Punch Shot: Better season - Spieth, Day or McIlroy

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Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and Rory McIlroy are the top-three players in the world. All had multiple wins last year. So who will have a better season in 2016? Our writers weigh in.

By RYAN LAVNER

Rory McIlroy. That’s not a knock on the other two players. Spieth is coming off one of the best major seasons of all time, but recent history suggests that he’ll have trouble backing up a two-major campaign with another big year. Just look at what happened to McIlroy as he tries to follow up his 2012 and ’14 seasons. And Day has more than enough talent to post another five-win year in 2016, but it remains to be seen whether 2015 was a turning point in his career or an aberration simply because he avoided injury.

The hope here is that all three have monster seasons and, with a little help from Rickie Fowler, combine for 20 wins in 2016. But the more likely scenario is that McIlroy, tired of playing second fiddle to the Spieth-Day show, reasserts his dominance and returns to No. 1. If he isn’t motivated by what transpired in 2015, then it’s fair to wonder if anything else will provide a spark.


By RANDALL MELL

It will be another great year in golf if Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Jason Day continue to thrive together.

But when the year ends, look for McIlroy to be back atop the Official World Golf Ranking.

He could own the year if he starts off the majors winning the Masters to claim the career Grand Slam. At his best, he’s a better version of Jason Day, powerful but an even more consistently good driver. At his best, he puts pressure on Spieth to be perfect. At his best, McIlroy can dominate and run away against the best fields in golf. He has already proven that. It sets him apart, not just from today’s best players, but historically.


By REX HOGGARD

Considering the collective accomplishments of golf’s new Big 3 in recent years it’s possible to imagine the trio of Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Jason Day trading titles and the world’s top ranking with regularity over the next 12 months.

Spieth holds down the top spot in the world now and Day made a cameo at No. 1 in the fall, but it is McIlroy who holds the edge in consistency over the top three the last few years and why the Northern Irishman will emerge as 2016’s MVP.

All three players have the ability to win any time they’re on a tee sheet, but when McIlroy’s game is aligned properly he has the skills to win by a cool eight strokes, like he did at the 2011 U.S. Open and ’12 PGA Championship.

In 2015, McIlroy appeared headed for one of those epic seasons but was sidetracked by a mid-summer ankle injury that forced him to miss the Open Championship and WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and made him a non-story at the PGA Championship.

In a few weeks, however, he will begin 2016 healthy, happy and hungry, which is a good combination for a player who, when he’s properly motivated, can dominate the game in a way the others have not.


By WILL GRAY

While he was derailed by injury last summer, I still contend that Rory McIlroy will have a better 2016 season than either Jordan Spieth or Jason Day.

The factors involved are two-fold. First, both Spieth and Day ascended to the top of the golfing landscape at warp speed last year, and now must face pressures – and expectations – with which they are both somewhat unfamiliar. Are they up to the task? Probably, but it’s still a consideration when forecasting the next 10 months or so.

Secondly, I still cling to the notion that when all three are playing at their absolute best, McIlroy would win. His ceiling, the one we saw at Congressional and Kiawah, is just a shade higher than the one Spieth showed at Augusta National or Day’s at Whistling Straits. McIlroy’s ability to dominate elite fields, and his comfort level and experience playing with or near the lead, trumps that of the other two.

If you’ve been tracking these little predictions, you’ll recall that earlier this week I said that McIlroy would win a major this year while both Spieth and Day would not. If that math pans out, it’ll be the Ulsterman who has the best season – and likely tops the world rankings a year from now.