Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods in Tour Confidential

May 4, 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. Rory McIlroy took home his second WGC title by winning the Match Play, the first No. 1 overall seed to do so since Tiger Woods in 2008. If there was any doubt about who golf’s leading man is right now, did Rory end that conversation this week?

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, GOLF Magazine (@CameronMorfit): Rory reasserted his dominance this week, and he had to deal with a lot of headaches. It was bone-chilling cold for four of the five days, he had to come back at 6:45 a.m. Sunday to try to finally finish off Paul Casey, he had never played TPC Harding Park, two of his matches went extra holes and three went to 18. The great ones adapt. Rory did.

Joe Passov, senior editor, GOLF Magazine (@JoePassov): This was a much-needed win for Rory’s mojo. He’s played solid, though not spectacular golf for three months, and he needed a big victory against a stellar field to reassert himself as a deserving No. 1. Mission accomplished. However, you can argue that Jordan Spieth played as well as Rory did for three matches, yet was sent packing before the Round of 16. Hey, that’s match play. Rory showed some serious grit this week. He’s top dog until somebody can string together multiple majors/WGCs.

Eamon Lynch, managing editor, (@EamonLynch): McIlroy currently possesses two majors, two WGC titles and the flagship event on the European Tour. There was—and there is—not a shred of doubt about who owns this sport right now. Don’t confuse the media’s eager auditioning of potential rivals with an actual rivalry.

Coleman McDowell, associate editor, (@ColemanMcDowell): Rory’s best is better than anyone else’s, and it’s not close. His B game is better than most too. 

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): Winning a match play title is nice, but it’s not meaningful. You beat only six (or seven) other guys, not the whole field as you do in stroke play. Rory is the clear No. 1, this win doesn’t change that in any way.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Golf rankings are an artificial construct designed, originally, to generate interest in professional golf and used now to determine fields and assign bonuses. Yes, Rory McIlroy is the best player in the game right now. There are 100 golfers or more who could beat him this week.

Jeff Ritter, senior editor, SI Golf Group (@JeffRitter): Jordan Spieth’s rise has been impressive and exciting, but Rory is still No. 1 – the Match Play only reinforced it. With Rory and Jordan clicking, Tiger and Phil (possibly) improving, and a host of other big names finding their grooves, this is shaping up to be a fun summer.

2. Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn announced their breakup Sunday afternoon, adding another distraction to a season full of them for Tiger – a new swing coach, chipping yips and drama surrounding every tournament entry deadline. What can we reasonably expect from Tiger this week at the Players Championship? 

RITTER: You forgot to mention tooth-gate, which might be the weirdest story of Tiger’s career that didn’t involve a fire hydrant. At Sawgrass I expect him to arrive with 32 teeth, play 36 holes, make more bogeys than birdies and miss the cut. But at this point almost anything seems possible.

LYNCH: The breakup with Vonn might not even be his biggest disappointment of the week if he hits the ball as waywardly as he did at the Masters. TPC Sawgrass is a demanding examination of ball striking that Woods may not yet be ready for in his nascent comeback.

PASSOV: I’m still trying to process what just happened. Is this the same Lindsey/Tiger Show we saw on chat shows and at the Masters Par-3 event? Wasn’t Tiger the giddiest, most approachable we’ve ever seen him at Augusta? Maybe this frees Tiger up to contend at the Players – or maybe he withdraws and takes an extended vacation. Tiger loves proving people wrong. I say he’ll be in the hunt at TPC Sawgrass. 

MCDOWELL: The last time we saw Tiger Woods on a golf course he was hitting 2 of 14 fairways at Augusta National. Being single won’t change that. 

BAMBERGER: I do expect Tiger Woods to try his hardest, to hit his driver as little as possible, and to be the charming, warm presence we know he can be.

VAN SICKLE: Tiger will show up and play hard. Beyond that, who knows? His iron play may keep him in semi-contention.

MORFIT: It has nothing to do with Lindsey, but I would expect Tiger will miss the cut at watery TPC Sawgrass. That is a terrible place to try and play golf if your long game is in shambles. I hope I’m wrong, by the way. 


3. Rory is rolling, Spieth is still red-hot, Rose has found his form, Stenson finally seems healthy, and we haven’t even hit Tiger, Phil, Bubba, DJ, Scott, Walker, Day, or defending champ Martin Kaymer. Who’s winning this week’s Players Championship?

LYNCH: Golf fans.

PASSOV: Look no further for guidance than 2014’s leaderboard, where Kaymer, Furyk, Garcia, Rose, Walker and McIlroy were in the top six. Rory and Furyk might be spent after this long week. TPC Sawgrass favors nerve, precision and patience. Jordan Spieth is the guy.

