The first few months of the new years has brought discussion of a Big 4 ... and everyone else. But who among the pack could bowl over the rest and join the in-crowd? Our writers weigh in with their pick as the Big 4 party crasher:
By RYAN LAVNER
Nearly two years after his infamous declaration, Patrick Reed has all of the tools – and the most potential – to become a legitimate top-five player.
Among the 25-and-younger set, only Jordan Spieth, with eight, has more PGA Tour wins than Reed’s four. Indeed, he is the total package, a rare combination of power, precision and finesse whose all-around game has seen an uptick since reuniting with former college coach Josh Gregory.
The inclusion of Reed would be a welcome addition to the top of the golf hierarchy, as well. His head-to-head clashes with Spieth, most recently at Kapalua, are must-see events, and Reed, overlooked for much of his junior, amateur and pro career, has an edge and attitude that would add a different element to the otherwise chummy vibe that permeates the so-called Big 4.
By REX HOGGARD
He has the power of Rory McIlroy and Jason Day, a short game that has shown flashes of Jordan Spieth, the moxie of Rickie Fowler and the resume, sans the crucial presence of a major title, to be a part of any conversation about the game’s top players.
As entertaining as the conversation over golf’s Big 4 may be, Dustin Johnson certainly deserves a seat at the table based on his track record and his potential.
Johnson is, after all, on a PGA Tour winning streak that stretches back to his rookie season in 2008 and ranks inside the top 10 in two of the most crucial categories – driving distance (seventh) and birdie average (third).
There will always be an element of doubt when it comes to Johnson and his major resume, but there is no ignoring his ability to put himself in contention when it counts.
There have been dramatic near misses (the 2015 U.S. Open and 2011 Open Championship immediately come to mind), but along with those missteps has come a surprising amount of consistency (he’s finished inside the top 10 on 10 occasions at Grand Slam starts).
But those who doubt Johnson’s ability to join the game’s ultra elite assume he hasn’t learned from his mistakes, and that’s an unrealistic assumption.
By RANDALL MELL
Dustin Johnson’s the wild card in this equation.
I mean “wild” in the best possible way now, because he has the abundance of talent required to overtake players with the special skills that Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Rickie Fowler have. Johnson’s head and heart haven’t always been in the right place, he has told us that himself. He looks like he’s all in now, and that’s making him a factor in nearly all the big events. Look at his record over the last 14 months in majors, World Golf Championships and FedEx Cup events. While he won just one of them (2015 WGC-Cadillac), he has put himself in position repeatedly against the game’s strongest fields. He just might be on the verge of something special this season.
There isn’t a lot of talk about Johnson with so much focus on the Big 4, but he has the mega talent to blow into the mix if he can break through and finally close the deal in a major. If he does that, a door could blow wide open in the same way it has for Day, who had his own issues closing majors. At 31, Johnson is still learning. He’s right at the age we used to think players were at their best in majors.
By WILL GRAY
I picked him as an outsider to win Player of the Year last month, so I'll stick to my guns and suggest that Patrick Reed has the game - and the attitude - to crack golf's upper echelon.
While he has been quiet in recent weeks, Reed started the year by challenging Jordan Spieth en route to a runner-up finish in Maui. And let's not lose sight of the fact that his trophy haul - four wins since August 2013 - compares favorably against many of his peers not named Spieth, Fowler, Day or McIlroy.
Reed's greatest asset, though, may be his competitive nature. It helped him earn a spot on Tour via Monday qualifiers, it helped him become a Ryder Cup standout and it led to his infamous "top five" boast after winning two years ago at Doral.
While that claim has yet to come to fruition, he's getting closer. Reed is now up to No. 9 in the latest world rankings and his play to close out 2015 shows that another win is on the horizon. With that should come plenty of momentum, and it won't take much of a spark to get Reed speeding toward a spot among the very best in the game.