The Big Three Are Set for Oakmont
Post by Sports Writer Derek Clements
SO THE big question is this: is there the remotest chance of seeing a shootout for the US Open involving Jason Day, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy, the game's so-called Big Three?
Day has won three times this year, and eight times since February 2015, Spieth has two victories in 2016 to his credit while McIlroy brings up the rear with a solitary victory, achieved at the Irish Open at the K Club, which he hosted.
Questions have been asked of Spieth since his final-round meltdown in his defence of The Masters and it is the case that his game has suffered by comparison with what he achieved in 2015 - but it was always going to. No golfer could possibly have expected to continue those incredible feats indefinitely, and Spieth has had troubles with his golf swing for much of the year. But he bounced back to his best in spectacular fashion to the win the Dean and Deluca Invitational, during which his putter once again performed like a magic wand.
What has been missing from Spieth's game is the consistent brilliance he demonstrated last season. Week after week he was in contention, week after week his performances on the greens were simply outrageous. He won two majors, finished second in a third and could easily have won a fourth (he finished one shot short of making the playoff at The Open at St Andrews). For most players, what Spieth achieved in 2015 would represent a stellar career, and there was bound to be a reaction.
But before anybody pushes the panic button on his career, let's put things into perspective. At the age of 22, he has already won two majors and eight PGA Tour events - not even Tiger Woods managed to achieve that. And it shouldn't be forgotten that in winning the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in January he did so with a 30-under-par total.
However, anybody who watched him last season can't help but notice that a short temper has been on display this year, along with several spats with friend and caddie Michael Greller.
McIlroy is turning into something of a conundrum. Few people would disagree that he is the most naturally gifted golfer on the planet. He has already won four majors and is surely destined to add many more to that total. But this year has been a mixture of the brilliant and the banal. Time and again, McIlroy has ruined potentially great scorecards with double-bogeys, often two or three in one round. While much of it has been down to downright poor play, his course management has been off the scale.
And, of course, his putting problems have been well documented. He switched from a traditional putting grip to left below right and announced that his difficulties had been resolved. He then won the Irish Open using that grip and arrived at the Memorial at Muirfield Village and promptly revealed that he had reverted to the traditional putting grip. McIlroy finished fourth, with only two golfers taking fewer putts. Confused? Not as much as Rory, that's for sure.
He may have had a good week on the greens at Muirfield Village, but has he really conquered his putting demons? If he hasn't, Oakmont will find him out - and then some.
And then there is Day, who has spent the past 18 months walking on water. He should have won The Open, he did win the US PGA Championship. That spectacular form has continued into 2016, winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational, the WGC-Dell Matchplay and the Players Championship.
Spieth has a tendency to miss fairways with the driver, while McIlroy's putting is erratic. When he is on song, Day has no weaknesses. He hits the ball miles, usually straight, is one of the best long-iron players the game has ever seen, is a genius with short irons and, on his day, holes everything he looks at on the greens.
However, the best club in his bag is the one he keeps between his ears. Day refuses to get flustered, no matter the circumstances. When he suffered his vertigo attack at Chambers Bay during the 2015 US Open there was never any question of him withdrawing. You can be sure that many golfers would have used it as an excuse to head for home. Day used it as motivation to drive him on and, remarkably, he was in contention until the closing stages of the final round, when his efforts finally caught up with him.
So those are the main contenders. Which of them is most likely to come out on top? My heart says McIlroy, but my head says that it simply must be Day.
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