As I wrote last week — and said on the D&L Window Tinting Morning Reaction — Rory McIlroy was always going to win the PGA Championship at Valhalla GC. It was the easiest golf bet since Tiger captured the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines in San Diego.
McIlroy has entered the rarest of rare airs as far as golf goes, meaning that his best game is unbeatable by everyone else. If he has a “B day”, as he did throughout the front nine on Sunday, the world’s best players can outplay him on any given day. But, if Rory has his “A game”, see Sunday’s back nine as an example, no one can beat him.
That said, McIlroy’s bad decision making, along with that of Rickie Fowler and Phil Mickelson, forced the PGA of America into making their own curious call on the 18th hole. Let’s be clear, the debacle of the final 30 minutes on Sunday won’t necessitate an asterisk next to Rory’s name in the record books, but it will hopefully serve as a lesson for the 25-year old star, his playing competitors and the PGA of America.
The final hole on Sunday was played in near darkness, as the last two groups rushed their way through the hole after McIlroy’s 17th hole birdie staked him to a two stroke lead with only the 72nd hole left to play.
A reachable par-5, both Mickelson and Fowler — each two shots back — needed an eagle to force McIlroy’s hand, meaning he’d need birdie at the last to win.
This is where mistake #1 occurred. Those two shouldn’t have played the 18th hole. Fowler is a young kid who doesn’t know better; Mickelson is a 44-year old veteran, a 5-time major champion and a guy who DOES know better. It’s always the player’s prerogative to stop playing in the event of darkness or inclement weather. They both opted to play on, though, and as it turned out, playing that hole in the diminishing daylight in no way served to help either player. It’s hard enough — even on a relatively easy par-5 hole — to pure your drive and hit an iron close enough to make “3”. Doing it in the dark? Nearly impossible (even though Mickelson nearly holed his chip for eagle).
But, if Mickelson and Fowler were wrong for playing #18 in the dark, McIlroy was downright reckless. There was far, far more danger lurking for McIlroy — even with a two shot lead — by trying to finish in the Louisville darkness.
One for certain — at a major championship, with nightfall lurking — Tiger wouldn’t have played the 18th the hole circa 2007 when he was on top of the golfing world and in chase of Jack Nicklaus. He would have said what McIlroy should have said around 8:35 pm last night after his 17th hole birdie gave him a 2-shot cushion and the trophy in hand.
“Hey, I know this is going to aggravate you guys, but this is a major championship. I’m going to come back tomorrow and finish up when I can see the ball.”
There would have been cries about TV coverage and sponsors and ticket sales/admission for a Monday finish, but this wasn’t the John Deere Classic, this was the PGA Championship.
“It’s a major championship. Tell my pilot to put the jet back in hangar. We’re going to finish up in the morning,” is what any and all three of the competitors should have said.
That would have been the smart thing for all of them to do…McIlroy, Mickelson and Fowler. It was within their playing rights to call it a day (or, in this case, night) and no one who actually knows golf would have faulted any of them for doing it.
Instead, confusion reigned as Phil and Rickie played their tee shots at #18, then allowed McIlroy to play his tee ball while they were out in the fairway. Those two then thought they were going to play the hole out at the normal pace afforded them. Instead, when they got to the green, they were then told to wait while McIlroy played his shot. Two minutes or so transpired, valuable time at that point as darkness affected depth perception and the player’s ability to read the greens. Then, McIlroy smartly laid up short of the green, although much to his dismay, the ball bounded into the front left, greenside bunker.
Where was the PGA of America to radio in, immediately, that McIlroy was laying up with his second shot? Had they done that, Mickelson and Fowler could have played the hole at their own uninterrupted pace. Instead, the two on the green had to wait a couple of minutes while everything got sorted out. Mickelson nearly holed his chip en-route to a birdie and a -15 score, while Fowler cost himself a few hundred grand by rushing through a three-putt par at the 18th hole to end up at -14.
McIlroy, you know by now, splashed his bunker shot out to 30 feet and then two-putted for the one-shot win.
It was ugly, though.
All the way around.
As the player most likely to start chasing Tiger’s 14 major titles, Rory needs to carefully examine his decision making at the end of the round. He’ll find out as he goes along these chances to win the PGA — or any other major — only come along once a year. They’re not to be squandered by a silly choice to play in the darkness “just to get it all done”, as McIlroy confessed in his post-tournament press conference.
Other than Fowler throwing away $300,000 or so with his missed six footer at #18, there was “no harm, no foul” from the entire final hole debacle.
But, it could have been a major fiasco had McIlroy not finished the job amidst the cell phone camera lights.