Monday 23 April 2018

New Big Three leave old guard trailing

Jason Day will be hoping for more Major victories after his USPGA Championship triumph
Jason Day will be hoping for more Major victories after his USPGA Championship triumph
Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day are the new Big Three of golf in the modern era.

They are just as focused, driven, and ambitious as the original of the species - Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player - and with five of the last six Major titles won by the 20-something trio, these guys can set the agenda for the next few years.

Spieth (22), McIlroy (26) and Day (27), the man of the moment following his epic performance on Sunday to win the US PGA Championship, know exactly what to expect.

Day dissolved in welter of tears at finally breaking his Major hoodoo after nine top-ten finishes.

He saw off Spieth at Whistling Straits, holding his nerve to achieve a record of 20 under par, the best score in relation to par in Major history.

The popular Aussie is looking forward to building on the foundations he has now firmly put in place.

"As long as I am healthy, I feel like I'm going to be there a long time," he said. "I still want to accomplish that number one goal of mine, which is to be the best player in the world. I'm still motivated and still very hungry for that, even after this win.

"Stuff like this is just the icing on the top of the cake, when you work so hard and being able to achieve something like this."


Tiger Woods from 1997-2008 was the central figure around whom golf revolved. He set the standards for fitness and athleticism and opened up the game to new converts.

Now that Woods is on the downward path and struggling to find some equilibrium, the time is right for new stars to thrust themselves forward.

"I think golf is in a very healthy stage now," added Day. "I felt three to five years ago, it was kind of struggling a little bit with the identity of who was really going to be that No 1 player in the world, who was going to be the next best thing, and Rory came out and was really dominating.

"There was no one really kind of challenging him for that role.

"Young guys like myself and Jordan and Rickie Fowler and Hideki Matsuyama. . . a lot of those guys are starting to play better golf and starting to challenge.

"What I'm looking forward to in the future is the sheer competition of fighting against these guys each week."

"It's going to be a lot of fun over the next five to ten years."

Spieth and McIlroy - who tweeted his congratulations to Day, saying his victory was "inspiring" - are also relishing the challenge.

And when McIlroy used the word inspiring, as he did in describing Spieth's two Major wins this year, he meant it will drive him to pick up the gauntlet his two big rivals have thrown down.

These players go at it hard as they can but a little cameo between Spieth and Day on the 11th hole on Sunday illustrated the level of healthy competitiveness that they can enjoy, even in the heat of the most intense battle.

"The tee shot on 11, if he gets a little off-line there, either way, he has to lay up and it's probably a par," said Spieth afterwards.

"I thought at the time my ball was still going to be okay. It was going to be good enough to reach the green. Got a tough break in the rough to the side.

"But when he hit that tee ball and I walked up and saw where it was, I turned to him, I actually out loud turned to him and said holy. . . you know, and I yelled it over to him, and I said you've got to be kidding me. And then he gave me a little bicep.

"And when he hit that shot and he had what looked like a wedge into the hole, I knew I was going to be playing uphill from there."

Does this mean the Big Three will have it all their own way from now on? Absolutely not.

Justin Rose (35) and Branden Grace (27) can live comfortably at this level of competition in Majors, as can Dustin Johnson (31) and Brooks Koepka (25).

Shane Lowry is 28 and has raised the bar of his own potential with his WGC-Bridgestone victory, but the older generation will not be easily brushed aside.

Zach Johnson won the Open at St Andrews at the age of 39, and Jim Furyk (45) is sixth in the world rankings.

Padraig Harrington won the Honda Classic this year at age 43.

That said, it's hard to match the youthful exuberance that Spieth, McIlroy, Day and Co bring to the arena.

"We don't play to take a week and just sneak by the cut and just get up early and tie for 35th. You want to feel the pressure that we felt today. That was fun," said Spieth on Sunday.

"It was fun waking up today, knowing I've got another chance to win a Major. You get that blood running through your veins, your mind just knows the position that you're in. It's just a different feeling than any other position.

"I enjoy it. It's a thrill. And I love being able to ride some momentum from the crowd, I like being able to see some cool shots, make some putts when you do feel that pressure."

How they compare

Jordan Spieth

Age: 22

Ranking: 1

Biggest wins: 2015 Masters, 2015 US Open

On-course earnings: €15,836,202

Strengths: Great under pressure and exceptionally good on the greens.

Weaknesses: Average length off tee.

Rory McIlroy

Age: 26

Ranking: 2

Biggest wins: 2011 US Open, 2012, 2014 US PGA; 2014 British Open

On-course earnings: €24,903,230

Strengths: Fine swing, long with driver.

Weaknesses: Short game could be sharper, especially his putting.

Jason Day

Age: 27

Ranking: 3

Biggest wins: 2015 US PGA; 2014 WGC-Accenture Match Play

On-course earnings: €17,752,794

Strengths: Long and accurate off tee, good short game and putting.

Weaknesses: Mental focus near finish line was a problem up to now.

Irish Independent

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