Liam Kelly: How Big 3 established a new world order
Month by month guide to the 2015 takeover by Spieth, McIlroy and Day
Published 21/12/2015 | 02:30
The emergence of Jordan Spieth, the Major breakthrough by Jason Day, and Rory McIlroy's season of joy and tears produced a compelling narrative throughout the golf season on both sides of the Atlantic. This is the way the Year of the New Big 3 unfolded:
Jason Day, starting the year in eighth place in the world rankings, is first into action, finishing tied-third in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in Hawaii, shooting 62, 11-under-par, in the final round.
"Today, I just felt like I was the best player in the world. I'm just glad to get in and get a good start to the year."
World No 1 McIlroy comes second in his first event in Abu Dhabi on 18 under, just a shot behind winner Gary Stal.
"I feel like it's been a great week because I feel like there's a couple of things to work on, and hopefully that will make me perform even better in a couple weeks' time."
Spieth, ninth in the rankings, does not play this month.
Rory builds on his good form in Abu Dhabi to win the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, with 22 under par.
"It's great to get that win. Coming off a good performance in Abu Dhabi as well, I've got some confidence and momentum on my side heading into the next couple of months."
Day hits form with a play-off victory in the Farmers Insurance Open.
"To be able to come out early during the year and win - I'm just really thrilled about how it's gotten to happen. So I'm hoping for a good year, hoping to stay healthy, and really try and challenge that No 1."
Spieth opens his campaign with a tied 7th in Phoenix, the first of four tournaments for him this month. His best finish is T-4 in the Northern Trust Open.
"It's really close to all firing. Yeah, to get three top 10s out of the first four events is nice."
A missed cut for McIlroy, his first on the PGA Tour since the 2012 US Open, at the Honda Classic which is won by Padraig Harrington.
"Yeah, I'm p*ssed off. I don't like missing cuts."
He goes on to tie for 9th in the WGC Cadillac Championship despite hurling his 3-iron into the water at the par-5 eighth hole of Doral's Blue Monster course in round two, and is tied-11 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Of his club-throw he says:
"It was heat of the moment. If it had been any other club I probably wouldn't have, but I didn't need a 3‑iron for the rest of the round, so I thought, why not?"
Spieth strikes with his first victory of 2015, taking the Valspar Championship in a play-off against Sean O'Hair and Patrick Reed, and is second in the Valero Texas Open.
"Right now, what I'm really focused on is Rory McIlroy as No 1 in the world. That's who everyone is trying to chase."
Day has a moderate month, going T-31 in the Cadillac Championship and T-17 in Arnie's tournament.
Spieth is Masters Champion at age 21, making him the second youngest winner behind Tiger Woods, who was also 21 in 1997. He shoots 270, 18 under par, leads wire to wire, and wins by four shots.
"It's incredible. It's one of the best feelings I've ever felt. This was arguably the greatest day of my life. It's just an honour to join those names that have been on the trophy before."
McIlroy comes 4th, but is reasonably satisfied.
"I played well. I can take a lot of positives from it. It's my best ever finish here."
Day is T-28 in the Masters and T-4 in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans.
The Month of McIlroy. He wins the WGC-Cadillac Match Play, defeating Paul Casey in the semi-final and Gary Woodland in the final. It is his 10th PGA Tour victory, and comes the day before his 26th birthday. Only Jack Nicklaus and Woods have had 10 wins under the age of 26. He finishes T-8 in The Players Championship and wins again in the Wells Fargo Championship with a seven-shot margin.
"It's great to be mentioned with the likes of Tiger and Jack, the two greatest players that I think have ever played this game. I'm on my journey, I'll see where I get to."
Spieth plays four events, with his best performance a tie for second in the Crowne Plaza Invitational. Day has an early KO in the Match Play, and misses the cut at The Players.
Spieth has the 'wow factor' as he wins a second successive Major, making him the youngest US Open champion since 1923, despite a double-bogey on the 71st hole at Chambers Bay.
"It's amazing. It's incredible to win a Major championship. You only get a few moments in your life like this, and I recognise that. And to have two in one year and to still be early in the year, that's hard to wrap my head around."
Day has a collapse with a form of vertigo in round two, but digs deep and shows great courage to continue, finishing T-4.
"I fought a good fight. And I think everybody that watched the telecast knows that I never gave up. It was a battle."
McIlroy shoots 66 in the last round and finishes tied for 9th place.
"I feel like it's sort of one that got away, especially the way I putted this week. I don't think I've ever hit the ball as well in a Major championship."
