The Big Three is passé. It’s time for the Big Four now.
By winning the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship yesterday against a quality field that included the likes of world No1 Jordan Spieth, No3 Rory McIlroy and No5 Henrik Stenson, Rickie Fowler has staked a claim to be bracketed along with the best players in contemporary golf.
Since last season, that elite group has included Spieth, Jason Day and McIlroy. The American obviously won two majors and became the world No1, while Aussie Day has been sensational since finishing one shot outside the play-off for the Open Championship. McIlroy, despite a frustrating season because of his ankle injury, won four times.
Fowler did catch everyone’s attention, especially after finishing in the top-five of all four majors in 2014, but the problem was that he wasn’t turning solid performances into victories. Not in the majors, and not in regular events.
The week a report appeared in the US that his peers had named him the most over-rated player in the PGA Tour through secret polling, Fowler went on to win the Players – usually called the ‘Fifth Major’ in golfing circles. And he has looked a completely different competitor since then.
Abu Dhabi win elevates Fowler to No4 in the world rankings, leapfrogging Stenson and Bubba Watson. Now the only question mark that remains against him is the lack of major titles on his CV. That is the next objective that Fowler has set his heart on, and since winning is fast becoming a habit with him, that day is surely not far away.
It must be said that the 27-year-old Californian has blossomed ever since he took his home-grown swing to Butch Harmon at the end of 2013. The results were immediate and for him to be contending in every major in 2014 was an amazing and quick result.
Golf really is in a blessed situation right now with the top-four players all aged 27 or below. It really is an incredible situation and bodes very well for the future of the game. The rivalry is going to be
immense in the future, and going by their start to the season, it feels like both Spieth and McIlroy are set for another big year.
It was fascinating to watch Spieth grind out a top-five finish despite not bringing his A-game this week. It wasn’t even his C-game really. His golf is based around his phenomenal short game. The 22-year-old rarely misses a putt from inside 10 feet, and this week, he missed almost a dozen of them. You expect him to make at least six to eight putts from the 20- to 40-feet range, and this week he made only two.
That’s what makes players like Spieth great. They can go extremely low when their game is on but when they are struggling, they are still able to post double-digit under-par scores.
As for McIlroy, it was another fantastic start to the season. He was driving the ball as well as ever, and that being the key to his game, all he needs to do is make sure the daily putt counts are below 30 and he will set golf courses on fire.
Also encouraging was the start for Stenson. To play like he did in 2015, and yet not win a single tournament, was cruel. But the Swede showed he hasn’t lost his touch despite the recent knee surgery. If he continues like this, a 40-year-old could be gatecrashing what is supposed to be youngsters’ party in 2016.