Tiger who?

Woods era of­fi­cially over as Big Three step to fore

SundayXtra - - GOLF -

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.

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