On June 16, 2014, the golf world was recovering from the scorching that Martin Kaymer had put on Pinehurst No. 2 and the U.S. Open. He was the winner of two of the biggest three golf tournaments of the year, including The Players. He was the hottest stick on the planet.
He was the 2014 Player of Year… if they decided the award at the year's midpoint.
On that same day, Rory McIlroy was ranked sixth in the world and hadn’t won on U.S. soil in almost two years. He was an afterthought for Player of the Year. Two months later, he was No. 1 and there was no debate. Kaymer’s run was a distant memory.
So, what’s the point, you're asking?
I am not saying that Jason Day is my Player of the Year for 2015 (Spieth is right now), nor am I comparing Martin Kaymer in 2014 to Jordan Spieth in 2015 or Rory McIlroy in 2014 to Jason Day in 2015. But, post-PGA, Day continues to round out his career year while Spieth appears to be playing golf in his green jacket (I would too, for the record). If Day continues to win and Spieth continues to languish, maybe there's a case to be made for the underdog Aussie as Player of the Year.
First, two caveats for this argument to hold weight:
1. Jason Day probably needs to win the FedEx Cup, or be Horschel’d by somebody over the next two tournaments, and
2. Jordan Spieth is not in contention the next two weeks.
This whole hypothetical has been born out of momentum. It’s why we gave Henrik Stenson (the double dip FedEx-Dubai) and Adam Scott (almost swept Australia's Triple Crown and won the Masters) strong year-end consideration in 2013 even though Tiger Woods won five times. As silly as the “Big 3, no wait, Big 4?” argument has been, it’s born out of our desire to overreact to what we just saw. However, if Spieth outperforms Day the rest of September, the argument is moot -- that is, unless they get paired against each other in Presidents Cup singles for a winner-take-all coronation as the best of 2015! Please let that happen.
Let's lay out how the underdog could become PGA Tour Player of the Year.
Quality of Wins
Both young guns have won four times in 2015, but what about the overall quality of the fields for all of those wins?
Spieth’s four wins came against fields with an average World Golf Ranking strength of 539 (the higher the better here), while Day’s four wins had a field average strength of 541.
That is a nominal difference, but when somebody plays the two-majors-to-one card in favor of Spieth’s resume, it is interesting to note that the body of wins for Day still rates out higher. Plus, the PGA Championship ranks as the strongest field in all four majors, so Day’s win there is, on paper, the strongest major tally of the three combined. (Yes, I am aware who finished second in Wisconsin.)
I am a huge fan of alternative ways to rank players. The Golfweek/Sagarin rankings weight tournaments, but then look at the performance of golfers based on who you beat head-to-head. So, second place is a great week because you only lost to one golfer in the field, etc., etc.
There is no denying the brilliance of Spieth’s head-to-head record in majors this year, where he lost to only four players. FOUR! But, for the last year, Day has a better head-to-head record against the field than Spieth, including against top-10 ranked players. Spieth is actually third in that same span, behind Day and Stenson. The same rankings also credit Day with playing the most difficult schedule over that time. Spieth, with seven more events, faced the 28th most difficult schedule.
And, in case you weren’t convinced, Day owns a 21-19-2 mark against Spieth head-to-head in the 42 rounds they’ve shared in the same tournament in 2015. They are tied 6-6-2 in finishes in common tournaments.
Again, this difference here is slight, but Day has actually had a better overall golf year than Spieth.
More Stats. STATS!
Day currently ranks second in all-around ranking on the PGA Tour this season. If he hit a couple of more fairways, he’d be running away with the category. He is inside the top 10 in distance, greens in regulation and both strokes gained categories. He has averaged more birdies than anybody and is second in scoring.
Of course, Spieth is first in scoring, but “only” fourth in all-around ranking. Pedestrian!
Day almost won the U.S. Open swinging at two different golf balls. He rolled down a hill because of vertigo. He made my father look graceful picking the ball out of the hole. Honestly, if we had avoided the TMZ-like coverage of his “Will he fall down again?” trek around Chambers Bay, I think we would have been even more inspired that Day gutted it out.
This is an empty statement, but I truly believe Day would have won that U.S. Open if he was healthy. That he finished is valiant. The fact that he finished in the top 10 is almost superhuman.
And, he has Dash. Top that, Spieth!
Entering 2014, Jason Day was becoming another example of unrealized potential. The WGC-Match Play win helped, but injuries slowed the charge. He latest addition to the Best to Not Win a Major list entering 2015. In many respects, the pressure to win a major was far greater on his shoulders than Spieth. In fact, you could say that simply winning for Day was more important than Spieth.
We allow our young twenty-somethings time, and then heap a pile of heavy expectations on them when they near 30 without the goods.
Day came out of the gate firing, winning a really good tournament (we forget) at Torrey Pines. But the big-stage lull got him again. The vertigo left him in danger of seeing another year fly by without realizing the promise. He needed to win. Beating Spieth at Whistling Straits may have been most impressive because Day needed it so badly. His opponent was playing with an oversized stack of house money.
With that, the defense of Jason Day for 2015 Player of the Year rests. Until they meet in South Korea!