Ranking the Big Three: Day v Spieth v McIlroy
The accepted wisdom seems to be that if Jason Day, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy are all at their best, McIlroy comes out on top.
I understand why many people believe that – McIlroy does, after all, have four Major Championships to his name – but I disagree. For me, it’s Day all day long.
Now he’s proved to himself he’s good enough to win Majors following a series of near-misses, I see him creating some separation at the top of the Official World Golf Ranking.
Below, I’ll go through the major statistical categories (mental game, too) and rank Day, Spieth and McIlroy out of ten, which should hopefully explain my point of view.
Day: 9/10 McIlroy: 9/10 Spieth: 6.5/10
McIlroy is slightly ahead of Day in the Driving Distance statistics, but remember this: the Aussie hits a lot of fairway woods off the tee, while the Ulsterman is naturally more aggressive. When he’s on top of his game, I’d argue he’s slightly longer than McIlroy. Think back to the 2015 USPGA Championship, where he hit a couple of 380-yard drives when the adrenaline was flowing. Spieth isn’t short by any stretch, but he’s not in the same league as the other two.
Day: 6/10 McIlroy: 7/10 Spieth: 7/10
Spieth leads here, but it’s arguably the most irrelevant statistic on the PGA Tour these days. Plus, you have to remember that when it counts, and when they are in the zone, McIlroy and Day are both long and straight. Day has won six times in his last 16 starts (seven in 17 if he wins The Players) and he’s currently outside the top 150 in the Driving Accuracy category. That says it all.
Greens in Regulation:
Day: 8/10 McIlroy: 9/10 Spieth: 7/10
McIlroy is the undoubted leader in this category, by virtue of the fact his iron play is exemplary. Day is a strong iron player, too, no question (7th in GIR last season) but it’s probably the only category where I’d take McIlroy over him in the heat of Major battle. Spieth is struggling this season, but he’s a solid, if unspectacular, ball striker, and definitely above average.
Day: 9/10 McIlroy: 7/10 Spieth: 8/10
Day simply doesn’t get the credit he deserves for an exemplary short game. Last season, he finished second in the Scrambling category, and he put on an absolute masterclass at the WGC-Dell Match Play en route to victory. Spieth ranked fourth last year and also has all the shots – you don’t win an Augusta without a brilliant short game. McIlroy, meanwhile, is steady, but he’s a notch below the other two.
Related: Rory McIlroy swing sequence
Day: 9/10 McIlroy: 7/10 Spieth: 8/10
As is generally the case with Australians, Day is a phenomenal bunker player. There have been many career highlights, but think back to his shot on the 18th at Bay Hill, where he exploded one from the sand downhill towards water, holed the putt for par and landed the Arnold Palmer Invitational title. Spieth is a fine bunker player, and McIlroy would be classed as above average, even though he’s currently ranked outside the top 100.
Day: 9/10 McIlroy: 6/10 Spieth: 9.5/10
Last year, Spieth had arguably the best putting season ever on the PGA Tour. He holed more than a quarter of his putts from 25-30ft, which is a simply outrageous percentage. Many people questioned if he could maintain those levels this season, and he’s been unable to thus far. That’s not to say he won’t bounce back, but it will be incredibly difficult to putt as well as he did in 2015 for the rest of his career.
Day is a player who doesn’t look like missing when he’s in the heat of battle. At the USPGA, he holed 68 out of 70 putts from inside 10ft. At last year’s Canadian Open, he made a 25-footer on the 18th green to take the title by one shot. He holes out extremely well under pressure and sinks more than his fair share of long-range putts. McIlroy is capable of putting well, but he doesn’t do it on a consistent basis and he misses a lot of makeable putts from inside 10ft.
Day: 9/10 McIlroy: 7/10 Spieth: 8/10
Spieth is precocious and has been impressively in control of his emotions during the course of his fledgling career. I’m prepared to give him a pass on his Masters meltdown as he’d been struggling with the rights all week, and it was a hideously difficult shot from the drop zone.
With regards McIlroy, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. He’s not what you would describe as a fighter and he’s not someone who can win without his best. He doesn’t boast that innate ability of finding a way to get the ball in the hole, like Day does. Plus, his shoulders tend to drop when he knows he doesn’t have a chance to win and he often tails off on the back nine.
That said, he’s produced some fine pressure shots in his time – the 3-wood from the 10th fairway at Valhalla to set up eagle when he’d fallen behind springs to mind – and he shot a final-round 66 at the 2014 Open when Rickie Fowler and Sergio Garcia were charging. Still, I don’t think you’d find anyone who would take him over Day when it comes to sheer determination, will power and fighting spirit.
Jason Day: 59/70 Rory McIlroy: 52/70 Jordan Spieth: 54/70
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Nick Bonfield joined Golf Monthly in 2012 after graduating from Exeter University and earning an NCTJ-accredited journalism diploma from News Associates in Wimbledon. He is responsible for managing production of the magazine, sub-editing, commissioning and feature writing. Most of his online work is opinion-based and typically centres around the Majors and significant events in the global golfing calendar. Nick has been an avid golf fan since the age of ten and became obsessed with the professional game after watching Mike Weir and Shaun Micheel win The Masters and PGA Championship respectively in 2003. In his time with Golf Monthly, he's interviewed the likes of Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Jose Maria Olazabal, Henrik Stenson, Padraig Harrington, Lee Westwood and Billy Horschel and has ghost-written columns for Westwood, Wayne Riley, Matthew Southgate, Chris Wood and Eddie Pepperell. Nick is a 12-handicap golfer and his favourite courses include Old Head, Sunningdale New, Penha Longha, Valderrama and Bearwood Lakes. If you have a feature pitch for Nick, please email email@example.com with 'Pitch' in the subject line. Nick is currently playing: Driver: TaylorMade M1 Fairway wood: TaylorMade RBZ Stage 2 Hybrid: Ping Crossover Irons (4-9): Nike Vapor Speed Wedges: Cleveland CBX Full Face, 56˚, Titleist Vokey SM4, 60˚ Putter: testing in progress! Ball: TaylorMade TP5x
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