Burning questions about Hilton Head

1. Winning matters

With all the hoopla surrounding Rory McIlroy, it's easy to forget that his older buddy and countryman from Northern Ireland, Graeme McDowell, was the first of the two to get a major championship with the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.

Being so established and popular with that major and six European Tour titles and noteworthy appearances on three European Ryder Cup teams, it was also easy to forget that the win at Pebble Beach was McDowell's only official PGA Tour win.

Sure, he had won Tiger's World Challenge twice, including an exciting playoff victory over Tiger Woods in 2010, but those were wins against very small fields.

On Sunday, the 33-year-old former University of Alabama-Birmingham All-American beat Webb Simpson in a playoff at the RBC Heritage at Harbour Town.

Ultimately, players are rated by their wins, but McDowell has already had a pretty nice career. And perhaps more than anything, his lean victory total is overshadowed by the weight of his U.S. Open win.

Most players always feel the pressure to win more after taking majors. But having a major doesn't mean a player is destined to have buckets of wins in his future.

On Sunday, McDowell beat Simpson, the reigning U.S. Open champion. At 27, Simpson is a three-time winner with one of the most promising futures of the American players in his generation, which includes Dustin Johnson, Keegan Bradley and Rickie Fowler.

Johnson is likely to win more than any of these players, but he might be the last to win a major. If he never takes one of the big four, most of us will remember him for it. On the other hand, McDowell might have a career in which he doesn't win many tournaments, but he could be remembered for that U.S. Open win and his contributions to several Ryder Cup teams.

But whether it's the U.S. Open or the Reno-Tahoe Open, wins never come easy, even for the most elite on tour.

"The game kicks you more often than it gives you a pat on the back," McDowell said on Sunday night. "It's hard to win."


After a bogey-free 5-under 66 on Saturday, Charley Hoffman had a two-shot lead heading into the final round of the RBC Heritage at Hilton Head, S.C. Then, he shot a 77 on Sunday that included a 40 on the back nine to finish in a tie for sixth.

The 36-year-old former UNLV star knows this feeling of losing the grasp on a golf tournament. Last June at the Travelers, Hoffman had a two-shot lead heading into the 17th hole at the TPC River Highlands course, near Hartford, Conn.

Then, he went double-bogey-bogey over the last two holes to miss out on a playoff by a shot with Marc Leishman.

Now in his eighth season on tour, the San Diego native has two career wins, the 2007 Bob Hope Chrysler Classic and the 2010 Deutsche Bank Championship.

He's one of those players that retains his card year after year with little difficulty. On Sunday, Hoffman didn't get much help from Mother Nature, as harsh winds made Harbour Town very difficult.

"I live in Vegas; it blows out there," he said. "I like the wind. I'd rather have the wind blow than not blow. I'm usually a good ball striker.
I usually hit the ball solid and control it better in the wind. I say 'bring on the wind.'"

Yet on Sunday, he was humbled by it.

"I actually hit more fairways and greens than I did yesterday," Hoffman said. "And the shots I hit good didn't turn out like I thought they were going to turn out. The wind gusting, and sometimes it doesn't work out, and it didn't work out today, unfortunately."

3. Anchoring wars

If Simpson had managed to beat McDowell on Sunday in Hilton Head, it would have marked the second consecutive week on tour that a player had won using the anchored putting method.

Last week at the Masters Tournament, Adam Scott became the first to win the green jacket with the controversial method. Both Scott and Simpson have been very vocal in their opposition to the proposed ban, set to go in force in 2016.

It was ironic that McDowell was matched against Simpson on Sunday.

Back in August, when the ban was still a few months away from going from mere speculation to a written memorandum by the governing bodies, the two players came out on different sides of the issue.

"Let's level the playing field again," McDowell said. "Let's get everyone with a short putter back in the bag as the game is meant to be played."

Simpson made his case with the facts, citing the statistics showing that no one from the top 20 in the tour's "strokes gained" category used the method.

"To me, to change something that big and to cost manufacturers millions of dollars, you've got to have some pretty good facts," Simpson said. "Just because some of us are winning majors or winning tournaments with the belly putter -- I don't think that's a good reason to say, 'Hey, we're going to take them away.'"

The debate over the anchoring method won't be settled on the golf course or in the court of public opinion. But on Sunday, McDowell took one for the pro-ban camp.

4. Billy-Ho!

On Sunday, Billy Horschel got his third consecutive top 10 on the PGA Tour with a tie for ninth. The 26-year-old former Walker Cup participant out of the University of Florida was the king of Texas with a tie for second and a tie for third in the two events played there in the two weeks preceding the Masters.

If he had won one of those events in the Lone Star State to get into Augusta, he probably would have gotten a top 10 there, too.

If there was an award for the best comeback after a shooting an 85, the Grant, Fla., native would've gotten it.
It was hard to see all this great playing after Horschel shot an 85 in the final round at Bay Hill.
But he saw it. And that's all that matters.

Don't be surprised to see him win later this season and contend in one of the three remaining majors.

5. City View

On the Monday after the Masters, I was in LaGuardia Airport in New York collecting my golf bag from the oversized luggage area when a middle-aged man wearing a green Masters shirt walked up to me with a question I knew he would have.

"Should Tiger have been disqualified?" he said.

Later on in the cab, the driver asked, "Should Tiger have disqualified himself?"

Then, once I got home outside my building in Harlem, a middle-aged woman hollered from across the street, "Why are they bothering Tiger?"

It's been more than a week since Woods took that illegal drop at the 15th hole during the third round of the Masters, but people are still talking about it.

I haven't heard much about Scott -- other than that he's a good-lucking guy -- in my local watering hole, bookstore and health club.

Most of the conversation about the 77th Masters still seems to be about the guy who everybody thought was going to win at the start of the tournament.

Four or five days after I left Augusta, I was in my neighborhood bar nursing a beer too strong for me when an actor I know wanted a better understanding of Rule 33.7/4.5.

But before I could get a word out, an eavesdropper blurted, "The Tiger Rule!"

That's probably an oversimplified way of looking at the issue, but it got to the heart of the matter, at least in the minds of the occasional golf fan who tunes in mostly for Tiger.

But I've enjoyed all these street encounters. For years on these same New York streets, I've been answering questions about Tiger.

When is Tiger going to win again? How many girlfriends did he have? Is he going to break Jack's record?

I'm still answering some of these questions now, but over the past week it's been all about that drop. I expect to hear less about it as the U.S. Open nears.

Tiger will give us something else to talk about, and the people in the streets who view the game principally through him will get another dose of information that will have them seeking me out on the subway platforms, bus stops and corner delis. I know the questions are coming.