Woods era officially over as Big Three step to fore
The game couldn’t have hoped for much better when it came to filling the post-Tiger void, producing three players who cover all of golf’s major power bases: Europe, the United States and Australia.
McIlroy, from Northern Ireland, won the final two majors of 2014. Spieth, from Texas, took the first two this year. Day, from Australia, won the most recent. The only one to escape that trio’s grasp during that span was the British Open at St. Andrews, where Spieth and Day both finished one shot out of a three-man playoff won by Zach Johnson. “The back and forth is fantastic,” Day said. Only 22, Spieth has put together one of the greatest years in the history of the sport. His victories at the Masters and the U.S. Open — not to mention his close call at the British Open and runner-up finish to Day in the PGA Championship — should be enough to give him the PGA Tour’s player of the year award.
The 26-year- old McIlroy was sidetracked by a fluke injury while playing soccer with his mates, forcing him to sit out St. Andrews. But he’s already got four major titles and merely needs the Masters to wrap up his career Grand Slam.
Then there’s Day, whose career was marked by several close calls in the majors until his dominating romp at Whistling Straits last month. The 27-year-old has won two more times since then in the FedEx Cup playoff, surging to No. 1 in the world rankings ahead of McIlroy and Spieth, who went back and forth with the top spot over the previous month. Get used to that sort of flip-flopping. “We’re fearless,” said Spieth, whose 68 Saturday put him into the lead, a shot ahead of Henrik Stenson. “You obviously need a bit of luck, but luck comes from believing luck will come. Luck comes from a self-belief that you have, the ability to close the deal out.”
Already, there are comparisons to another Big Three, maybe the greatest of them all: Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player, who dominated the game in the early 1960s and wound up with a total of 34 major championships. Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. With much deeper fields and a broadening talent pool around the world, no threesome is likely to approach those numbers.
“It’s a nice conversation to be a part of,” said McIlroy, five strokes off the pace going into today, while Day is eight back. “Jordan’s sort of like Jack, methodical and sort of does everything that way. ... I would be Gary, because I’m the smallest. And then I guess that would leave Jason as Arnie.”
While McIlroy was only kidding, he wasn’t totally off base.
Personality-wise, this trio is certainly more in line with Nicklaus, Player and Palmer than they are with the usually distant Woods.
Day joked to reporters that if he won the $10 million prize that’s up for grabs this week, “I might buy a few more V-necks from Target.” Spieth photobombed a couple of female fans posing for a picture during a practice round, playfully sticking out his tongue and giving a thumbsup as he walked into their frame. McIlroy talking openly about a year that didn’t go quite as he had hoped, conceding that “I maybe put a little too much pressure on myself.” They’re not Tiger, but that’s OK. Golf is doing just fine without him.
Rickie Fowler is intent on transforming the Big Three into the Fantastic Four.