Tour Confidential: Rory McIlroy’s Win, Which Potential Captain’s Picks Stood Out

September 6, 2016

Every week, 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 by tweeting us your thoughts at @golf_com.

1. Rory McIlroy returned to form and won the Deutsche Bank Championship at TPC Boston, his first PGA Tour victory in 16 months. How does this win against a stout field by the former world No. 1 alter the golf landscape?

Jeff Ritter, digital development editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Group (@Jeff_Ritter): He hasn’t played like one in a while, but McIlroy is one of golf’s biggest stars, and this win, against a loaded field, is significant. A fully charged McIlroy is great for golf and nice for the FedEx playoffs…and (sky darkens, thunderclap explodes, cue music: DUN DUN DUNNNNNN) ominous for the U.S. Ryder Cup team.

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@AlanShipnuck): Rory has become golf’s most confounding star. Maybe his flirtation with the yips gave him the wakeup call he desperately needed. A focused, motivated McIlroy is a potent force. This win was a great start – then again, so was the Irish Open – but I need to see this kind of play over a longer period of time to get excited.

Joe Passov, senior editor, GOLF Magazine (@joepassov): Alan, is there so much cash out there, and fun to be had if you’re a young superstar, that it’s no longer important to be in the hunt week in and week out–even taking off the majors? Rory’s win is great for him, and great for golf–I’ll agree with you, Jeff–but it reminds me of Spieth’s win at Colonial this year. Yes, it’s a big win on a big stage against big-time players, but does it really mean he’s “back?” Let’s give it a few weeks, anyway.

Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated (@MarkGodich): One big difference between Rory and Spieth, Joe. There’s never been much wrong with Rory’s ball-striking. It’s always been about the putter, and if he’s found something there, then watch out. I’d say he has. Four over after three holes, then he plays the next 69 holes in 19 under. Now he’s headed to Crooked Stick, where he won in 2012. He’s got a chance to build some real momentum.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): It’s impressive that he won in a howling gale–he hates playing in the wind and as a high-ball hitter, he hasn’t been very good at it in the past. This win doesn’t change anything unless Rory starts playing like Rory and backs it up with more good play. It does alter the Ryder Cup landscape. America’s forecast just downgraded to mostly cloudy.

MORE: Rory Wins Deutsche Bank Championship  |  Leaderboard

Josh Sens, contributing writer, GOLF Magazine (@JoshSens): One of the disconnects of watching the FedEx Cup playoffs is that for all of NBC’s best efforts to get us all worked up about the FedEx rankings, what most of us are thinking as the action unfolds is how it reflects on the Ryder Cup. If Rory has found something with the flatstick, and it sure appears that he has, the Americans as Vegas favorites in the Cup makes even less sense now than it did last week.

2. In an effort to thwart his putting woes, McIlroy switched out putters (he’s now using a Scotty Cameron prototype mallet) and putting coaches (from Dave Stockton to Englishman Phil Kenyon). “It’s a work in progress,” McIlroy said. “I’m trying to work on a few things and trying to change a few things.” What, if any, differences did you note in his stroke in Boston?

RITTER: I’m hardly the person to critique a putting stroke, but doesn’t most of it come down to confidence? Rory has been ranked outside the top 125 in strokes-gained putting for most of the season. This week he ranked seventh. Whatever he has going now, it’s working.

SHIPNUCK: Freedom. Over the last coupla months he was practically flinching at impact. This week he was just letting the putter go and it was a much purer roll.

GODICH: He was much more confident over the short putts. And when all of those are going in, it frees you up on mid- and long-range birdie attempts.

PASSOV: And success breeds success. If you go in with low expectations, and nobody has been ID’ing Rory as the favorite anywhere lately, you can soar with just one or two things going right. It’s like caddie Carl Jackson’s swing tip (ball position) at the Masters that year for his man Ben Crenshaw. Something clicks, then something goes right, and again, and all of a sudden, at least to Rory, the hole is huge. So yes, Jeff–confidence.

