Tour Confidential: Rory McIlroy Versus Tiger Woods

Tour Confidential: Rory McIlroy Versus Tiger Woods

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Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods look on during their one-on-one golf matchup at Mission Hills in Haikou on the Chinese island of Hainan in 2013.

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. Colin Montgomerie raised eyebrows this week when he stated that Rory McIlroy’s standard of golf is one level beyond where Tiger (ever) was. Agree or disagree?

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): Sorry, Monty. I don’t see it. Maybe, if Rory wins the next three majors in a row, all by seven shots, perhaps. Tiger was the best player at nearly every facet of the game when he was at his best, and he was the greatest shotmaker of his generation. Rory is sorta in the ballpark, but nobody is saying he’s got the best short game they’ve ever seen, the best iron play, the best clutch putting. Tiger was out there where no man had gone before. But Monty’s comments did succeed in their intent, which was to get Monty’s name in the papers.

Jeff Ritter, senior editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Group (@Jeff_Ritter): I’d disagree today, but Rory’s currently on the best run of his career. If he wins the Masters and U.S. Open to complete the McIlSlam (TM) then Monty has a real case.

Joe Passov, senior editor, Golf Magazine (@joepassov): Open mouth, insert both splayed feet — again. Rory’s awesome. Let’s admire somebody with such a flawless swing, affable disposition and limitless potential. However, he can’t sniff Tiger’s tighty-whities. Sure, he’s insanely long, especially for his size. So was Tiger. Sure, he’s won a couple of majors by lapping the field — just like Tiger used to do. But can he putt like Tiger did during his long run at the top? Has he shown Tiger’s course management skills, recovery skills, variety of shots or ability to adapt in bad weather? Most significantly, can Rory, or anyone else since Jack Nicklaus, come close to Tiger’s record of consistency? In the 37 majors he played from the U.S. Open in 1999 through his U.S. Open win in 2008, Tiger won 13 times, with 20 Top-3s and 25 Top-10s. Tiger at his best in 2000? Top-5 or better in 17 of his 20 U.S. tournaments, with nine wins, including the year’s final three majors. He captured the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach by 15, the British Open at St. Andrews by eight. Case closed.

Josh Sens, contributing writer, Golf Magazine (@JoshSens): I think Rory needs a few more years of dominance before we take up that debate. The more interesting “where-does-he-stand-in-the-pantheon” question to me is why Tiger Woods’ public “ranking” dropped so precipitously in the immediate aftermath of the scandal, well before he entered his current slump. You heard and saw it everywhere, from TV pundits and print columnists, to say nothing of Joe Public commentary online: suddenly Tiger was out and Nicklaus once again became the majority choice as greatest player ever. How and why this happened has nothing to do with Tiger’s major drought, which came later, and everything to do with the way we conflate the person and the player. To have a full and honest discussion about our perceptions of Tiger and his standing on the all-time list would mean talking about our tendency toward false moralizing, not to mention the way that our views on race tint our outlook, and that’s not such a fun conversation.

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@AlanShipnuck): On a long, soft course I don’t think Tiger, even in his prime, could keep up with Rory. But on a firm, fast, fiery track Tiger’s more varied shotmaking and more creative short game would give him a clear advantage. It’s a helluva lot of fun to think about.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Crazy talk. Love the man but that is crazy talk.

2. Adam Scott missed at least four makeable putts over the final few holes of regulation and seven-hole playoff at the Australian PGA that would have given him the title that eventually went to Greg Chalmers. Bad luck, bad week or is Scott’s stock dropping due to renewed problems with the putter?

PASSOV: There weren’t a lot of replays, different angles or analysis over Scott’s missed putts during the telecast, so it’s tough to say definitively. Clearly he’s been putting well enough to contend lately, but when you’re Top 3 in the world, you shouldn’t miss all of these clutch putts. The whispers and anecdotes point to Scott having flatstick woes, compared to his banner 2013 season, but PGA Tour stats don’t back that up. I’m willing to wait and see.

