The marquee pairing for the first two rounds of the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship at Doral was the new version of Golf’s “Big 3”.
World #1 Jordan Spieth, #2 Jason Day, and #3 Rory McIlroy. So far the brilliant triumvirate of stars has been anything but luminary in 2016.
Spieth began the year with a win in the select field, Hyundai Tournament of Champions, but has not registered a Top 10 finish since then.
Day has played a limited schedule to date, but finished tied for 11th at the AT&T at Pebble Beach and tied for 10th at the Hyundai in his only three starts on Tour in 2016.
McIlroy had two Top 10 finishes on the European Tour in January, but has not been a factor in his first two PGA Tour events. McIlroy’s ball striking has been almost at his brilliant best, but his putter has been a glaring weakness in his game, causing him to switch to a cross-handed grip this week at Doral (left hand lower than the right on the handle).
The player who has played at his best so far is World #4, Rickie Fowler, who many would include in an expanded “Big 4”. That argument will have merit when Fowler earns the one missing piece of his resume, a major (McIlroy has 4, Spieth 2 and Day 1). Fowler won the star studded European Tour’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship in January and has 3 Top 10 finishes on the PGA Tour in 2016. Fowler heartbreakingly lost the Phoenix Open two weeks ago, when he let a two shot lead with two holes to play slip, and was beaten in a play-off with Hideki Matsuyama.
Surprisingly, the best player in the world right now is none of the above. Former World #1, Adam Scott, winless since the 2014 Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial, is a man re-born. While 2015 was a disastrous year for Scott on Tour, witnessed by a plummet to 106th in FedEx Cup points, it was a magical year in his personal life as he became a father for the first time. For most players, learning to balance the rigors of the Tour while being a parent is a difficult balancing act.
Scott was a close second two weeks ago at the Northern Trust Open before winning at last week’s Honda Classic. His win at Honda makes him the first player who switched from anchoring (the new rules against anchoring your putter to your body went into effect on January 1, 2016) to conventional putting to win on Tour. It was Scott’s 12th career PGA Tour win which is the most of any player under 40. For the man with the best swing in golf, it was a welcome return to the upper echelon of the game.
After the second round at Doral, Scott commanded a two stroke lead, at 10-under par, over McIlroy and defending Champion, Dustin Johnson. Well back in the pack were Spieth and Fowler at 3-under par while Day continued to struggle at 2-over.
McIlroy played a superior round in Saturday’s 3rd round when he was the only player in the final 15 pairings who broke 70 as the Blue Monster started to look like its moniker. McIlroy’s 4-under par, 68, left him 3 shots clear of Scott and Johnson entering Sunday’s final round.
Double-bogey 6’s on the 3rd and 5th hole saw Scott fall six shots behind McIlroy as the final round began and seemed to have doomed the Australian’s chances. Scott then played the next 9 holes in a scintillating, 6-under par, to be at 12-under with one hole to play.
McIlroy was not able to play the way that he had in the opening three rounds and faded to shoot a 2-over par, 74 that would ultimately leave him in a tie for 3rd place.
Finishing just ahead of Scott, Bubba Watson had closed with a 4-under par, 68, to be at 11-under for the Championship, so Scott would have to par one of the most terrifying finishing holes in all of golf. His tee shot found the rough and he had to play a fade to the left of a palm tree and over the vast water hazard that guards the green. Scott’s shot didn’t fade as much as he had planned and his ball landed on the bank left of the green seemingly destined for the water.
Miraculously his ball stayed dry and held up in in the Bermuda grass, from where he was able to hit masterful pitch shot to within five feet of the hole. Scott’s stroke was perfect and was further proof that his new putting method could withstand all the pressure of Championship golf.
As the quietly spoken Scott celebrated his 13th win on the Tour with a demonstrative fist pump, one couldn’t help but wonder if the best player in the world had been overlooked in all the discussions of 3’s and 4’s.