MORFIT: I think Spieth will win. He contended there last year, and he played pretty darn well at TPC Harding Park but ran into a red-hot Lee Westwood on Friday. Spieth is a streaky player, when he’s good he’s very good, and something tells me his hot streak isn’t over yet.

BAMBERGER: Tim Finchem. This May date has not worked for various reasons, the passive weather being chief among them. But this year the stars are all aligned, in large part because of the various names cited in the question and the names of the winners at Augusta, New Orleans and San Francisco, and the Players should be an excellent and exciting event. Unless Martin Kaymer wins by eight or some such thing.

MCDOWELL: The winner of the last seven Players ranked on average about seventh in greens in regulation for the week. The player currently ranked seventh in greens in regulation (and this year’s winner) is: Adam Scott. It’s science. 

VAN SICKLE: Just when the picture starts to clear, another guy always steps up. I like defending champ Kaymer to whip up another dominating performance out of thin air just for the shock value.

RITTER: Any of the guys mentioned are possible. So are potential breakthrough winners like Justin Thomas, Daniel Berger and Morgan Hoffmann, or overdue veterans like Matt Kuchar, Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia. Jordan and Rory deserve to be co-favorites, but it’s wide open.

4. Stephanie Wei had her annual PGA Tour credential stripped after streaming live video from a Monday practice round on social media. Did the punishment fit the crime, and are the PGA Tour’s policies limiting coverage of its events – even practice rounds – sustainable in the face of ubiquitous social media and fans craving that content?

LYNCH: Wei broke the rules, so there’s no real defense of her actions. But the rules aren’t worth defending. The Tour’s attitude—to tournament coverage, to providing fans with relevant content, and to modern social media engagement—is retrograde. But perhaps that is reflective of an organization headed by someone who took office before Tiger won his first U.S. Amateur title. The politburo at PGA Tour HQ may well think that fans get all the information and access they need through the Tour’s media properties, which is akin to believing Russians were kept well-informed by Pravda. 

MORFIT: I agree with Alan Shipnuck that the only thing Steph has ever been guilty of is doing her job too passionately. The good thing is the Tour has nothing to do with the four biggest events of the year. Is it stuck in a bygone era? Perhaps, but commissioner Tim Finchem has been wildly successful at keeping the coffers full, so the Tour’s policies have in that respect been quite effective. 

MCDOWELL: The entire Mayweather/Pacquiao streamed on Periscope. The app has positioned itself to be a big part of live events, including sports in a huge way, going forward. The Tour should be embracing the medium at minimum during practice rounds – shot by the media along with fans, not just their own social team – because it provides new insight into players on Monday-Wednesday you don’t see anywhere else. 

RITTER: The Tour could have made its point with a 1-2 week suspension. A season-long ban is extreme, and essentially strips her of her livelihood. Every sports journalist should find this story unsettling. As for the rule itself, it’s arcane and silly, but so are many other Tour policies (its secrecy around player-conduct suspensions, its weak drug-testing policy, the anchored putting ban, the FedEx Playoffs, John Daly’s pants.) The video-footage rule is something we simply have to live with until it’s no longer the rule. It’ll probably be a while.

BAMBERGER: The PGA Tour enforced its rules – that is certainly its right. But the bigger question is what happens from here. I would love to see what Stephanie Wei (or anybody else for that matter) could do as a so-called citizen journalist, covering the Tour, including shooting and posting video recordings, without being credentialed by the PGA Tour. Golf Channel and the networks buy the rights to broadcast competition, and you can certainly see why the Tour wants and needs to protect those rights. But before Thursdays, between practice rounds and clubhouse conversations and driving-range sessions, there are wide swaths of Tour life that are being ignored. Innovative reporters, particularly those using video, could help show the Tour in new, interesting ways that would ultimately serve the game well by exposing more people to its many interesting facets. The Tour has a deep commitment to bland coverage. It’s boring.

VAN SICKLE: I’m not familiar with Wei’s details, but everyone knows what’s permissible and what isn’t. This is not her first offense, I gather. This is not about what the rules should be, it’s about what they are. So this is all on her. She should’ve known better.

PASSOV: I don’t know the entire story, and I know even less about the technology in question. However, the PGA Tour’s actions seem to be draconian. Wei is a serious journalist with excellent reporting chops. At the very least, more due process – hearings and such – seem to be in order.  


5. Keegan Bradley and Miguel Jimenez put on more of a show than Mayweather vs. Pacquio on Friday at the Match Play. Who was in the right in their dustup, and who emerged from it looking better? 

MORFIT: I think Bradley came out of it looking pretty bad. His chili was running super hot Thursday, too, when he lost to Bubba. Keegan stormed into a waiting Cadillac, slammed the door shut, emerged to ask what was taking so long, went back into the back seat and slammed the door shut again. I’m almost not surprised that he totally lost it Friday. Almost. 

