Tour Confidential: Has Jason Day Erased the Big Three for Big One?

May 16, 2016

Every Sunday night, conducts an e-mail roundtable with writers from Sports Illustrated and Golf Magazine. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.

1. World No. 1 Jason Day won the Players Championship by four strokes on Sunday for his 7th win in 17 starts dating back to last summer. Is it premature to usher in the era of the Big One?

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): Not in an attention-deficit challenged world. Look, Jordan Spieth or Rory McIlroy could win the Memorial and the U.S. Open and then what? It’s back to the Three Musketeers being the only stars in the Milky Way — no snickers, please. But there is no question that Day is temporarily looking at the other two guys in his rear-view mirror. An era of dominance has to start somewhere. This sure looks like it could be it, but … 

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@AlanShipnuck): Rory can’t putt, his 100-yard game is a mess, he seems to battle a stretch of ennui at every tournament. Spieth is fighting his swing, he’s had a chance to win the last three majors and failed pretty spectacularly at two of them. Meanwhile, Day has no weaknesses in his game and is playing with a ton of confidence. I can see him putting the hammer down and really separating himself. In fact, he’s already done it.

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, GOLF Magazine (@CameronMorfit): I agree, Alan, that Spieth seems to be fighting his swing. He hit some pretty bad pull-hooks with his orange-shafted driving iron on 11 and 12 Friday. I’m not used to seeing that from him. That said, Jason hit some scratchy shots, too, but his scrambling was otherworldly. He got up and down nine out of nine times in the first two rounds, and eight out of 11 on the weekend. Pretty darn solid. 

Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated (@MarkGodich): We should all fail as spectacularly as Spieth did at St. Andrews, Alan. As for the era of the Big One, I seem to recall that we were having the same discussion about Spieth in January at Kapalua. Funny, but Day is doing exactly what Spieth did for much of 2015: finding a way to get the ball in the hole even when he doesn’t have his A game. Day hit all of three greens on the front nine on Sunday, but he turned what could have been a 40 or higher into a 38. Dare I say that right now I’d take Jason over Jordan in a putting contest?

Josh Sens, contributing writer, GOLF Magazine (@JoshSens): Living in California as I do, I hope we’re not on the brink of the Big One. My house isn’t bolted to its foundation. Seriously, though, for now, can’t we just call him the World No. 1? No hokey monikers needed. That one fits. He’s been dominant in all facets of the game, while his fellow members of the media-anointed Big Three have all had the struggles that Alan just delineated. 

Joe Passov, senior editor, Golf Magazine (@joepassov): I’m not going to deny the competitive fires that burn inside Jordan, Rory … and Rickie, for that matter. Via their social media exploits and level of engagement, they just seem to be content with living great lives and enjoying a certain level of success. By Jason Day’s post-round comments, he seems to crave winning big tournaments and strengthening his hold on No. 1. That sounds awfully Tiger-like. There will always be ebbs and flows (except with Tiger in his prime), but Day appears very convincing right now.

Godich: I’d venture to say that no one is more driven than Spieth, Joe. And perhaps that’s part of the problem, considering that he admitted after missing the cut that he was being too hard on himself. 

Passov: Mark, in my heart of hearts, I know you’re right. I guess I’m still having a little trouble with the “22-year-old-Spieth-as-conglomerate” issue, and the insane traveling he did to start this year.

2. After two days of low scoring at the Players, the Tour’s decision to dry out the greens and crank up the difficulty meter at the Stadium Course did not go down well with the field. What’s so sinful about varying conditions and forcing the world’s best players to adapt?

Van Sickle: Nearly one-third of the field three-putted the 14th and 15th greens on Saturday. That’s not challenging the world’s best golfers; that’s just stupid. There were a number of pins equally as silly, which does not identify the best players but it does, contrary to the tour’s stated goals, created supremely stupefying slow play. Lotta three-putts equals six-hour rounds. It was unwatchable golf. Big blunder.

