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Rory, Russell and Tiger, oh my

Russell Henley got the early voting going for rookie of the year honors with his 3-shot victory Sunday at the Sony Open in Hawaii. The PGA Tour rookie tied or set a slew of records en route to win No. 1 in the PGA Tour's first full-field event of 2013.

So what's in store for the University of Georgia product? And why is the golf world focused on the Middle East in the coming week? Our experts tackle those topics and more in this week's edition of Monday Four-Ball.


1. What impressed you the most from Russell Henley in his victory Sunday?

Michael Collins, ESPN.com senior golf analyst: Two bogeys all week? Shatters the scoring record by 4 shots? This kid just turned pro in 2011, yet in his first event as a PGA Tour member he makes a bounce-back birdie at the ninth hole and then drops a 29 on the back nine on Sunday. He said he's never been that nervous before. Maybe he should stay nervous.

Farrell Evans, ESPN.com senior golf writer: Henley's five birdies to finish the tournament, without a hint of fear or timidity, was a site to behold and cherish for years to come.

Bob Harig, ESPN.com senior golf writer: His putting. He had 33 1-putt greens, including the last five in a row. That's impressive for anyone, not just a rookie on the PGA Tour.

Kevin Maguire, ESPN.com senior golf editor: The back-nine 29 on Sunday. Most seasoned veterans, much less a PGA Tour rookie, feel the shirt collar tighten when making the turn anywhere near the lead with nine holes to play. What did Henley do? He simply made six birdies and three pars to run away with the Sony Open in Hawaii.


2. Who will have a better finish this week in Abu Dhabi: Tiger Woods or Rory McIlroy?

Michael Collins: Tiger. He remembers last year, and even though Rory didn't win, he beat Tiger. I think this year Tiger gets him by a couple shots. Woods is healthy and has had time to fully practice and prepare coming into this week. I expect nothing less than a top-five finish.

Farrell Evans: Tiger. Rory is playing with new equipment for the first time, so he might be a little nervous about that and struggle. Tiger is excited and ready to jump-start his year with a win.

Bob Harig: Tiger, and it's more because Rory has a lot going on this week with the equipment switch. This is also one tournament in the middle of a long break for McIlroy, who won't play again until the end of February at the WGC-Match Play Championship.

Kevin Maguire: Tiger. McIlroy will be under a microscope unlike any other even he's used to, and playing with new equipment won't make it easier. Sure, McIlroy has had time to test the new sticks, but nothing can replicate tournament conditions when learning to trust new clubs.


3. With so many rookies playing so well in the first full-field event of 2013, what's the key for the youngsters to contend for titles despite so little PGA Tour experience?

Michael Collins: Confidence. I've talked with many veterans about this subject and they all say the same thing. It used to be that guys just wanted to play well enough to get their tour card for the next year. Now guys tee it up and know they can win. It's a mindset that Tiger can be credited with bringing.

Farrell Evans: These kids just play golf. Henley had been in the trenches so much on the Web.com Tour that he wasn't really in awe of the moment at the Sony Open. Yes, there is a difference between the Sony Open and a major championship, but this was a good way to put everybody on notice that there are kids aiming to steal jobs and wins from veterans.

Bob Harig: In Henley's case specifically, he got comfortable playing and winning on the Web.com Tour. It can't be understated how valuable that experience can be for a player.

Kevin Maguire: The fact that they've seen so many of their young peers win early in their careers just helps other up-and-comers feed off each other. Expect more rookies to contend in coming weeks as the "why not me" philosophy works overtime.


4. True or false: Rory McIlroy will struggle in his first tournament this week with new clubs in the bag?

Michael Collins: False. I don't think Rory would "struggle" if you gave him a hockey stick, a tennis racket and 12 different size shovels. It might take him a few events to win with them, but he is going to find a way. It'll take him two events to adjust to his new setup in tournament conditions, then it'll be right back to business as usual ... we hope.

Farrell Evans: True. Rory will struggle with his new equipment, but not because there is something off about his clubs. It will be because of the learning curve and psychological barrier involved in trusting the equipment in competition under pressure.

Bob Harig: False. There is an adjustment period with new equipment, but you can be sure McIlroy has been practicing with it. He might need to work out a few issues, but if he's playing well, it shouldn't matter.

Kevin Maguire: False. He might not contend for the victory at the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship with new tools in play, but McIlroy is too good to let a change like this alter his game much.