VAN SICKLE: As a TV viewer (at home rehabbing after knee surgery), I was frustrated by the announcers, the highlights and the lack of information about the drop. I saw Bradley drop on the path, the ball bounced around and dribbled off the other side. Then the rules official pointed to the spot where it hit so Bradley could place it there. Why? It did not appear to have rolled closer to the hole and it definitely didn’t roll more than two clublengths. Jimenez complained that it didn’t roll two clublengths, either, so unless there was some other circumstance of which I was unaware (all I know is what little TV showed me), I agree with Jimenez that Bradley shouldn’t have been allowed to place the ball. There was a rules official right there so I don’t know how they could have got it wrong. Something else must have been in play, but the TV guys never explained it. IF the reports that Bradley’s caddie had been muttering remarks in a mocking Spanish accent during the round were correct, then Bradley was really out of bounds. Jimenez had every right to question the drop.

BAMBERGER: His tone was awful, but Jimenez won: he just got himself named Ryder Cup captain for 2018. The European players want a captain who will stand his ground, and he showed he can. As for all three of them, golf is a place to practice decorum. In that sense, they all lost.

LYNCH: In matchplay, Jimenez has every right to observe and even question a drop by his opponent. His countryman Seve Ballesteros elevated that tactic to an art form. I’m not sure what ought to be more unsettling for Bradley: that his caddie lost his cool in a pressure situation or that his own bug-eyed, in-your-face confrontation didn’t remotely intimidate Jimenez, who has probably smoked cigars bigger than Bradley.

PASSOV: I cannot comprehend how Bradley could rush to his caddie’s defense. Why on earth was Pepsi involved at all? This is between player and player, period. That to me didn’t make Bradley look good, regardless of how Jimenez’s words and actions may have provoked him. Another thing I can’t understand are critics of Jimenez who took him to task for his actions “in a meaningless match.” If they showed up to play it, with FedEx Cup points on the line, it means something. Neither one wins, though advantage: Jimenez. As messy as it was, it was a shot in the arm for widespread golf coverage – which points out how tepid the drama was in the matches that actually mattered.  

MCDOWELL: 100 percent Keegan’s caddie, who rushed over and stood behind Keegan with the panache of a little brother just to utter “You don’t tell me to shut up” and walk away. Keegan can say he was defending his guy, but the best bet is winning a mere seven holes in three rounds of match play finally got to him. 

RITTER: MAJ had every right to stroll over and witness the drop of his match play opponent. He probably could’ve done so with a bit more tact, but it’s on the rules official to keep things in order in that situation. I think both Jimenez and Bradley made their points, and neither came away looking all that bad. The real winner was the Match Play itself. The spat injected some juice into a Friday that was otherwise a total snooze.

6. Golf mourned the loss of two pioneers in the game this week: Calvin Peete, the most successful African-American golfer before Tiger Woods, and Pete Brown, the first African-American to win a PGA Tour event. Can you quantify the impact these players had on golf? 

PASSOV: Pete Brown didn’t have the profile that Charlie Sifford did, yet there was Brown as a true ground-breaker. Brown also won at San Diego in 1970, but as was the case with Sifford’s PGA Tour wins in 1967 and 1969, it did not come with a Masters invitation. The Masters now leads the way with inclusionary invitations, as they are rewarding Asian and Latin American amateurs with invites. Calvin Peete was a true original, with a background story so unbelievable, it scarcely seems possible he could have become a professional golfer, let alone one with his outstanding record. I’ll remember Peete not as an African-American golfer per se, but rather as one of the game’s most unique characters and a last holdout from a generation of players where precision was on a par with power as a valuable commodity.

VAN SICKLE: Cal Peete was the classic American rags to riches story, a guy who overcame adversity – a left arm that wouldn’t straighten due to injury. He was the straightest driver I’ve ever seen.  He was a real American hero.

LYNCH: Their moral impact in standing against discrimination—and excelling in the face of it—was much greater than their practical impact. Their passing is a grim reminder that Tiger is the sole African American on Tour in 2015.

MCDOWELL: I think World Golf Hall of Fame historian Dr. Anthony Parker said it best: “Both men reached golf’s pinnacle, notching multiple wins on the PGA Tour. But it was their bravery and efforts to mark the path for ethnic minorities to follow into the world of professional golf for which they will be remembered best.”

MORFIT: Well, they were a couple of trailblazers, obviously. I never watched Brown because he wasn’t my era, but Peete was an iconoclast with a funky swing that he perfected, a little like Jim Furyk. That crooked arm! I always like to see characters in this era of cookie-cutter pros. Peete in his Kangol was a cool cat.  

BAMBERGER: I can’t quantify it, but I can say this: if Hollywood was going to make a biopic of any American golfer. my first choice would be Calvin Peete, my second would be Charlie Sifford, my third would be Pete Brown and my fourth would be Jim Dent. You know what they all have in common? They led lives.

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