CROMWELL, Conn. – Perspective can be a funny thing.
At one end of the spectrum, fans at this week’s Travelers Championship see perhaps the strongest field ever assembled at TPC River Highlands that includes the likes of Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Jordan Spieth, the world Nos. 3, 4 and 6, respectively.
It’s the kind of star power tournament directors dream about and draws fans in record numbers. It doesn’t matter to the masses that this week’s Big 3 arrived in New England looking for answers.
Or maybe momentum would be a more accurate goal considering that in each of their last five combined stops that trio has just four top-10 finishes, missed five cuts and seriously contended for a title twice.
Although all three have made the game look exceedingly easy at times in recent years, getting one’s competitive mojo back is a little more complicated than simply flipping a switch, and for each of the game’s leading men the cause and effect behind their recent form varies wildly.
In Spieth’s case, the culprit is a normally magical putter that has gone cold. After back-to-back seasons of finishing inside the top 10 in strokes gained: putting on the PGA Tour, Spieth is currently 40th on that list today and is fresh from one his most pedestrian performances at the U.S. Open where he needed 122 putts.
Although Spieth said his recent issues on the greens is “frustrating,” he pointed out that he’s gone through similar periods in his career in 2013 and ’14, and that he and swing coach Cameron McCormick have studied his stroke enough to know the key to turning things around.
“From the Tour Championship in '15 to the Masters in '15, very different strokes. You wouldn't necessarily look and see by the naked eye, but if you looked at the intricacies of the stroke and the way the putter traveled, they were actually tremendously different,” Spieth said on Wednesday. “The one similarity is the consistency in it was up at 95 percent or higher. That's what I'm trying to get is that consistency level.”
For McIlroy his recent play, particularly his missed cut last week at Erin Hills, comes down to competitive rust, which is the byproduct of an extended break after The Players to rest a recurring rib injury.
After playing his first 21 holes in 9 over par at the U.S. Open, McIlroy played his final 15 holes in 4 under par to finish an abbreviated week. It was the Northern Irishman’s seventh start of the year on the Tour and his first since The Players in May.
“In a perfect world, last week wouldn't have been my first week back at the U.S. Open. It's a high pressure, high-stress sort of event,” McIlroy said. “I think once you get into a run of events, there are certain situations on a course that you're just going to handle better because you've played a little bit and you've had a scorecard in your hand and you experienced it.”
Similarly, Day can take some solace in knowing the reason behind his relative struggles. The Australian’s mother, Dening, was diagnosed with lung cancer last year and she underwent surgery in March. Although Dening’s prognosis has improved since Day withdrew from the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, it’s been an understandably difficult year professionally.
“I’m about a month behind my work load, all the practice and all the balls I should have hit because of what happened earlier in the year, to be honest I didn’t want to be on the course because of what happened,” Day said.
Although each of the Big 3 have their own unique issues they are currently dealing with, there’s a common theme that connects them as they work their way back to top form – patience.
Last week a friend of Day’s, Davis Lutterus, failed to Monday qualify for a Web.com Tour event and he thumbed out a text message that he quickly recognized as a classic glass houses deal.
“My text to him was, ‘Don’t worry, be patient. Things will happen. Just keep working hard,’” Day said. “I give advice, but sometimes when you give advice to your buddies you kind of over look it yourself and you really need to be patient and not try to force it.”
All three were upbeat on the eve of this week’s Travelers Championship, particularly Spieth who saw flashes of his normal self on Sunday at Erin Hills.
Spieth needed just 29 putts for the final round on his way to a tie for 35th, posting what was arguably the day’s best round from the more-demanding morning wave (69) when the winds reached 25 mph.
“I know that the putting is going to get there. I really only had, I would say, two solid putting tournaments out of all the events I played this year,” Spieth said. “It only takes one or two events in a row before we're right back on track, and I know that, and that's what I believe.”
All three players have come by their optimism honestly – they have, after all, each been ranked No. 1 – and if the crowds that have already gathered at TPC River Highlands are any indication it really doesn’t matter what they’ve done in recent weeks, it’s what they do next.