Contrived in so many ways, “The Big Three” was a phrase that clearly caught on with golf journalists nearly a half-century ago. The fact it encompassed the three most popular golfers at the time — Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, and Gary Player — made it an easy embrace for both writers and fans.
Forget that at certain times in those years, Palmer and Player may not have been worthy of being included in conversation about the best golfers — Billy Casper likely deserved inclusion at one point, ditto Johnny Miller, and Lee Trevino later — The Big Three was cemented into our lexicon.
Playing to our passion for celebrities, The Big Three gave us a way to get people’s attention in a hurry.
It’s a vehicle we’re still driving, because even as Palmer, Nicklaus, and Player have settled into roles as honorary starters here at the 80th Masters, The Big Three lives on in the presence of Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, and Jason Day.
Do they rate such lofty stature? Maybe not, because others are clearly right there with them — Bubba Watson and Adam Scott, for instance, and Dustin Johnson and Justin Rose for two others. But so long as in one order or another McIlroy, Spieth, and Day remain within the top three of the official World Golf ranking, The Big Three fits.
For the record, the current order doesn’t seem to be in step with the perceptions many have.
McIlroy seems to be acknowledged as the best player in the world, “when he’s on”, but he’s No 3.
Given his sweep of the Masters and US Open last year, Spieth spent the most time at No 1 in the past year, but he’s No 2.
It is Jason Day, the Australian who many saw as No 3 at the start of the year, who holds down the top spot in the world order headed into tomorrow’s Masters.
Is he the best player in the world? Well, a computer says so, but at the end of the day, all we have to go by is current form. And, oh, how that tilts in Day’s favour.
“Obviously, I’m kind of right here right now doing my thing,” says Day.
Day’s “thing” being winning golf.
At the Arnold Palmer Invitational two weeks ago, Day hit 66-65-70-70 to steamroll the field.
He followed that by winning all seven matches to claim the World Golf Championship Dell Matchplay, a feat that meant he had won six of his last 13 PGA Tour tournaments, dating back to July.
His brief stays atop the golf rankings in late 2015 — one week at first, later for three — pleased Day, but didn’t satisfy him. Obsessed with being No 1, Day said his goal now is “to extend the gap”. The good thing about setting such a goal is that it involves a simple strategy. “Winning takes care of everything,” he says, harnessing his inner Tiger Woods.
No surprise that Day sounded like the former No 1 because the Aussie has made no secret of his desire to turn to Woods for advice. Woods, apparently, has been more than gracious to reveal a few secrets, but even then, Day knows the onus is on him, that words can only get him so far.
Having traded the No 1 spot back and forth between them since August 2014, McIlroy, Spieth, and Day have all actually taken to talks with Woods. But what connects them even tighter is this talk of The Big Three.
If they’re tired of it, you couldn’t blame them, although each seemed entertained when it was suggested who they came closest to in the original Big Three. Ever the course manager, Spieth gushed when told he’d probably be Nicklaus. Proud of his roots, his travels around the world, and his diminutive size, McIlroy gave thumbs-up to suggestions that he was the Player of the trio. Which left Day as Palmer — and the man from Australia loved that. He just wanted to know why.
Bold and brash, he played with an aggressive nature that ignited excitement.
Day was more than OK with that, and it was fitting that two weeks ago he won Palmer’s tournament and embraced The King during the trophy presentation. Of course, it’s hard to argue that the similarities aren’t there.
After all, Day exudes the sort of confidence that made Palmer famous, so when he says, “I do feel good with how I’m playing right now and where I’m at mentally and physically”, it’s a bit of a warning sign to the rest of the field here at Augusta National.
Day, after all, is on a roll. He’s won his last two starts, he won at the last major championship, and he clings to a simple thought: “I’ve got to want it more than them.”
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