Jul 23

Teeing Off: Dissecting Rory McIlroy’s Open Championship victory

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.
Jul 22

British Open ratings down despite a lot of young names being involved

While the new generation in golf might be great at pumping their own brands and wearing flashy outfits, it isn't translating in viewership, at least not this past weekend at Royal Liverpool.

The final round of the 2014 British Open was the lowest since ESPN took over broadcasting the championship in 2009 and was down 26 percent from last year's incredible finish by Phil Mickelson to claim his only Claret Jug.

Despite Rory McIlroy making history at Royal Liverpool and both Rickie Fowler and Sergio Garcia making charges in that final round, the numbers showed what has continued to be a trend this year in the major championships.

The Masters struggled because of a fireworks-free back nine, while the U.S. Open was an 18-hole coronation for Martin Kaymer, who was never really pushed as he entered Sunday at Pinehurst with a five-shot lead.

If the U.S. Open had the excuse of a blowout combined with other options including the World Cup, the British Open was practically alone on Sunday in terms of big sporting events yet couldn't even beat out Louis Oosthuizen blowing out the field at St. Andrews or Darren Clarke shocking the world with his win in 2011.

So what is the issue?

The Saturday finish by Rory McIlroy didn't help, making two eagles over his final three holes to extend his lead to six shots heading into the final round. It also didn't help that the return of Tiger Woods produced very little over the final 54 holes.

Woods might have started off hot with that opening round 69, but he played his final three rounds 9-over, beating just three players who made the cut at Hoylake.

The surprising dip in ratings compared to some of the other Opens is the names heading into the final round. McIlroy, Garcia, and Fowler finished at the top, but stars like Dustin Johnson and Adam Scott had chances to make a run before the last 18 holes kicked off.

If nothing else, all this tells us is that we really, really need a great PGA Championship to end this major championship season, because viewership has been abysmal this year considering the snoozers we've seen on Sunday, and if we get another blowout at Valhalla we have to wait a long time until we get to Augusta National in 2015, and who knows how healthy the big names will be, and who will be at the top of their game when casual sports fans turn away from golf for eight months.

Jul 21

Charles Barkley is now just whacking golf balls with one hand

Every few months, a video surfaces of one of the most recognizable athletes in the world and his golf swing. Charles Barkley, a Hall of Fame basketball player turned entertaining analyst, loves the game of golf, but the two have never been able to work things out.

That was clear once again this weekend at the Lake Tahoe American Century Celebrity Golf Championship, where Barkley finished dead last and this video popped up of his "new" move.

Barkley stops his hitched golf swing in the middle of it to start over, a pretty admirable move considering he obviously wasn't ready to hit it, but then just whacked the ball with one hand and went about his round.

We've had some fun with his golf swing before, and we will continue to marvel at what happens between the ears of one of the greatest basketball players ever when he stands over a golf ball.

If nothing else, Barkley's dedication to the game of golf should be something we should all strive to achieve, but I know if I had those demons on the course like he does, I would have locked my clubs in the back of a closet long ago, never to be seen again.

h/t Deadspin

Jul 21

Here are your 2014 PGA Championship odds

We are a day removed from a thrilling British Open, with Rory McIlroy claiming his third major title of his career and moves just one step away from the career Grand Slam.

McIlory already has a PGA Championship under his belt, and next month he will be looking to hoist the Wanamaker Trophy again at Valhalla. Rory is the favorite at 7-to-1, according to Golf Odds, with Adam Scott coming in right behind him at 12-to-1 and Tiger Woods at 15-to-1.

Check out the rest of the odds below, and let us know which value you see as we prepare for the final major of the season, and the last chance for a lot of guys to not only make their years, but completely change their careers.

