Welcome to Teeing Off, where Devil Ball editor Shane Bacon and national columnist Jay Busbee take a day's topic and smack it all over the course. Suggest a future topic by hitting us on Twitter at @shanebacon and @jaybusbee. Today we look at Rory McIlroy's win on Sunday at the British Open.
Bacon: Considering we've had a couple of days to take in what Rory McIlroy did at Royal Liverpool, winning his third major championship and third leg of the career Grand Slam at the age of 25, it seems like a good time to talk about how impressive he was. Rory got off to a big lead after 36 holes, let the field back in on Saturday only to finish eagle-bogey-eagle to grab a six-shot lead and basically shut the door on his competitors. While it got tight on Sunday, the win was never really in question, so I ask, how impressive was this win by Rory and was it his best performance ever at a major?
Busbee: I'm going to play devil's advocate and start way sky-high--the "blue suburban skies" (Beatles reference, if you didn't get enough of those last week) that allowed McIlroy to play in Pebble Beach-like conditions. Yes, his win was relentless, and I'll get to that in a second. But first: do you believe there's any asterisk attached to the win because of the weather? Side question: should they have played Saturday?
Bacon: I've seen that idea a couple of places, that Rory's wins have all been in easy conditions, but I don't get that at all. Bad weather, good weather, wind or no wind, all the guys have to play the game golf course, and Rory has won three of the four majors doing that. If the point is that McIlroy isn't a mudder, that's fine, but he can't control what conditions are and he's dominated at three of the four major championships and deserves all the credit in the world for those wins (Weather wasn't much of a factor at plenty of Tiger wins, and I don't hear people questioning those).
As for Saturday, yes, I absolutely think they should have played, and I actually thought the two tee strategy made the most sense. Was it a first? Yes. Did it get those same people that scream about it being called "THE OPEN" instead of the British Open upset? Absolutely. But the R&A has a championship to run, and what happened to Tiger Woods and those late guys at the 2002 British is something they don't want to repeat (that wasn't as much golf as it was "hit and hope").
But back to Rory for a minute, even with two previous major wins both by eight shots, wasn't this his most impressive, and his most important? First time with new equipment, first time since he's hit the gym, first time since he became single, and first major win where he actually got pushed over the weekend.
Busbee: Agreed on all points. (That's boring, I know, but I can't bring myself to be contrary for the sake of controversy.) McIlroy actually had to sweat the tiniest bit on Sunday, and he faced it down with little difficulty. (Sergio's bunker misfire on 15 didn't hurt.) We'll see how Rory does when he's one-on-one, even against another player with three holes left, but for now, he's done everything he needed to in order to prove himself.
Now, I've said this a few times, and gotten a bit of static for it, so I'm interested in your view. It's my take that when Rory is on, he's as good as Tiger was -- but Rory is "on" much less than Tiger was. Bearing in mind Rory holds the records for best-ever US Open performances, and came within a few strokes of doing the same at the Open Championship: am I insane for saying that Rory is as good as vintage Tiger, albeit for much shorter, inconsistent stretches?
Bacon: It's easy for us to forget how good Tiger Woods was when he was really, really good. You can look at the '97 Masters if you want, but what he did at Pebble and St. Andrews was stuff we had never really seen before (sorry, Jack).
But, again, the talent pool back then was the shallow end compared to the deep end we see now. Tiger had to beat out Ernie Els and Vijay Singh at each major, with hopefuls popping up from time to time to give him a run. Rory has to battle Sergio, Adam Scott, Tiger, Phil, Jason Day, and many others that during that stretch of golf in the early 2000s, would have most likely won at least a major.
I think Tiger's A+ game is still better than Rory's, but I am surprised at how close it really is. When Rory's golf swing is clicking, it's in the top-five ever to play this game. But as you pointed out, it might not click like it did on Sunday at Hoylake for three years, or it might be right there for Valhalla. Tiger would go on stretches where a bad week was a T-5. When Rory has a bad week, he catches a flight on Friday night.
Busbee: Bingo. The gap between his best and his worst is far wider for Rory than it was for Tiger back in the good ol' days. With that in mind, I think he'll fall short, way short, at Valhalla, but will enter Augusta next year as the biggest story to hit golf since ... what, Tiger's return from scandal five years before? Your thoughts?
Bacon: I'd say Phil at Pinehurst was a bigger story at the start of '13, but the way he was playing heading to Pinehurst just didn't rev the engine like it should have (we talked about it, but most didn't expect a Mickelson victory).
Given the layoff between the majors and the fact that it's the Masters, I think it'll be a huge story, but if you look at the ratings for Sunday at the Open, is it possible Rory doesn't really transcend the sport like us inside of it think he does?
Busbee: I think that's absolutely the case, and it has to do with Rory's nationality as much as anything ... Americans will never embrace a non-American to the degree that we do an American golfer. It's a shame, because Rory is already a historic figure, but hopefully other rivals will step up and give us some real, honest rivalry. Spieth-Fowler-McIlroy for the next 20 years? I'm in.
Bacon: And Matsuyama! He will bring eyeballs to the sport as well, and might be as good, if not better, than two of those three names.
Golf has some young stars, we just need to convince the casual sports fan that their birdies as just as pretty as the ones Tiger used to make.