SHIPNUCK: The putter is always a concern, and maybe more so is Scott’s overall inability to close. I’ve been worried about him ever since he threw up all over himself at Bay Hill. When he’s on-song he remains a formidable player but he clearly doesn’t have Tiger’s grit, Rory’s drive or Phil’s fearlessness, to name just three of today’s players that Scott has the talent to compete with.

BAMBERGER: Bad day. He must have putted well to get there. He’s had terrible Sundays on the greens before. He’ll have good ones, too, and then we’ll talk about whether he is on his way back to No. 1 again.

VAN SICKLE: The putter has always been the only thing holding back Scott. This is a recurring issue, or in his case, nightmare. And when anchored putting goes away, well, it’ll be interesting to see how he adjusts. If he wants to win a second major, I suggest he do so this year.

RITTER: Scott has blown many more opportunities over the years than he’s converted, but you can say that about most players. Winning is hard. Scott will be fine.

SENS: At Scott’s level, the margins between his best and oh-so-close are just that: razor thin. So let’s hold off for a minute. I don’t think you can say his stock has dropped at this point. But it’s going to get interesting when he has to give up that broomstick in 2016.

3. Trailing leader (and eventual winner) Branden Grace by one entering the final round of this week’s Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek in South Africa, 23-year-old Danish player Lucas Bjerregaard posted an 89 in the final round, including a back-nine 50. What’s the worst final-round, 18-hole choke you’ve ever seen?

BAMBERGER: That is WILD. That is epic. Venturi’s 80 at the ’56 Masters comes to mind. With a Sunday 78, he would have won. As an amateur.

PASSOV: Aside from crashing my spellcheck, young Bjerregaard has to factor in somewhere when history examines his 68-67-66-89 performance. I’m hard-pressed to find a wider disparity. Rory’s 65-69-70-80 at the 2011 Masters came first to mind, with a final-nine 43, then Jason Gore’s meltdown at Pinehurst during the 2005 U.S. Open, when he started T2, and finished 49th, on rounds of 71-67-72-84. I’m sure there are many, many others, but maybe none that involve a round more than 20 shots worse than any of his other rounds. This is a “head-straight-to-counseling” kind of nightmare.

SHIPNUCK: I think Bjerregaard has made a compelling case! But if you look at the context and stature of the player, I think you gotta say Greg Norman at the ’96 Masters.

RITTER: I was a high school senior watching on TV when Norman blew the ’96 Masters. I had never felt that way while watching a tournament, and not sure I have since.

SENS: Given the stage and his standing, Greg Norman’s ’96 collapse is the implosion against which I measure all others. So epic that that a nine-hole meltdown felt like it lasted for 18 holes and beyond.

VAN SICKLE: How about that Roy McAvoy guy making an 12 on the last hole of the U.S. Open won by Peter Jacobsen? That was horrible. What a choke artist that clown was. That classy Shooter McGavin guy probably should have won.

4. Lee Westwood nipped Martin Kaymer and Marcus Fraser to capture the Thailand Golf Championship this week. Does Westwood still have enough game to win a major?

PASSOV: Westwood has always had enough game — and he does now, as well. It’s been the space between the ears that has held him back. Admittedly, he bounced back from the very depths, so you know he has the guts to do it, but it’s the confidence at crunch time — so many tiny, but significant missed opportunities have left scar tissue.

VAN SICKLE: There are instances of players getting their first major in their 40s, but not many. I could see Westwood winning if he had an incredible ball-striking week (which he’s prone to doing) and building a big lead, or maybe finishing early with a 64 and winning while chilling in the clubhouse. I wouldn’t count him out. That said, I’m also not betting any money on him. I’d like to see it, though.

SHIPNUCK: Sure, why not? Look at his buddy Darren Clarke, who couldn’t play dead in the months/year leading up to his Open victory. Westy is probably more dangerous now that we’ve all forgotten about him.

RITTER: Westwood’s game is still good enough to hang with golf’s elite when he’s clicking, but the layers of major-championship scar tissue run deep. I think it may be too late for him.

BAMBERGER: We will find out when he has to chip it close on a 71st hole in a major and make the next putt.

