Rivalry… Not so much… Yet
By Peter Santo
2015 has been a back and forth year for the superstars at the top of the Official World Golf Ranking. It began with Rory Mcilroy picking up 2015 right where he left off in 2014 and cementing himself as the world’s number one.
Then after lackluster performances at The Honda Classic and WGC Cadillac Championship, many wondered whether Mcilroy could keep up the blistering pace he set for himself a year ago. The questions about Mcilroy, along with the continuing decline of Tiger Woods, left golf fans searching for the next big thing. Enter, Jordan Spieth.
With his playoff victory at the Valspar Championship followed by his wire-to-wire Masters victory at Augusta National, Spieth was quickly anointed as Mcilroy’s biggest rival.
This week at Colonial, Spieth will look to reintroduce himself to the world in his hometown of Dallas. In the shadow of legend Ben Hogan, the bombers of 2015 will show just how much the game has changed since Hogan’s heyday.
Despite his victory on the game’s biggest stage, Spieth has shown so far that he lacks the consistency to challenge Mcilroy week to week. Spieth and Mcilroy both had off weeks at TPC Sawgrass, but Mcilroy put together a top ten finish, while Spieth missed the cut. Spieth does not have the firepower (no one does) to win on an off week like Mcilroy did at the WGC Cadillac Match Play.
Mcilroy turned Quail Hollow into a pitch and putt this past week, and when he’s on, no one comes close. He turned in one of the more dominating performances the PGA Tour has seen in years, defeating Webb Simpson by seven shots. Simpson, the 2012 US Open champion, couldn’t even come close, despite playing on his home course.
While Spieth’s feisty demeanor lends itself to better marketability to fans, he will need to continue to putt the lights out if he hopes to match Mcilroy in the future. Spieth’s biggest strength lies in his clutch putting, however, that is the skill that can vary most from week to week.
Mcilroy’s strength comes in his ability to offset lackluster putting with far superior ball striking. Mcilroy ranks in the top ten on Tour in every ball striking category, and his 5’10 160 pound frame can launch the ball 350+ off the tee.
However Mcilroy, like every golfer on the planet, continues to search for the consistency that will make him one of the best players of all time, and the one thing that seemingly stands in the way is putting.
“When I used to watch Rory putt early in his career, he had no real practice stroke or routine — he just got up to the ball and hit it. He was very natural but more than any other player I’ve ever worked with he processed things too fast. As he would go to stroke the ball, he tended to be quick and he would come up on it too soon,” said Mcilroy’s putting coach Dave Stockton.
Despite ranking 69th in Strokes Gained Putting, Mcilroy has won twice this season. Just imagine if he could putt.
No one is questioning Spieth’s mentality, but in Stockton’s mind, it is the one thing that sets Rory apart form the field. “In that respect, I put him right up there with Jack and Tiger. They don’t win by luck, they outthink everybody. That’s where Rory has got the big picture figured out,” said Stockton.