One year ago, as Jordan Spieth was energizing the golf world by capturing the Masters and the U.S. Open as well as displacing Rory McIlroy as the World Number One, Jason Day owned three PGA titles. The 27-year old Australian had nine Top Ten finishes in majors, but was getting a reputation for not closing the deal.
Then Day went out and set scoring records at Whistling Straits to bring home that first major, the PGA Championship. In short order a golfing media desperate to fill a gaping chasm created by Tiger Woods’ decline, herded Spieth, McIlroy, and Day into a 21st century version of “The Big Three” – Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player of yesteryear.
Three Becomes One?
That narrative hasn’t played out so well in recent months. After Jason Day once again set scoring records this past weekend at The Players Championship in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, he solidified his hold on the Number One ranking. Day has now won seven times in his last 17 tournaments. Only 18 current PGA pros have won more tournaments than that in their entire careers. Heck, only 149 golfers in history have won more times than Jason Day has in his last 17 tournaments.
At TPC Sawgrass, Day and Spieth were the marquee pairing for the first two rounds. Day made 15 birdies on Thursday and Friday (only two were on par fives) and 21 pars to fire a Players Championship 36-hole all-time low of 129. In the head-to-head match-up Spieth shot 143 and missed the cut.
Further dampening talk of a “Big Three” was the continued inconsistency of Rory McIlroy who alternates brilliant rounds with far too many pedestrian efforts on the course. Along the way the Northern Ireland star has been making unsettling noises – to fans who want their golf heroes to be automatons – that golf isn’t as fun for him as it was when he was a kid, and he can’t imagine himself blasting balls with his driver and sinking putts beyond the age of 40.
The True Jason Day Comparison?
While Day’s dominating play has rendered comparisons to Spieth and McIlroy more or less moot, some say the more apt description invokes the name of Woods. While premature and pert near heretical, the term “Tigeresque” is being bandied about. Coincidentally, Day’s current run began in August of 2015 – the last time Tiger Woods played golf.
The fiercest of competitors, Woods has never been known for his charity towards fellow golfers but it turns out he has been regularly advising Day on the mental side of championship golf. Besides possessing the most talent on Tour, Tiger Woods was the greatest grinder the game had ever seen, never surrendering a shot and never conceding a chance to win.
Day is taking the counsel to heart. He has focused on maintaining concentration for all four hours he is on the golf course and never giving away a hole. Already in 2016 he has won two tournaments wire-to-wire, and the only players ever to do that were Woods (twice), Tom Watson, and Johnny Miller. And that doesn’t include his World Match Play championship that required winning all seven of his matches.
Like Woods, Day also appears comfortable in the role of World Number One, playing each week with a target on his back. After his win at Sawgrass, Day explained his thinking about being the best golfer on the planet: “I’m motivated to be No. 1. I’m motivated to extend that lead, but I’m very motivated to win as much as I can right now. I want it so bad right now. I want to win every single tournament that I’m playing in.”
Who is ready to step up to the tee and challenge him?