SENS: I’m not trying to play semantics here, but to my mind “still having enough game to win a major” means you’ve won a major. The rest is hedging. So until he proves otherwise, the answer is no.

5. Fox’s new U.S. Open broadcast team of Greg Norman and Joe Buck debuted at the Shark Shootout in Naples. If you caught any of the broadcast, what was your take on the new Fox team? And how much does the announcing affect your enjoyment of a golf telecast?

SHIPNUCK: For all the hullaballoo, it looked like pretty much every other golf telecast I’ve ever seen. Announcers only occasionally add to my enjoyment, but they can certainly detract from it. I thought Greg Norman did a nice job in his debut, but Joe Buck was trying way, way too hard. He needs to slow his roll going forward.

VAN SICKLE: The training wheels are still on at Fox. It’s too soon to rush to a snap judgment but other than Steve Flesch, it was pretty much amateur hour. I was expecting better, even on the first telecast. We’ll see.

SENS: I missed the telecast, unfortunately. But announcing, when it’s great, can have a huge effect on my enjoyment. And when it’s bad, there’s the mute button. Some of my favorite broadcast moments used to involve the ribbing rapport between Ben Wright and Gary McCord. The high-brow, low-brow thing they had going was great. I also still enjoy Feherty at Augusta, where the rules and restrictions seem to ramp him back into a less cartoonish persona than he puts on elsewhere, and his intelligence and insights come through more clearly.

PASSOV: I didn’t catch much, but a Silly Season team event — where Norman’s name is on the marquee — isn’t quite a fair gauge. We’ve got to wait until a tournament that means something to see if Fox displays the necessary innovations and gravitas to justify all the fuss.

RITTER: It wasn’t always silky smooth, but overall Fox had a nice debut. Norman and Faxon had an early tendency to talk over each other, but eventually they settled in and added some nice color to a laid-back event. My biggest gripe: They need to ditch the NFL intro music and do something new and original for golf. When I hear that music it just feels like it’s time to settle in for Eagles-Cowboys.

BAMBERGER: Among the many things I worry about, the quality of golf announcing teams on TV is not among them.

6. Adam Scott suggested last week that golf would be better served by having amateurs not professionals compete at the 2016 Olympics. Do you agree with Scott or will golf get a boost from Tour stars like Rory and Tiger playing on the global stage?

VAN SICKLE: All of the Olympics would be better with amateurs instead of pros, but it’s not going to happen, so why waste our energy debating it? I’m not a fan of golf in the Olympics, but if it has to be, it should be a team competition. It’s also going to be a poor representation of golf. The 60-person fields, while having a handful of top players, are going to have half or two-thirds of the competitors from outside the top 100 in the world rankings. That’s just dumb. Other Olympic sports have heats to weed out the least qualified participants, but Olympic golf is going to wave a bunch of stiffs into the finals. Scott’s idea has merit, since some amateurs could beat some of the pros who are going to be allowed into the final.

BAMBERGER: Completely agree. It would have been such a cool amateur event, and so much easier to do. Just a simple individual amateur competition. All you are representing is yourself, and your country. Gold, silver, bronze. Four days for the men, four days for the women.

RITTER: Golf needs to make a splash in its return to the Games — otherwise it could eventually find itself bumped off the rota again — and to do that you’ve gotta send in the pros.

PASSOV: Nice sentiment, Adam, but you’re 30 years too late. As much of an inconvenience as it will be for the pros, golf will get a big boost from its superstars playing on a global stage. True, it took tennis probably three or four Olympiads for any players or fans to care, and golf could suffer the same fate. I’m thinking — well, hoping — that at the least it will spur growth in other countries, and perhaps finally reach the grumpy Chinese government folk who continue to see golf as something vaguely evil.

SENS: There’s not much in golf less interesting to me than having the Tour stars that we know compete in the Olympics. It’s just not a fit. Bringing amateurs in isn’t likely to move the needle either, at least TV ratings-wise. But I think it would invest Olympic golf with more meaning.

SHIPNUCK: This debate was settled two decades ago by the Dream Team. The Olympics wants/needs the star power of the best athletes in the world. And in the case of golf, they’re not undergrads at UCLA.

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