Punch Shot: McIlroy's Irish group or Spieth's Nelson group?

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Jordan Spieth, Brooks Koepka and Justin Thomas are playing together at this week's AT&T Byron Nelson. Meanwhile, Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler and Martin Kaymer are grouped at Royal County Down in Ireland. So, if you could only watch one of these marquee groups, which one would it be? Our writers debate. And, fortunately for you, viewers can see both on Golf Channel so you don't have to choose.

By WILL GRAY

I’m as bullish on the next crop of PGA Tour young guns as anyone, but let’s be clear: I would rather watch grass grow at Royal County Down than any group playing this week at TPC Four Seasons.

That’s not a slight on this week’s domestic venue – OK, it’s a small slight. But it’s more about the fact that Royal County Down is on the bucket list of bucket lists, a gem of a layout whose standing is likely enhanced by the scant few times it has been made available for televised consumption.

This week’s Irish Open, then, is a welcome opportunity to take in all that the Northern Irish links layout has to offer. The fact that it features the world No. 1, playing in an enticing Walker Cup revival with Rickie Fowler, is icing on the cake.

Spieth, Thomas and Koepka will battle it out for a variety of prizes in the years to come. Royal County Down hosting top-shelf tournament golf? That’s the must-watch option. 


By RANDALL MELL

If Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler and Martin Kaymer can muster their best at the same time at the Irish Open this week, tournament officials might have to move the gallery ropes back at Royal County Down.

There’s a lot of explosive firepower packed into this dynamic grouping based on what they’ve done over the last year and even the last month. McIlroy is just two weeks removed from his seven-shot runaway victory at the Wells Fargo Championship, where his 21-under winning total shattered the tournament record by five shots. Fowler is three weeks removed from his unforgettable late Sunday charge at The Players Championship. Kaymer proved he can run away and hide on the biggest stages winning the U.S. Open in a tour de force performance last summer.

At their very best, these three could push each other into making this a three-man event.


By REX HOGGARD

As compelling as a potential Rory McIlroy-Rickie Fowler showdown at this week’s Irish Open is, it will be another bout 4,450 miles to the west that seems more likely to live up to the hype.

Jordan Spieth, Brooks Koepka and Justin Thomas will tee off at 1 p.m. on Thursday at the AT&T Byron Nelson in Dallas with an impressively familiar theme. Youth has officially established itself on the PGA Tour and there are few players in the game born after 1990 with as much potential as the marquee threesome this week in Big D.

Since his breakthrough victory at the Masters, Spieth has shown few signs of a post-major hangover, finishing tied for second last week at Colonial. It was also at the Nelson, Spieth’s hometown event, where the golf world was first introduced to the future champion when he tied for 16th place as a 16-year-old.

Koepka has also been impressive, winning his first Tour title in February at the Waste Management Phoenix Open; while Thomas seems to be closing in on his maiden victory with five top-10 finishes in his rookie season.

McIlroy and Fowler have dominated the headlines the last few weeks in professional golf, but this week it will be another group of 20-somethings who steal the spotlight.