Shipnuck: Most championship courses get harder as the week goes on, and that’s great. Players should indeed need to adapt. But Saturday it crossed the line into something goofy, where luck was as important as skill. That’s not an ideal way to identify the best player, even though Day was able to survive.

Godich: Just look at the scores. That’s all you need to see. How do you go from posting all those red numbers to having the best players in the world struggling to break 80? 

Sens: Witness Sergio’s six-putt. It was the only six-putt I’ve ever seen in which pretty much every stroke looked pretty solid. It’s been said elsewhere a million times but why not once more: given how far these guys now fly the modern golf ball, we practically need a trans-continental course to contain them. That leaves the putting surfaces as a last line of defense. You can understand the urge to protect par, but when the only way to do that is to turn the greens into funhouses, it has clearly gone too far. 

SCORES: Final Leaderboard from 2016 Players Championship

Morfit: One of Sergio’s putts rolled so funny it looked like a whiffle ball being blown across a countertop by an industrial fan. That part struck me as a bit wonky. And the fact that Day said he wasn’t even trying to make short birdie putts, but two-putt them. Come on! The Tour took a bogey there for sure. 

Passov: I have to side with Justin Rose on this one, who said, “We always play golf on the edge. That’s what tournament setups are. Players talk about ‘Oh, we want it firm and fast,’ then when we get it just a little too firm and too fast, we hate it.” My own view is cloudy. How do you ‘protect’ a golf course, its design integrity, when Jason Day is hitting 2-iron 308 yards off 18 tee, leaving him 146 in on Sunday? In Jerry Pate’s 1982 win, it was driver, 5-iron. Unfortunately, due to the ruling bodies bungling the equipment regulating, it comes down to course set-up. Of course, I’m perturbed every time an official has to “apologize” because “the golf course got away from us” due to a “perfect storm” of weather conditions. Saturday was just messed up, period. Admit it and move on.

3. On the punishing course setup on Saturday, 47-year-old Ken Duke fired a 65 to better the field scoring average by 10 strokes. Where does Duke’s performance rank among the best rounds in tough conditions in recent memory?

Shipnuck: At the very top. That was insane. 

Morfit: I’d put it up there with Brandt Snedeker’s final round at the Farmers this year in the middle of total weather armageddon. So great that Day said Duke’s 65 should be the new course record. That says it all.

Godich: Nothing rings louder than endorsements from your peers. Just read the tweets. They put Duke’s round in perspective.

Van Sickle: Good cop-out, Alan. I can’t name a better one, either. Maybe Paul Lawrie’s final round at Carnoustie where the fairways were the width of cart paths, as he came from 10 back to win the Open in a playoff with Leonard and Jean Van de Velde. Van de Velde himself played out of his mind until the blowup on 18. But really, there’s no competition in this category. Hands down winner is right here.  

Passov: Many of my brain cells stopped functioning in the 1970s, so I’ll have to go back to the second round of the 1979 Memorial, when Tom Watson posted a 3-under-par 69 on a day where the 45-degrees, sideways rain and 30-mph wind produced a wind chill of 13 degrees. Forty-two of the 107 players failed to break 80 and the field averaged just under 79 strokes for the day. Lost in the shuffle of Ken Duke’s phenomenal round was Hideki Matsuyama’s 67.

4. Jordan Spieth exhibited shaky form and fits of frustration on his way to a missed cut at the Players, his first start since his Masters meltdown. Spieth insists he’s over Augusta, but after his lackluster performance is there any reason to believe that might not be the case?

Van Sickle: No. He took a month off, went on vacation. He was still rusty and if he’d managed to sneak past the cut and play on the weekend, he probably would’ve posted a low score by Sunday. Spieth is rested and refreshed now. That Masters stuff is irrelevant. However, as I wrote over the weekend, I think he has a problem playing well when paired with Day. And when a guy drives it 308 with a 2-iron, who wouldn’t?

