always here. The pros crave certainty and room to smack their drivers, and RCD is not that track. It is, however, flush with superb individual holes, draped atop magnificent billowy terrain and definitely punishes poor and mediocre shots the way a “major” course should. Strong crowds, approaching 107,000 for the week would give some hope for a future Open, though my guess is no chance.  

BAMBERGER: Royal County Down is spectacular in every way.  Not only does it photograph beautifully, it plays beautifully.  I would love to see an Open played there with Rory and all the rest in the field.  

LYNCH: Royal County Down is absolutely one of the world’s finest courses, and has even managed to soften its legendary reputation for stuffiness in recent years (recession will do that to most clubs, though probably not Muirfield). David Feherty once drily remarked that if one showed up without dandruff on one’s collar, the club would provide it. Last week’s lovely Irish summer weather helped bare the teeth in the old links, and it was hugely entertaining for anyone not playing (or spectating) in those conditions. County Down certainly has the muscle to host an Open Championship, but who wants to see the R&A butcher it?

SENS: Difficult for TV to do full justice to the drama of that course. Certainly not the relatively low-pyrotechnic coverage it got this week. But since when does County Down need TV to to justify its worthiness? Its merits stand on their own.

RITTER: RCD looked great on TV and I’d love to see more of it. Bring on the British Open!

MORFIT: I’m not sure how to answer that since I’ve never been there. Of course that hasn’t stopped many pros from piling on Chambers Bay, but I’ll abstain. 

VAN SICKLE: As golf courses go, Royal County Down blows away Open sites such as Royal Liverpool and Royal St. George’s. The course is certainly good enough. What a gem. Does it have enough infrastructure for a modern major, and will fans and sponsors support it? That’s the more relevant question. The course is a slam dunk.

4. The NCAA men and women’s golf championships were played the past two weeks in Florida, with more than 100 hours of live coverage on television. Despite the increased exposure, neither seemed to be must see TV for fans. Why isn’t college golf as popular as other college sports?

PASSOV: A ridiculously hard setup at the brutal host course, The Concession, doesn’t help the cause, with women’s teams qualifying for matchplay at double digits over par. The new format to award national team and individual championships is improved over previous years, but will take time to get used to changes. I’d be more interested if college golf took advantage of traditional rivalries and we could see more dual matches: Auburn versus Alabama, Arizona versus Arizona State and such, rather than have all of those teams meet up in 16-team tournaments. It would also be fun – if perhaps unrealistic – to see some alumni matches that would highlight the college game. How about a Silly Season tilt between Georgia (Bubba Watson, Chris Kirk and maybe Patrick Reed or Kevin Kisner) versus Oklahoma State (Rickie Fowler, Hunter Mahan and Charles Howell III)? That would be fun. 

VAN SICKLE: In college golf, nobody knows who these guys and gals are. Televising some regular-season tournaments might help build some brands but they’re run as team events, not as individual stroke-play events that TV is used to covering, so that wouldn’t be much help. Unlike pro golf, the best players rarely get together in the same tournament in college golf.

BAMBERGER: College golf was actually a bigger deal for ardent golf fans when there wasn’t so much professional golf on TV.  But now with the super saturation of tournament golf, there is just less interest in the college game. 

RITTER: It’s a great question. The competition is great, and there is no shortage of great stories to be told in the college game.  But TV viewers are drawn to stars — and the big-revenue sports. College golf is stuck as a niche, like college baseball or swimming. There ‘s a segment of the population that’s interested, but the NCAA’s big-revenue sports suck up all the marketing, media attention and prime TV coverage.

LYNCH: In most sports the NCAA title is the pinnacle of what college athletes can achieve, That’s not true in golf, which is at heart an individual sport. Winning a U.S. Amateur title has considerably more benefits than any NCAA crown.

MORFIT: The head-to-head element has been lacking, but more people would watch if college golf was more like the tears-and-cheers, ecstasy-agony women’s final between Baylor and winner Stanford. 

SENS: Have you ever tried tailgating before a golf tournament? Not nearly as fun.


5. The Jack Nicklaus room opened at the USGA Museum this week and is filled with items from Nicklaus’ career including a MacGregor 3-wood he used for all 18 majors. What is your all-time favorite Jack Nicklaus moment from his storied career?

SENS: The “Yes Sir!” putt at August in ’86 was pretty cool. But the hole before it might have been even better, when he nearly aced his tee shot but appeared not to be able to see the shot himself. It was as if to underscore that the closer’s instincts had taken over, and he didn’t even need his eyes.

VAN SICKLE: I’ll go for a less obvious one: When young Jack squared off with superstar Arnold Palmer at Oakmont in a U.S. Open playoff, Arnie graciously offered to split the purse with Jack, a common practice in those days, regardless of the playoff’s outcome. Jack said thanks but no thanks, why don’t we just go play for it? And so they did.

BAMBERGER: My favorite moment from Nicklaus’s career came when he walked off the final green at Turnberry with Watson in ’77.  He lost, but if all you saw was that picture, you might not have even known. 

RITTER: I love the old highlights, but my favorite Nicklaus memories are the times I’ve seen him swing a club in person. His ace at this year’s Masters Par 3 Contest was a total goose-bump moment that I’ll never forget, and it tops my list.

LYNCH: The final hole of his ‘Duel in the Sun’ with Tom Watson at Turnberry in 1977. He gouged his approach from near impossible rough, sank a long, last gasp birdie putt, then threw his arm around the victorious Watson as they walked off the green. Those indelible traits of Nicklaus can’t be found in any museum: genuine sportsmanship and an appreciation for greatness other than his own. 

MORFIT: I was too young to appreciate much of it, but I covered the ’98 Masters when he contended late Sunday at age 58. It felt like an old black-and-white highlight reel come to life. Electrifying. 

PASSOV: The obvious answer is my actual choice–Jack’s emotional triumph at the 1986 Masters. However, I’m also fond of his 1978 British Open win at St. Andrews, as he was wearing my favorite golf garment of all time, the argyle-patterned sweater of light blue, dark blue and white. Credit, too, to his 1977 and 1982 losses to Tom Watson (British Open and U.S. Open, respectively), which proved that for competitiveness and sportsmanship, the Golden Bear was the best loser of all time, as well as the best winner. 

The Tour Confidential roundtable continues Monday on our new weekly show hosted by Jessica Marksbury. Tweet her your questions @Jess_Marksbury.