Bask in the glow of the Big Whatever era


SOUTHPORT, England – Remember these headlines?

Golf’s Future in Capable Hands with Big 3 Taking Charge.

The Big 3 is Becoming the Big 4.

Golf’s Era of the Big 4 Has Officially Begun.

They all seem ridiculous now, one year later.

Last month, Brooks Koepka became the seventh consecutive first-time major winner, the second longest streak since the mid-1930s, and it wouldn’t surprise anyone if that run continued here at The Open with Rickie Fowler, Hideki Matsuyama, Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas or any of the other 14 majorless players currently ranked inside the top 25 in the world.

Golf is stronger and deeper than ever before, and so Jordan Spieth made a smart observation Tuesday when he considered that ill-fated idea of a Big 4 in golf.

“I’m not sure who it would even be,” he said. “It would be difficult to put anybody in that role right now.”

Close observers of the game saw this coming, of course.

The original members of the so-called Big 3 – Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day – were always reluctant to discuss their emerging supergroup. Part of that hesitation was because top form is fleeting and there’s a distinct what-have-you-done-for-me-lately vibe in 24/7 sports media. But it’s mostly because there has always been an underlying sense that any of the game’s bright, young stars could elbow their way into the limelight, too; that this wasn’t some exclusive club.

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That McIlroy and Day haven’t played to their potential this year has opened the door for breakthroughs large and small. At the top of the world order is Dustin Johnson, who owns a massive lead in the rankings – 4.3 points, or the difference between the second and 28th-ranked players. But he readily admits that he hasn’t been the same since his freak back injury before the Masters. Coming off consecutive missed cuts, and with only 16 competitive rounds since March 26, not even the clear world No. 1 knows what kind of form he’ll bring into Royal Birkdale.

By almost any measure this is one of the most wide-open majors in recent memory. At 12-1, DJ might be the top draw with bookmakers, but locals can’t recall the last time there wasn’t a single-digit favorite.

Indeed, the sport has changed in myriad ways since Spieth, McIlroy and Day combined to win five of six majors in 2014-15.

“It shows the quality of golf that everybody plays at right now,” Sergio Garcia said.

Only DJ has gained more world-ranking points this year than Jon Rahm, who two weeks ago blitzed the field at the Irish Open. In terms of average points, Rahm would actually be ranked second in the world. Instead, he is No. 7, because of his minimum divisor of 40 tournaments (despite playing only 27 events).

“How does he not deserve to be in a conversation like that?” Spieth said of the former Big 4 talk. “I don’t think he would have been someone that you would put there if you were about to name four guys. It really could be anybody at this point.”

There is no clear answer to the dominance-vs.-parity debate, and which scenario is healthier for the sport. Nor does there need to be, for these types of things are cyclical. Golf can thrive with a dominant player, just as a crop of exciting, telegenic stars can propel the game to new heights.

One thing is certain: The Big 4 era is over. For now.

“It’s going to be a very exciting time going forward with guys that are going to be playing and battling against each other, a group of 10 to 12 guys over the next 15 or 20 years," Spieth said. "It’s different than one person being the guy to beat. It’s exciting for us as players.”

Even if it doesn’t make for catchy headlines.