VAN SICKLE: He made enough putts to rack up a slew of birdies. You can lose confidence in a hurry and you can get it back just as fast. Rory got it back this week. Let’s see if he keeps it up.

SENS: Much was made this weekend about him releasing the putter head more freely. Sure looked that way. But as every golfer knows, and as the Great Swami once said to me, what really matters is freedom of the mind.

3. Among the potential captain’s picks for the U.S. Ryder Cup team, whose stock rose the most at the Deutsche Bank, and whose took the biggest hit?

RITTER: This was a missed opportunity for all the guys on the bubble — Rickie, Bubba, et al — because no one else distinguished themselves. Kevin Chappell and Ryan Moore had nice tournaments until Monday, when they both faded. I don’t think Love found much in Boston to sway his decision.

SHIPNUCK: Exactly, Jeff. This week just made things more confusing. Aaaaargh!

PASSOV: Give Ryan Moore credit for at least being in the mix for a good while, and that’s off a recent (important) win at the John Deere. Give me a guy who has actually won something lately over a guy who hasn’t.

VAN SICKLE: I agree with Joe and Alan. Nobody’s stock went up. But I think Bubba looks ice cold and may not be pickable. And while Furyk could be a sentimental pick, a younger guy who can deliver good golf might be better for the team in the long run. It’s like playing a senior, who’s as good as he’s ever going to be, versus a sophomore, who can get better. I think it means Fowler, Kuchar and Holmes have to be picks now. Nobody else stepped up besides Moore and Chappell.

GODICH: It was an uninspiring week, no doubt. Because of it, I feel we’re going to see several tired names when the captain’s picks are revealed, but I would hope that Moore gets a shot. He’s playing good golf, and he did have a nice run of match-play success during his amateur days.

SENS: Golf is hard enough to predict, and all the more so in the cauldron of the Ryder Cup, that using this week as a measure of how guys might play at Hazeltine is an inexact science to say the least. But since none of the usual suspects distinguished themselves, let’s use this week to further the already strong argument in favor of scrapping the same old names (the Furyks, the Fowlers, the Watsons, the Kuchars) and going with a fresh slate. Bring on Ryan Moore, James Hahn, J.B. Holmes, Tony Finau. Who knows what would happen? But wouldn’t the new look be fun to watch? It is a friendly exhibition, after all. Right?

4. U.S. Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III still has another week to decide three of his four captain’s picks and another two weeks to decide his fourth and final pick, meaning he won’t have locked down his team until five days before the matches commence. Meanwhile, European captain Darren Clarke finalized his team a week ago and can turn his attention to other matters. Which strategy is most sensible?

RITTER: I still like the new U.S method of picking three guys later and a fourth as late as you can get. Golf is so much about momentum, and in ‘14, the Americans missed out on white-hot Chris Kirk and $10 million man Billy Horschel. This year’s Horschel has yet to emerge, but at least Love is in position to capitalize.

SHIPNUCK: Whichever team wins, they had the better method. That’s how it always goes.

GODICH: Agreed, Alan. That, along with being able to decipher which of the prospective captain’s picks can hole the most putts.

RYDER CUP CAPTAIN’S PICKS: The Case For … Rickie Fowler  |  J.B. Holmes  |  Matt Kuchar  |  Bill Haas  |  Bubba Watson  |  Will McGirt  |  Scott Piercy

VAN SICKLE: How a guy plays at East Lake on that grass may not translate at all to the bent grass at Hazeltine, so I’m not sure holding on to one pick means that much. I wouldn’t take the East Lake winner just because he won. At least Team USA thought outside the box and tried to get more current, an idea that Paul Azinger started as captain in 2008. It can’t hurt.

PASSOV: If we look at the Ryder Cup as an exhibition–admittedly a compelling draw as spectacle, but still an exhibition–then the current U.S. method is great. Draw it out, in increments, peg the publicity needle, give the late bloomers every chance. In terms of actual strategy, however, in potential pairings and team-building, it seems bizarre to me to introduce a guy into the mix the week of the event.

