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Day, Spieth, McIlroy revel in Big 3 status

By Scott Michaux
Published on

ATLANTA, Ga. -- Until the human elements hiding within Jason Day caused his ball to sail out of bounds on the fifth hole at East Lake, it was hard not to start feeling sorry for Jordan Spieth.

The man who stole the world No. 1 label from the man who chased the Grand Slam has had a pattern of demoralizing his immediate competition of late.

LEADERBOARD: 2015 Tour Championship

On Thursday in the Tour Championship, Day started birdie-birdie-birdie. That's not unlike how he started the BMW Championship last week with two birdies, or the Deutsche Bank the event before with three birdies, or the Barclays before that with two birdies after a par, or the PGA Championship's final round with four birdies in the first seven holes.

When Day started fast again Thursday, Spieth was quoted muttering, "it's weird when he makes a par."

Spieth has had a front-row view of Day's ascension, playing 11 rounds with Day starting at the U.S. Open through the first round of the Tour Championship. But it was seven consecutive rounds from Sunday at the PGA through the first two days of the BMW Championship where Spieth must have felt like he was getting pummeled by Ronda Rousey.

THUMBS UP: Spieth photobombs fans at East Lake

In those seven consecutive rounds together, Day was 33-under -- 31 strokes better than Spieth. At the BMW, Spieth was 11-under through two rounds and still trailing the eventual winner by seven shots.

"It's also hard to play with somebody who is 18-under through two rounds and feel like you are 11-under and not playing well," Spieth said. "When in truth, you're really playing some good solid golf. It's tough to play with.

"It's very motivating to see that. ... What he did, I mean he destroyed my score in those rounds, for lack of a better term. It is very motivating, because my personality, I don't like getting beat in anything and I'm very stubborn. And I don't enjoy that. And it wasn't fun to watch. But when it's not fun, it motivates me. It doesn't make me angry. It makes me want to get back to the level I was playing at this whole year, to get on top of my game and see if the top of my game can beat the top of anybody else's game when they're at their best."

Even after a relatively ordinary 69 on Thursday, Day's newfound dominance must be a little intimidating to everyone. Since enduring a bout of vertigo while playing with Spieth in the middle of contending at the U.S. Open, Day's game has hit another gear. He was 101-under par in seven events since experiencing vertigo at Chambers Bay. He set the all-time major scoring record at 20-under par in the PGA at Whistling Straits.

"He's the best player in the world right now," Rory McIlroy said Wednesday. "I don't think anyone can argue with that, with the way that he's played."

Spieth isn't arguing, even when his presumed dominion over the Player of the Year ballot with four wins including the Masters and U.S. Open was thrown open to debate with Day's late hot streak.

"It's interesting how quickly things can certainly change based on what you've done recently," Spieth said. "It just took a matter of time of him closing out the PGA to kind of unleash the beast. And so there is no doubt that he is the No. 1 player in the world right now. In order to dethrone him, we have got to be the person that's the now."

There's little doubt Spieth will win his peers' votes in the Player of the Year race. The universal sentiment is "majors trump everything else" and he wins that category 2-1.

But the real winner in all this is the game. Regardless of which one is sitting in the rotating No. 1 chair, Spieth, Day and McIlory have stirred up a youthful energy.

"The back and forth is fantastic," Day said of the game of hot potato they've been playing with No. 1. "I'm enjoying myself, those guys are enjoying themselves and it's been great."

They've been dubbed the New Big Three -- which fits well considering they're all in their 20s, all fearless of the competition and all as likeable as any superstars on Earth and seem to like each other.

They don't shrink at the comparison to the original Big Three -- Hall of Famers Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player who accumulated 34 major titles between them from 1958-86 while being the most friendly of rivals.

"If we had to put it in words these days it's like Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy had a baby and I was it," Day said with a laugh as all three of them readied to compete for $10 million and the title of world No. 1 at the Tour Championship. "Because I've got Rory's length and I'm hoping that I've got Jordan's touch."

Day's rise on the heels of Spieth's accomplishments in the wake of McIlroy's dominance has energized the tour. Throw in 26-year-old fan favorite Rickie Fowler, who won the Players Championship, and it's easy to argue that the game's future is its present.

"It's probably a little too early to talk that way (of a new Big Three), but it's certainly looking like you could even add Rickie into that equation," McIlroy said. "He hasn't quite won a major yet, but he's certainly trending towards that. It's a nice conversation to be a part of."

McIlroy (26 years old), Spieth (22) and Day (27) have hoarded five of the last six majors and show every sign of being the favorites to collect more in the coming years. But if the last 14 months have proven anything, it's how quickly things can change.

"I think that the 'big' number -- whatever it is -- changes, I've seen it change week-to-week out here," Spieth said. "There was Big One, there was Big Two, there was Big Three, there was Big Four. I mean, Brooks Koepka wins this week, it's the Big Five. You know?

"I think it's cool to be a part of that conversation and as long as I can stay a part of the Big Whatever, then I'm doing my job on the course. I wouldn't say this is what golf needs, because everything was going fine before all this talk came up, I felt like. But I think it's cool to have guys battle it out in the biggest stages and not be scared of each other." ___


This article was written by Scott Michaux from The Augusta Chronicle, Ga. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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