US Open 2016: Jason Day, Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy Keep Golf Bubbling

June 8, 2016

Who would win a footrace between Jason Day, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy, Nos. 1-3, respectively, in the World Ranking as they went into last week’s Memorial at Jack’s place, Muirfield Village? I say McIlroy’s explosive-strength training pays dividends here.

Who would win a game of H-O-R-S-E? Better take Spieth, who beats caddie Michael Greller at hoops.

Who would win a bare-knuckles brawl? That’d be Day, a scrapper in his youth. His coach and caddie, Col Swatton, saw this attribute just once, when Day was 19. A tie for sixth at the HSBS New Zealand PGA meant he would crack the next week’s field, so he and Swatton went out to dinner to celebrate. Alas, their festive mood was short-lived.

A fellow diner, likely over-served, was verbally abusing the waitress, who was Asian. Swatton and Day, whose mother is Filipina, had all they could take by the time they got up to pay. They got in line, and wouldn’t you know it, wound up right behind the mouthy customer, who spun around and said, “Aw, you Asians are all the same.” He chose poorly.

“Jason absolutely hammers this guy,” Swatton says. “Lays him out. He grew up doing those things, but it was the only time I saw that in him.”

Nielsen ratings, TV contracts and jersey sales have their place, but a spectator sport’s true appeal can be found in its totally unresolvable hypotheticals. Face it: We probably won’t know who’s better at golf, Jason, Jordan or Rory, until we reminisce 20 years from now. But that doesn’t mean the debate isn’t worth having. On the contrary, it’s vitally important.

The perfect sports argument is unwinnable, stands the test of time and is noisy to the point of providing free publicity. You knew, for example, that the NBA itself won when people started pontificating over who would win between Steph Curry’s Golden State Warriors and Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls. And you know golf is the big winner—and really the only provable winner—when we hypothesize about the primacy of Jason-Jordan-Rory.

The more ridiculous the fantasy match-up, the better.

The characters in Chuck Klosterman’s 2008 novel “Downtown Owl” are divided by a recurring argument: Who would win an imagined fight between Cubby Candy, a five-foot-seven sociopath who is considered “the greatest teenage street fighter in all of south-central North Dakota,” and six-foot-seven manimal/superjock Chris (Grendel) Sellers? As hypothetical constructs go it passes every test: Silly, fascinating and unprovable either way. (You’ll have to read the book.) The “size of the dog in the fight” versus the “size of the fight in the dog” conundrum, as old as dirt, is the gift that keeps on giving everywhere time is wasted.

All of which brings us back to whether Day, Spieth or McIlroy is the best golfer on the planet. If it’s raining and the course is soaked? Well, of course that’s Rory weather. If it’s firm and fast? Well that might be Jordan’s thing. If it’s confoundingly difficult? Gotta be Jason.

Rory, 27, leads with four major titles; Jason, 28, has just one but, all together now, has seven wins in his last 17 starts; and only Jordan, 22, has contended to the very end in the last five majors, winning two of them.

Not that they’re without flaws.

Day can rely too heavily on his short game, as he did on the front nine in the final round of the Players, when he hit only three greens in regulation. Spieth can look like a short hitter next to Day and McIlroy and can get down on himself. And McIlroy can vanish in plain sight, as he did while fashioning a homely 77 alongside Spieth (73) on Saturday at Augusta.

Day has owned their recent head-to-head matchups, thumping Spieth by 14 shots over the first two rounds at the Players, which the young Texan admitted was rather dispiriting. And Day beat McIlroy in the WGC-Dell Match Play semifinals, a match that saw them combine for 11 birdies and in which the resilient Day got up and down a ridiculous eight times. It’s not the size of the dog in the fight; it’s the size of the fight in the dog.

Jason. Jordan. Rory. Who ya got?