Well, we now have our 2016 Masters favorite and it's not the player we all pegged a month ago, two months ago or at the start of the year. The oddsmakers may give Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy comparable, or even lower odds than Jason Day at Augusta this year, but those are simply for betting games. Day is the favorite and the best player in the world once again.
This, of course, is a much more fickle title these days. It is not the Tiger era when, no matter how ugly a month or two he'd have, Woods was always the top talent, favorite and No. 1 player in the world. We're now rotating among a corps of world-class talents who seem to make their runs in spurts and right now Day, who edged McIlroy on Sunday and backed up last week's Arnold Palmer Invitational win with a WGC-Dell Match Play title, is better than everyone else. The next closest is probably neither Spieth nor Rory, but rather his Aussie mate Adam Scott, who also won in consecutive weeks last month on the Florida swing.
The rankings would now corroborate Day's favored status, as he moved back to No. 1 in the world on Saturday simply by advancing to the final four at the WGC-Dell Match Play, while then-No. 1 Spieth lost in his first match of the knockout Sweet 16 round. Day began the year with a quieter approach than his two contemporaries. Rory and Spieth played in different spots around the globe and did not take many weeks off. McIlroy ended 2015 by professing he could get back No. 1 in the world before the Masters and he played a heavier schedule than he normally does in this run-up to Augusta. Rory had moments and rounds where he's looked like the No. 1 player, but Day's come on and done exactly what McIlroy had planned and pronounced in that 2015 end-of-year assessment.
Day became the forgotten member of the "Big Three" through January, February and most of March. Rickie Fowler made his moves. Spieth and Rory played together in Abu Dhabi and Riviera. Day mostly took it easy since last October's Presidents Cup, made a select few 2016 starts, then ramped it up heading into the Masters. He was executing the plan perfectly until it looked like it would all come undone by some back ailment in Wednesday's opening pool play round. Day winced and hobbled, declining a post-match interview in pain. He said four people on his team told him to back out, but he came to the range on Thursday, grimaced through a warm-up and walked to the first tee to give it a go ... and there, he opened his match in questionable health with a 381-yard drive of the green.
Sunday morning's match against McIlroy, on paper, was probably the best in the history of this event. It was two of the so-called "Big Three" playing on the final day after a week of what looked like some of their best golf. It was power against power, two of the game's most impressive bombers whaling away in their final start before the Masters.
The match went to the final hole, the first time Day played the 18th this week. Right now (emphasis on now, the present time), Day is a little better. McIlroy has the four majors to Day's one, but the big advantage he always had -- blasting it past his nearest chasers and competition -- he does not have against Day.
Are you kidding, fellas? Rory goes 353 yards off the tee on 16 while Day laid it out 373 (!!!) yards. pic.twitter.com/qPHzBGY29c— Golf Channel (@GolfChannel) March 27, 2016
The Aussie hits it just as far, and often farther, than McIlroy and he's got a better short game at the moment.
Day takes the most aggressive lines in the game and often pulls it off thanks to those 350-yard bombs (when he doesn't pull it off, well, it costs him majors). He's often playing a different hole than the rest of the field, illuminated here in the final match against Louis Oosthuizen.
Jason Day. Aggressive. pic.twitter.com/d7egBZEBL4— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) March 27, 2016
Then up around the green, his chipping and putting make sure all that distance is not wasted and he's opening no doors for his competitors. We saw it last week with that incredible sand shot on the 18th at Bay Hill, and then this week with a wild up-and-down that didn't even give McIlroy a chance to putt on the 18th hole and pull it all square.
So it's not just the power, which gets all the headlines and pub. Day is fourth on Tour in strokes gained putting and that's how you go back-to-back, re-take world No. 1 and look like the favorite to win your first Masters.
Day seems like a natural fit for Augusta, where he'll post up on Thursday to officially start his work at the 2016 Masters. He rockets the ball high into the air, the kind of flight that's often touted as an advantage at ANGC. The distance we've already covered is a huge plus at most venues, and that includes Augusta. And he's already got a second and third-place finish in a short five-year career at the season's first major. There are a lot of players with similar advantages playing well in this first quarter of the year, but Day's the man the beat next week.
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