We’re prisoners of the moment in golf. That’s why we were so quick to label Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day the new “Big Three” at the end of 2015. Then, Rickie Fowler went to Abu Dhabi and won a big tournament earlier this year and we amended our classification to include him, mocking up a “Big Four.”
These characterizations are all an homage of sorts to the early-to-mid 2000s when Tiger Woods still reigned supreme and the golf world was thirsting for someone — anyone — to step up and rival his dominance. A “Big Three” was amassed featuring Woods, Ernie Els and Vijay Singh and even back then, the nickname was a throwback to a previous generation: Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player.
That’s a long-winded way of saying just because there’s a label on a person or group doesn’t mean the latest is the greatest, a distinction perennial Woods bridesmaid Phil Mickelson made on Tuesday during Golf.com’s first edition of GOLF Live.
Let’s talk about the current state of the Tour. Tiger, of course, is not playing right now. Can golf return to the level it was when Tiger was at his peak, when the two of you were going head to head? Can that happen without Tiger on the course?
I don’t think anybody really knows. But we have a lot of great young players in the game. And if you look at the top four right now, with Jason Day, Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler, those four guys are quality — quality people, too. They represent the game well. They’re wonderful guys to be around. And they have remarkable games.
But there is nobody in the game of golf that I have seen that is remotely close to the level of performance Tiger was in his prime.
Mentally, short game, or ball striking, I don’t think anybody matches him in any of those areas. And Tiger put them all together in one to create a career that is mind-boggling.
So it’s difficult for me to see the game of golf returning to the level that it was at during his heyday without somebody like that. And as great as the young players are, the level that I’ve seen out of him, especially when you go back to 2000 at the U.S. Open and his performance when he held all four major championships at once, I think we’re decades away from anybody getting back to that level.
There’s your reality check for the day.