Rory McIlroy’s stated intention of regaining the world No. 1 tag before the Masters in April looks a far more formidable challenge in the wake of Jordan Spieth’s eight-shot victory over a field including six of the top 10 players in the world.
So much for the second-season wobbles. In his short, festive break, Spieth heard many critics doubt whether he could replicate 2015, an extraordinary season that brought two majors and three other titles. Yet the 22-year-old arrived at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in Hawaii adamant that all that had changed in his mind was the number on the front of his calendar. And in becoming just the second player to reach 30 under in a 72-hole PGA Tour event — Ernie Els shot 31 under on the same layout 13 years ago — the remarkable young Texan was true to his claim.
“Michael (Greller, his caddie) said to me on the 18th fairway, ‘Man, (what) a way to make a statement,’” Spieth said. “I thought that was cool. I mean, it’s not what I’m going for, it’s not why I do what I do. I don’t do it to talk back to any the players or people that believe that it’s not possible or he got a lucky year or something. Everyone has their opinions, it’s their right. But I still think it’s going to be very difficult to have a year like last year.”
Difficult, perhaps, but Spieth clearly likes to answer tough asks. This, his sixth triumph in the past 10 months, makes him the second youngest player on the PGA Tour in modern times to win seven titles and the identity of the all-time great above him in that chart — Tiger Woods, of course — is inevitably causing a stir throughout the game.
To think, this season was supposed to be all about the new ‘big three’ and how Spieth would match up to McIlroy and Jason Day. But already, in just the third week of January, the game rocks to a different tone. Is Spieth the new Woods and is golf on the cusp of another era of one-man domination? After all, they are the only two players since Horton Smith way back in 1929 to complete the magnificent seven before their 23rd birthdays.
Butch Harmon coached Woods in those years when he established his hegemony and, after watching Spieth put yet more daylight between him and Ryder Cup partner Patrick Reed with a final-round 67, was prepared to make the connection. “It’s not unfair to compare Jordan with Tiger because Jordan is doing exactly what Tiger did at the same age,” Harmon said.
“The biggest difference, and this is a huge difference, is Tiger’s ability and length off the tee. Go back to 2000, he was the second-longest hitter in the game and he hit 72 per cent of his fairways. He was really hard to beat because of that. But I never thought I’d see anyone who can make as many pressure putts as Jack Nicklaus and Tiger did. Yet Jordan is definitely right there. Jordan makes more long putts than anyone we’ve seen in a long time with the exception of Arnold Palmer.”
For his part, Spieth is wise to play down the similarities, although he understands the rush to make the comparison and, after “surprising myself” by getting to 30 under, is determined to continue creating these shock waves. “I just think they’re premature (the comparisons with Woods), but I’ll say that probably my entire career,” Spieth said.
“I know we’re in a position now where we’re actually maybe ahead of the curve age-wise. But, boy, it would be hard to believe I could be compared to him the entire course of a career. I hope that’s the case, and I’m certainly going to strive for it.”
With Day, the US PGA champion, back in a tie for 10th at Kapalua, Spieth has opened up a near 1.4pt lead in the rankings over the Australian and a 1.83pt lead over McIlroy. That means the Northern Irishman will not be able to dislodge Spieth when they both play in next week’s Abu Dhabi Championship.
Source: nationalpost golf news