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 talk the 2014 PGA Championship, and where it ranks historically in terms of best major ever.
Bacon: Phil charging! Rickie leading! Stenson darting! Rory overcoming! Was Sunday's final round the best EVER at a PGA Championship? Where do you rank this bad boy compared to all the exciting majors you've watched?
Busbee: Oh man, this has to be up there. You and I do a lot of radio, and there's always the question: what would be the best scenario for golf? And "Martin Kaymer winning by six strokes" is never among them. But this — THIS! Three of the biggest names in golf in the mix right up until the final hole? Are you kidding me? This has to be the most exciting major since ... Torrey Pines in '08? Augusta in '86? What do you think?
Bacon: I wrote before the tournament in my mailbag that my dream final two would be Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson, and it ACTUALLY happened! The two biggest names in golf (Sorry, Tiger, you're hurt) went head to head in a seriously dramatic Sunday, right down to the final pitch that could have gone for Phil and pushed us to a playoff. The Torrey Pines U.S. Open is still the craziest major of my lifetime, but the 2011 Masters is an easy one to forget in terms of drama (Rory's collapse; Charl Schwartzel, Jason Day and Adam Scott all battling for the lead; and Schwartzel making birdies on the final four holes to win).
I think the drama-level of this major was upped because all the others had been such snoozers this season. If I was going to rank the PGAs of my lifetime, I would probably put 2000 up top, 1999 right behind it (Sergio!), 2014 after that, and then probably Y.E. Yang beating Tiger and Keegan over Dufner in a playoff.
Is that a solid list? Was Sunday more exciting than Tiger and Bob May on this same course or Tiger battling a young Garcia?
Busbee: The 2011 Masters suffers a bit because of Schwartzel winning ... which is unfortunate, because you're right, he was amazing and having so many people holding a share of the lead so late on Sunday was astonishing. But we are a sport of icons, after all, and that's the burden that's laid upon a major won by someone who's not (yet) iconic.
Your PGA list is solid. Here's why I like this one: you had more than just two guys in the mix until late. I absolutely love it when you've got three or four guys all firing at the pins, and everyone knows that a par is barely hanging on, and a bogey is doom. Tiger-May 2000 was exceptional. I have a soft spot for Dufner-Bradley, because I was walking with Dufner's group as he surrendered five shots in four holes. But this one ranks right up there; I'd like to watch it again over the winter and see where it settles.
You're right, we were suffering through what could have been the worst major season in recent memory. Thank heaven for this one. Looking forward: Augusta will be insane, won't it? Every year until Rory wins, he'll be the top story, right?
Bacon: Oh Jay, you're forgetting the one cardinal rule in golf; TIGER RULES ALL.
While Rory will definitely be the story coming to Augusta National, Woods and "whatever he decides to do before the Masters" will probably be as big, if not bigger, than McIlroy. It's sad, but a reality.
One of the issues with the PGA Tour season is that after the final major, we have to wait an eternity until the Masters (we have a handy countdown to the Masters here if you want to be depressed). It seems like the final three majors happen rapidly and then we wait, and wait, and freeze, and wait, and then slowly get to Augusta as the 2015 year begins.
Who knows how Rory will be playing at that point. Or who he will be dating. Or allegedly dating. The positive in all this is we have eight months to talk about his chances at a green jacket, the major I think he has the best chance of winning each year (moving the ball right-to-left and hitting it a mile is a decent recipe for success at Augusta, I'm told by a certain Bubba).
But I don't want to totally forget about this major so soon. Like you said, two huge names atop the leaderboard with other huge names following is something that rarely happens in golf. We have our Micheels and our Beems and our Toms', and there is nothing wrong with them winning, but it's beautiful when it all comes together like it did on Sunday at Valhalla.
My final question, and it's a big one — if you had to put a number on McIlroy majors (which is asinine to do right now but it's also fun to guess), what's your number?
Busbee: Twenty! If I'm wrong, nobody will remember, and if I'm right, I'll be a genius!
Numbers, as in the total number of winnable majors remaining, are not Tiger's friend, but they're Rory's best ally. Consider it this way: McIlroy is 25. He's got a good 20 years remaining of reasonably top-flight golf, barring distraction/injury. That's 80 majors. 80! If he wins "just" one every two years, he catches Tiger.
In all seriousness, I'm going to say he tops out around 10. As Tiger showed, there are no sure things in golf, and the farther Rory gets, the richer he gets, the more distracted he gets, the tougher it becomes. You're not playing the course, you're playing against EVERYTHING. That said: Rory McIlroy, 2030 Masters champion. You read it here first.
And you, sir?
Bacon: You stole my answer! I initially said that nobody in this era would win eight majors, but Rory's run here has me rethinking that theory.
I did the math before the PGA and it looked like if he stayed on this pace it would be about 13 majors, so I'll go with that. I think 13 is a good number because it's one behind Tiger (if he doesn't win another one), and the pressure to pass him will be similar to what Tiger has had in his chase of Jack.
Who knows how the next two decades will play out, but if McIlroy can keep his focus and not lose himself in the millions of distractions that come with being one of the most famous athletes on the planet, I think he will keep up this early success in majors and probably get to double digits.
Now your turn ... where does this PGA Championship rank in terms of majors you've watched, and how many majors do you see Rory McIlroy ending his career with?
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