A devastating injury to his left ankle while playing soccer with friends has serious consequences for McIlroy's season. On July 7, he announces that he will miss the Open at St Andrews.
"I want to come back to tournament play when I feel 100pc healthy and 100pc competitive."
Spieth has a chance to win the first three Majors of the season, a feat last achieved by fellow Texan Ben Hogan in 1953. In a weather-disrupted championship which goes into a Monday finish for only the second time in its history, Spieth gets to 14 under par, just one shot out of a three-man play-off won by Zach Johnson.
"I don't know how many guys have done three Majors in a year. I'm sure there's only been a few. I know Tiger has done it, so that would be the next goal as far as the history goes."
Day also concludes the Open on 14 under par.
"It's a little frustrating with how it finished. But I've been in contention at Major championships a lot now, and it just shows I'm doing the right things, and I can't look at it as a negative."
Day finally ends his Major hoodoo, playing majestic golf at Whistling Straits, finishing on 20 under par.
"I learned a lot about myself, again, being able to finish the way I did. To be able to walk up the 18th hole and finish the way I did, it was just a lot of emotion that came out of me. I guess you can take me off the (list of) best players without a Major now. It's good to be a Major champion."
Spieth battles as hard as he can but has to settle for second place on 17 under. His consolation is that he finally usurps McIlroy and becomes World No 1.
"I could have made more putts today, I could have done a little bit more, but I'm really proud of the way that we fought."
McIlroy has pushed the envelope to get back into action earlier than expected and finishes a creditable 17th. The ankle is not fully healed but he gets through four rounds.
"I'm walking away pretty happy with how the week went. Obviously it isn't a win and I didn't get myself into contention, but considering six weeks ago I wasn't able to walk, it's not a bad effort."
Two weeks after his PGA victory, Day wins The Barclays, the first of the Fall Series events in the FedEx Cup
"The work and dedication I've put in over the years, it feels like it's finally paying off. It's been a whirlwind kind of summer."
Spieth misses the cut at The Barclays and drops to World No 2.
He's back! Spieth times his run to perfection and wins the Tour Championship, having missed the cut at the Deutsche Bank, followed by a T-13 in the BMW Championship. He also claims a FedEx Cup bonus of over $11m.
"I believe we took our game on course and off course to a level that I didn't think would be possible at different times in my life. It gives me a lot of confidence going forward for the next 20 years."
Day has another kick in him, as he wins the BMW Championship which takes him to the World No 1 slot. He goes on to T-12 at the Deutsche Bank and T-10 in the The Tour Championship. "It's just been an amazing run for me, and now it just tops it off even better being able to get to No 1 in the world."
McIlroy plays three of the Fall Series, finishing T-29 in the Deutsche Bank, T-4 in the BMW, and T-16 in The Tour Championship. Following the Tour Championship he goes to third place in the World rankings.
"I think it's a lost year already, just because I didn't win a Major. Ultimately, it's a year that I guess got away from me."
By the end of the month, the Big 3 rankings are: 1. Spieth; 2. Day; 3. McIlroy.
It's President's Cup time. Spieth plays for the USA and Day for The International Team at the Jack Nicklaus Club in Incheon, South Korea. USA win 14.5 to 13.5
"I really enjoy the team part of this. That's my favourite part about these matches. We play individual events all the time. But the team part of this was fantastic this week," says Spieth.
McIlroy has been lightly raced through the summer due to his injury lay-off, and he sets his sights on retaining his Race To Dubai title. Some players complain about a special exemption given McIlroy by the Tour, reducing his playing requirements from 13 to 12, but to no avail. McIlroy is T-6 in the Turkish Airlines Open, T-11 in the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai and wins the DP World Tour Championship to secure the No 1 status again.
"To be European No 1 for the third time in four year was a goal of mine at the start of the year. I'm grateful to The European Tour for letting me be a part of the Race to Dubai, and letting me play here this week."
Spieth plays the WGC-HSBC in Shanghai and is T-7. Two weeks later he is tied-second in the Australian Open. Day has not played since the President's Cup match, preferring to spend time with his family.
Spieth goes to the Bahamas to defend his Hero World Challenge title which is hosted by Woods' Foundation, and finishes fourth. Day opts out of the Bahamas and also the Franklin Templeton Shootout.
McIlroy, who takes a break this month, is named European Tour Golfer of the Year for 2015 by the golfing media. It is his third such award in four years.
Nothing has changed in the top three placings in the world rankings since the end of September.