SENS: Agreed, Joe. We can try to forecast this thing all we want, but the wisdom of captain’s picks is always determined by Monday morning quarterbacking. When it comes down to it, this is entertainment, bread and circus. And nobody beats the U.S. at that. Our method wins!

5. The game’s governing bodies said last week that they are working to simplify the Rules of Golf so they’re easier to understand and apply. “It’s still going to look like golf, feel like golf, still have the challenge of golf,” Thomas Pagel, the USGA’s senior director of rules, told The New York Times. “We’re going to make it easier for golfers to play by the rules and feel comfortable playing by the rules.” Is this a logical move, or an affront to centuries of tradition upon which the game was built?

RITTER: It’s a response to the changing times. The pro game has evolved — bigger hitters, faster greens, longer rounds — and the amateur game is different too. A few tweaks would be welcomed, starting with ripping out all white O.B stakes and replacing them with red lateral posts to speed up amateur play. Also, time to take another swing at a ball rolling on a concrete-quick green when a player doesn’t touch it, aka the Dustin Johnson rule.

VAN SICKLE: Yogi Berra and I will believe it when we believe it. The USGA couldn’t describe its previous moving-ball rule, explain it or enforce it fairly at Oakmont. Wattel grounds his putter behind the ball–no penalty. DJ putts at the side, never grounds his club–penalty. The same rules wonks determined to slap DJ with a penalty (maybe because he used the rules to his advantage and dropped out of deep grass at No. 10, making a mockery of the line-of-sight rule) are going to fix this? They got DJ wrong, I doubt they’ll get this right, either.

SHIPNUCK: So logical I’m forced to be skeptical. Can they really pull it off? The rules are the foundation of the game but I think even the purest of purists – paging Michael Bamberger – has to agree things have become convoluted and unwieldy as is.

PASSOV: I have a hard time with the “purest of the purists” folks, because rules, like golf equipment, and golf course designs, change all the time. So what standard do you apply? Stymies were an integral strategic aspect to golf, back when the game was match play, but later was deemed “unfair.” Should we have kept that rule? To keep up with the modern game, both professional and amateur, you’ve got to reduce the number of rules and decisions, and apply more common sense, certainly as it applies to speeding up the game and in conditions where the speed of the greens produces results that our golf forebears never dreamed of.

GODICH: The game is hard enough and the rules so complicated that I’m for whatever can make the game more enjoyable for the masses to play and watch.

SENS: A logical move, and a long awaited one. It was accelerated, no doubt, by some of the embarrassing rules snafus in recent majors. But on the weekend-golfer side, we’ve all been waiting for a simplification for years. Affront to tradition? Not when the tradition is frequently an affront to common sense.

6. Last week we ranked the 27 most irritating golfer habits. What’s No. 1 on your gripe list?

RITTER: I am a man of few gripes, and find most quirks entertaining. (I have a few myself.) Just don’t ruin my fun time — club-tossing and other hot-headedness are buzz-killers — and we’re all good.

SHIPNUCK: Guys who offer endless play-by-play after every single shot on the course. Dude, I saw what you did, I don’t need the full Johnny. Just hit the next one already!

VAN SICKLE: It’s Mr. Cigar-chewer who gets on the tee, it’s his turn to hit, and just then he decides to tell a long story about Mister Hogan. It’s hitting time, Mac, not story time!

PASSOV: Five waggles and/or three full practice swings. Seeing somebody do that more than once in a round of golf makes me want to be anywhere else besides that golf game on that golf course.

GODICH: We’ve got the slow-play angle covered, so I’ll go with a three-handicapper who plays as an eight and drawing for a partner an eight-handicapper who announces on the 1st tee that he’s a three.

SENS: I’m the opposite of Jeff. I’ve got more gripes than I could possibly list here. But I’ll go with the golfer who walks from the cart to ball without a club to get the yardage, then walks back to the cart to get a club. He/she should be confined to the same rung of hell as the casual weekend golfer who reads putts from all four sides.