Morfit: I agree, Gary. Day is in his head; Spieth knows it, Day knows it, and Day knows that Spieth knows it. But I think there’s more to it than that. Although he faulted his putting, Spieth’s full swing isn’t quite there right now, either. That said, he’ll probably win in Dallas this week. 

Godich: Day isn’t in Spieth’s head. I’m going to chalk the missed cut up to rust. One swing at his 18th hole turned a Thursday 69 into a 72, and on Friday he bogeyed three of the easiest par-4s (the 6th, 12th and 15th). Plain and simple: he’s pressing. It’s not unlike what he experienced when he was trying to get his second career Tour win last year. And when he broke through at Innisbrook, the floodgates opened. He won’t win the Nelson, Cam, but when he wins at Colonial, we’ll be anointing him as a favorite at Oakmont. 

Shipnuck: Rust is certainly part of the problem but as far back as Pebble Beach, Spieth was talking about the need to improve his on-course attitude. He clearly had sky-high expectations for this year and it’s just not happening, hence the frustration. If he doesn’t figure it out soon it’s gonna be a lost year. That’s okay when you’re 22, but it doesn’t make it fun. 

Sens: I’m sure Augusta still eats at him. It would eat at anyone, all the more so a guy who’s always had a tendency to beat himself up a bit on the course. Unlike some other stars, though, Spieth is mature beyond his years and amazingly self-aware. When he crosses the line from self-motivation into self-abuse, he recognizes it. He’ll get it sorted. To the point where the sting of Augusta will just be healthy fuel for the fire. 

Passov: I, too, wish Spieth would ease up on himself. Yet, he’s so remarkable as a golfer and as a person, perhaps these expectations are completely realistic. I’m fine where he is right now. He broke par for two rounds, which isn’t all bad. He’s been fighting swing inconsistency issues all year. Give him some more time to work it out.

5.) Among players who haven’t won a major, whose play this season has most indicated to you that he’s on the cusp of breaking through?

Van Sickle: Kevin Chappell has knocked at the door a few times but I’ll say Adam Scott, even though he’s won twice. His game looks as strong as it ever has. I’m glad he survived the anchored putting ban and I think he’ll break through and win at least one more major this year.

Shipnuck: Branden Grace is an easy answer, but that really dates to last year. Paul Casey has been trending upward for a while now, but I’ll say Justin Thomas. He was a bit overwhelmed at his first Masters but I think this stellar Sunday 65 will be a springboard to a great summer. 

Godich: Thomas is a great pick, but don’t sleep on Colt Knost. He’s got a ton of confidence after his T3 at the Players, and after he wins the Nelson in his adopted hometown and goes toe to toe with Spieth at Colonial, he’ll be poised to break through at the PGA at Baltusrol.   

Sens: Matsuyama stumbled on Sunday at the Masters and the Players but man, it’s hard to imagine him not winning something very big very soon. 

Morfit: I’ll go with Josh and the Matsuyama pick. I was a little surprised he didn’t play better in the final round, but I guess he just had an off-day. 

Passov: I’ve picked Matsuyama in every office pool for majors since 2014, so I feel like I’m on the cusp of winning some big prizes of my own.

6.) Bandon Dunes developer Mike Keiser told that he is seeking a name for the next addition to his Oregon resort, an 11-hole par-3 course to be designed by Tom Doak. Suggestions?

Van Sickle: I’m a locker full of bad ideas. Bandon Ruins … Oakley Doakley … Three-Finger Mordecai Brown Memorial Course … The Badass … Dirty Dozen Minus One … The Young Tom Links … Abandon Dunes GC … The Evil Duck.

Shipnuck: Crikey, Vans, that’s a mic drop. I love Abandon Dunes! How about A Shot and a Beer?

Sens: Given that it’s a small offspring of some larger courses, I was going to suggest Abandon Child, but that’s probably too dark.

Mortift: The 311. The TD11. Mic drop. 

Passov: Tom Doak National.

Godich: Yo Eleven!