3 or 4
The numbers don’t lie.
The newly minted “Big Three” of world #’s, 1, 2 and 3, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Jason Day forgot to put on their capes this week and returned to mortal form.
Playing in the second PGA Tour FedEx playoff event, the Deutsche Bank Championship, all three superstars were not at their best.
Spieth’s two round total of 7-over par left him floundering a whopping 4 shots over the cut-line. Following his missed cut at The Barclays last week, this was the first time in his young career that he had missed cuts in consecutive events. Such is the fine line between brilliance and mediocrity on the PGA Tour. All the putts that the 22 year old Texan has been making all year, suddenly decided not to go in.
McIlroy began with a 1-under par, 70, but followed that up with an erratic 3-over par, 74 that barely allowed the world’s top ranked player to survive for the weekend. A finishing round of 5-under par, 66, and a tie for 29th were small consolation for the Northern Irishman.
Ironically, even though McIlroy played better than Spieth, the younger man reclaimed the top spot in the world rankings and will be there for at least the next week.
Day fired a pair of 3-under par, 68’s and was in contention until he was undone by a third round, 73. That was Day’s first round over par in his last 22 tournaments, a stretch of perfection that goes back 10 weeks to his final round at the U.S Open. Day rebounded with a 69 on Sunday to finish in a tie for 11th, but the air may have come out of his balloon.
Making the turn into Sunday’s back-9, two players had separated themselves from the field. 39-year old Henrik Stenson, who won the 2013 FedEx Cup was at 16-under par for the week after making a birdie on the 12th hole. That gave him a two shot cushion over 26-year old American Rickie Fowler. Fowler closed the gap to a single stoke with a birdie-3 on the 14th hole.
Each man made pars on the 15th before Stenson under-clubbed on the par-3, 16th, when his tee shot found the water hazard guarding the front of the green. That double bogey-5 would turn the tables and give Fowler a one shot advantage.
Both players made par-4’s on the 17th hole and when Stenson’s birdie putt just slipped by the edge of the hole on their final hole, Fowler was able to two-putt and win his third tournament in 2015 and fourth of his career.
There are so many parallels in the learning curves and progressions of Spieth, Day and Fowler. Much like Speith and Day who were criticized for not being able to close out and win events before this season, Fowler has also had to overcome doubters. He had been a star and consistent money winner for the last 6 years but had not won as the golf media thought he should.
In the week leading up to his scintillating victory at this years’ Players Championship, Fowler had been labeled as the “most over-rated” player on Tour. His performance there and then at the Scottish Open in July where he had another clutch come from behind win bear the hallmarks of a player who has learned his lessons. And learned them well.
The win at the Deutsche Bank moves Fowler to the top of the playoff points list and sees him rise to be the 5th ranked player in the world.
When interviewed on Sunday night, Fowler said that he wanted to be a part of the Big Three discussion and wanted to change that to be a “Big Four”. He is starting to make a compelling argument for his inclusion.