PGA CHAMPIONSHIP
VALHALLA GOLF CLUB - LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY
AUGUST 7-10, 2014
 
ODDS TO WIN:
RORY McILROY                    7/1
ADAM SCOTT                     12/1
TIGER WOODS                    15/1
PHIL MICKELSON                 20/1
JUSTIN ROSE                    25/1
HENRIK STENSON                 25/1
MARTIN KAYMER                  25/1
SERGIO GARCIA                  25/1
RICKIE FOWLER                  25/1
JORDAN SPIETH                  25/1
DUSTIN JOHNSON                 25/1
MATT KUCHAR                    25/1
JASON DAY                      25/1
BUBBA WATSON                   30/1
JASON DUFNER                   30/1
JIM FURYK                      30/1
GRAEME McDOWELL                40/1
KEEGAN BRADLEY                 40/1
ZACH JOHNSON                   40/1
CHARL SCHWARTZEL               40/1
BRANDT SNEDEKER                40/1
LEE WESTWOOD                   50/1
JIMMY WALKER                   50/1
LUKE DONALD                    50/1
HUNTER MAHAN                   50/1
WEBB SIMPSON                   60/1
HIDEKI MATSUYAMA               60/1
STEVE STRICKER                 60/1
IAN POULTER                    60/1
LOUIS OOSTHUIZEN               80/1
RYAN MOORE                     80/1
GARY WOODLAND                  80/1
BRENDON TODD                   80/1
BILL HAAS                      80/1
ANGEL CABRERA                  80/1
VICTOR DUBUISSON               80/1
PATRICK REED                  100/1
HARRIS ENGLISH                100/1
GRAHAM DeLAET                 100/1
MARC LEISHMAN                 100/1
ERNIE ELS                     100/1
FRANCESCO MOLINARI            100/1
MIGUEL ANGEL JIMENEZ          100/1
JONAS BLIXT                   100/1
SHANE LOWRY                   100/1
PAUL CASEY                    100/1
J.B. HOLMES                   100/1
MATTEO MANASSERO              125/1
BILLY HORSCHEL                125/1
JAMIE DONALDSON               125/1
NICK WATNEY                   125/1
JOHN SENDEN                   125/1
CHRIS KIRK                    150/1
THOMAS BJORN                  150/1
RYO ISHIKAWA                  150/1
SEUNG-YUL NOH                 150/1
BROOKS KOEPKA                 150/1
MIKKO ILONEN                  150/1
STEPHEN GALLACHER             150/1
THORBJORN OLESEN              150/1
JOOST LUITEN                  150/1
CHARLES HOWELL III            150/1
FREDDIE JACOBSON              150/1
KEVIN NA                      150/1
CHARLEY HOFFMAN               150/1
RYAN PALMER                   150/1
BRENDON DE JONGE              150/1
PADRAIG HARRINGTON            150/1
MATT EVERY                    150/1
KEVIN STREELMAN               150/1
BO VAN PELT                   150/1
RUSSELL HENLEY                200/1
CHESSON HADLEY                200/1
KEVIN STADLER                 200/1
MATT JONES                    200/1
BEN CRANE                     200/1
K.J. CHOI                     200/1
BRANDEN GRACE                 200/1
GEORGE COETZEE                200/1
PABLO LARRAZABAL              200/1
RICHARD STERNE                200/1
BERND WIESBERGER              200/1
THONGCHAI JAIDEE              200/1
BRIAN HARMAN                  200/1
BOO WEEKLEY                   200/1
KENNY PERRY                   200/1
DAVID TOMS                    250/1
SCOTT PIERCY                  250/1
DAVIS LOVE III                250/1
VIJAY SINGH                   250/1
SCOTT STALLINGS               250/1
GONZALO FERNANDEZ-CASTANO     250/1
STEVEN BOWDITCH               250/1
MARC WARREN                   300/1
ROBERTO CASTRO                300/1
Y.E. YANG                     300/1
DARREN CLARKE                 300/1
COLIN MONTGOMERIE             300/1
JOHN DALY                     500/1
FIELD (all others)             18/1
Jul 21

Winners and losers from the British Open

This past weekend saw a lot of great storylines and we are here to give you the good and the bad of it. Here are our winners and losers from the past week in golf.

Winners

Rory McIlroy — What can you say about this kid? He’s incredible, he’s living up to the hype, and he played a golf tournament from start to finish just like You Know Who used to. Rory is the standard bearer in professional golf right now, and it isn’t even close. Three major wins at 25? That’s more than the No. 1, 3 and 4 ranked players in the world have in their careers ... combined.

Rickie Fowler — It has been an impressive major championship season for Rickie Fowler, who was once again in a final group on Sunday at a major. Fowler is the real deal, and as McIlroy said in his presentation speech at Royal Liverpool, he will be winning a major very, very soon. We can swoon all we want on the brilliance of Jordan Spieth, but Fowler’s swing changes have made him the best young American in the game right now.

Tom Watson — He shot 68 on Sunday at the age of 64. Will this guy be competing at the British Open at 70? I wouldn’t bet against him.

Sergio Garcia — We have all had a good chuckle at the expense of Sergio Garcia, but his resurgence in the golf world feels a little bit like what Steve Stricker has done. Garcia played a brilliant round of golf on Sunday, and even with the chunked bunker shot on 15, held it together and pushed Rory as much as anyone. Garcia might win a major after all, especially if that putter stays as steady as it did at Hoylake.

Tiger Woods — You can call him a loser all you want for his play this week, but Tiger had a must-make birdie putt on Friday to make the cut and nailed it. The guy didn’t play competitive golf for four months and made the cut in a major championship. That’s a step in the right direction and an improvement from what happened at Congressional. I’m calling it a win for Tiger, and his return is definitely a win for golf.

Losers

Dustin Johnson — Johnson gave us hope of another run like Royal St. George’s, but his weekend was weak considering the conditions. Johnson has the talent to be an equal to the Rory-Adam-Justin-Henrik group, but he continues to struggle in the majors when things get tight. Firing 71-72 on the weekend at a wind-less Hoylake isn’t going to get it done, and his struggles on the par-5 had most golf writers scratching their heads (or manicured beards, in this case).

Catching Jack talk — Rory wins his third major and everyone is now pointing to Jack’s 18? Can’t we just enjoy something for a second before completing ruining it with future predictions?

Tom Watson’s Ryder Cup decisions — Whatever happens with Watson's captain's picks, it will be a tough one. I’m not sure I’ve ever said this, but I don’t think I want to be Tom Watson when the time comes for him to submit those picks, and if he goes with Tiger people will be up in arms about the decision, but if you leave him off the the tournament takes a huge dip in interest. What to do, what to do ...

Martin Kaymer — The U.S. Open champion could do no wrong at Pinehurst. Since that performance he has missed the cut at the BMW International, shot 77 in the final round of the French Open and fired a Sunday 79 at Hoylake.