Norton, MA—Throughout the 1960’s golf was the domain of a legendary trio—Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player. Each man exhibited at times top tier golf and no major event was ever far from their respective grasp. The recent vintage golf by Australian Jason Day has clearly shown that all of the previous talk about a “big two”—with the likes of Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth—is clearly premature.
At the end of ’15 and for the first several months of ’16, it appeared the Northern Irishman McIlroy would be a solo act. The 26-year-old claimed the top spot in the world rankings with a clear vengeance, winning the final two majors in ’15 and there was little in terms of meaningful competition that seemed prepared to enter the fray with him.
Things did begin to change this past April when American Spieth won The Masters in commanding fashion. Spieth showed a competitive fire and maturity that showed plenty of promise. The battle for number one would no longer be a monopoly of just one man.
Spieth’s winning the U.S. Open and nearly The Open Championship clearly pushed the previous attention focused on McIlroy to the sidelines. Complicating matters was McIlroy’s ill-advised soccer injury when playing with friends.
The race for supremacy entered a new chapter with the resolute focus of the 27-year-old Day. For the last few years Day had showed much promise—nearly winning various majors but failing in the final rounds in several of them. After this year’s Open Championship Day showed a far different side of his golf game—winning three of four starts beginning with the Canadian Open. His 20-under-par performance at Whistling Straits was a tour de force effort. And Day went even further, firing a 19-under-par total in winning The Barclays in NJ. Day concluded weekend play at Plainfield CC with a mind-boggling 63-62=125 total.
This week marks the 2nd event of the Fed-Ex Cup Playoffs. The top 100 players will battle for 70 spots to advance to the 3rd event in the greater Chicago area in two weeks.
Although the world rankings have McIlroy as the #1 player globally, the reality is Day is clearly the hottest player and is ascending rapidly. Both Day and Spieth have four wins this year and although McIlroy trails with two victories, the nature of golf has proven one thing—each week is a different situation and there’s little doubt Rory is fully capable in reasserting himself into the mix with one solid week of play.
If anything, the recent form chart clearly favors Day when held against the other time. Jason has sufficient length to match that of McIlroy and his short game and putter have proven to be every bit as magical as anything Spieth has been doing outside of last week.
The key to watch as the playoffs grind forward is the overall fatigue of the players. The long season is coming down to the very few remaining events and this week’s event at Boston will demonstrate which of the three players is best able to summon up a top tier effort. In Spieth’s case, the missed cut in the Garden State may serve well as a motivator to propel himself to the kind of play he has shown consistently over the balance of ’15.
Now all three will be in the field and the push to get the number one position—both in the world rankings and in claiming the FedEx Cup—is a goal of immense importance and could very well determine which of three will be player-of-the-year.
The Deutsche Bank is different from all other PGA Tour events as the first round commences today with the final 18 planned for Labor Day Monday. There’s little question all three will be “laboring” to get the critical edge over the other two along with the remaining talented players in the field. The ’15 golf season is coming to an exciting conclusion—the ultimate gain is the game itself. Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson were mainstays for nearly 20 years. Their time is now in the sunset phase—the young dynamos are clearly rising with their best golf yet to come.
M. James Ward, a member of Golf Writer’s Association of America (GWAA) and past member of Met Golf Writer’s Association (MGWA), has reported on golf’s grandest events since 1980 in a variety of forums.