A new ‘Big Three’ gets THE PLAYERS spotlight
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Jon Rahm, Scottie Scheffler and Rory McIlroy have broken from the pack
Written by Cameron Morfit @CMorfitPGATOUR
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Jon Rahm lost it to Scottie Scheffler, who lost it to Rory McIlroy, who lost it to Scheffler, who lost it to Rahm again.
“Rory, Jon and Scottie are kind of in a league of their own at times,” Max Homa said after losing to Rahm at The Genesis Invitational last month, “and it’s just our job to go and catch them.”
Is this the new Big Three? A modern-day Arnie, Jack, and Gary Player? Too early to tell. Still, Rahm, Scheffler and McIlroy have broken away from the pack. Rahm has four TOUR wins and two DP World Tour victories in the last 13 months. Scheffler has notched all five of his PGA TOUR wins, including the Masters, in that span, winning the 2022 PGA TOUR Player of the Year award for his efforts. McIlroy has compiled three TOUR wins, a FedExCup title, and a DP World Tour win.
McIlroy ended 2022 as the first player to end a year by concurrently holding the FedExCup, DP World Tour’s points title and top spot in the world ranking. Rahm quickly became the story of this year by winning his first two starts (Sentry Tournament of Champions, The American Express). Then Scheffler successfully defended the WM Phoenix Open last month to regain the top spot in the world, only for Rahm to wrest it from him a week later by winning The Genesis Invitational, his third win in five starts.
The three will make up a marquee group at THE PLAYERS Championship. Only McIlroy has hoisted the trophy, winning in 2019, when Rahm’s final-round 76 dropped him to a tie for 12th. Scheffler has a missed cut (2021) and a T55 (last year) at TPC Sawgrass. It seems likely that one or more of them will be in the hunt for the trophy this week, or any week.
At last week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard, McIlroy’s missed birdie try from 10 1/2 feet on the last hole left him in a two-way tie for second, a shot behind first-time winner Kurt Kitayama. Scheffler (T4) bogeyed 18 when he needed a birdie, finishing two back. Rahm didn’t contend, taking the first-round lead with a 65 but fading (76-76-72) to a T39 finish.
Rahm, Scheffler, and McIlroy – that latter two could have retaken the top spot with a win – still hold down the first three spots in the OWGR, respectively. And, like last week, any of the three (and no one else) could be No. 1 when THE PLAYERS ends on Sunday.
Combine them into a composite super-golfer and you get Scottie McIlrahm, an apex terminator. He plays out of Northern Texirland, Spain, and is married (all three) with no kids (Scheffler), one kid (McIlroy), two kids (Rahm). He chips in for birdie just when he looks wobbly (Scheffler), inspires both awe and dread with his driving (McIlroy), and, other than Bay Hill last week, is so freakishly consistent (Rahm) as to look unbeatable.
Scheffler, 26, has the funkiest move, his right foot shooting back at impact as if he’s wearing a roller skate. But when he looks like he’s backsliding – literally or figuratively – he rarely is. He hit just 10 fairways all weekend at the WM Phoenix Open last month, a no-no at TPC Scottsdale. But while playing from the cacti, he led the field in Strokes Gained: Approach the Green and scrambling (14/16) and successfully defended his title.
“Scottie, I would say he has a great ability to post a really good score,” said Rahm, who lost, 4 and 3, to Scheffler at the 2021 Ryder Cup. “There’s a lot of times where I've played with him and maybe it doesn't look the prettiest, but you end up the round and, oh, 67. It’s pretty remarkable.”
At the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play last year, in the championship match against Kevin Kisner, Scheffler scooped a chip shot into a greenside bunker at the par-5 12th hole. It looked like the door was opening for Kisner, but Scheffler holed out from the bunker, slamming it shut.
Scottie Scheffler holes out from bunker for birdie at WGC-Dell Match Play
It was the same story at the Masters Tournament, too. At the par-4 third hole, Scheffler’s lead was down to one when he chipped in for another unlikely birdie to reassert control.
How does he do it? A great set of hands and an iron will.
“His attitude I think is one of the best out here,” McIlroy said.
Ultimate driving machine
McIlroy, 33 and the elder statesman of the three, has the most TOUR wins (23), the most majors (four) – the others have one apiece – the most PLAYERS (one), the most FedExCups (a record-setting three) and the most jaw-dropping move with the driver. Not for nothing is he the PGA TOUR Driving Distance leader.
“When he's firing on all cylinders, it’s a thing of beauty,” Rahm said. “The way he hits the ball and his ball flight off the tee, especially, is quite unique.”
Added Scheffler, of McIlroy and Rahm: “They both have the ability to hit the ball extremely high and get to a lot of pins that most players out here can’t get to.
“Then I think mostly I admire a lot of their competitiveness,” he added. “I think that’s what you see from the guys that are able to make it to the top numerous times.”
That competitiveness was in evidence when McIlroy won the TOUR Championship last summer. He began the tournament six behind then-FedExCup No. 1 Scheffler; started triple-bogey, bogey to fall 10 behind; was six back going into the final round – and yet still won, shooting 66 for his historic third FedExCup. And when he captured THE CJ CUP in South Carolina in the fall, he had climbed all the way back to world No. 1, a journey he called immensely gratifying.
Rory McIlroy’s Round 4 highlights from TOUR Championship
He got slightly off with his driver on the West Coast Swing, made a mid-tournament switch at The Genesis but began to figure it out at Bay Hill.
Rahm, 28, is perhaps most consistent, last week notwithstanding. Just look to his recent results – five wins in eight starts worldwide heading into Bay Hill – and the way he won The Genesis. It was at Riviera that Homa pulled even and then one ahead through 12 holes, but Rahm birdied the 14th and 16th holes for a 69 to beat Homa (68) by two.
Jon Rahm buries 46-foot birdie putt from off the green at Genesis
“Other than Tiger and I don’t even know,” Homa said, “he’s the most consistent player I’ve seen.”
Keep in mind, Homa had beat back the field and a cold rain at the Wells Fargo Championship last May; had chipped in on 18 to wrest the Fortinet Championship trophy from an unnerved Danny Willet in the fall; and had worn down even the irrepressible Tom Kim in a Presidents Cup singles victory a week later. And Homa himself was hot, coming off a third-place finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and victory at the Farmers Insurance Open, a win that made him a close fourth to the top trio in the game.
You couldn’t be more consistent than Homa, or so it seemed until Rahm won The Genesis.
“I’m never too far off, honestly,” Rahm said at the Sentry Tournament of Champions in January, when he revealed that he battled his swing last season despite eight top-10 finishes, including a win. “With the swing mechanics I have it’s never a big, big change.”
“They have both been relentless,” McIlroy said of Rahm and Scheffler.
Relentless. Awe-inspiring. Clutch. Scottie McIlrahm has been all these things, demanding your attention and that of the world ranking mathletes. THE PLAYERS Championship awaits.
Cameron Morfit is a Staff Writer for the PGA TOUR. He has covered rodeo, arm-wrestling, and snowmobile hill climb in addition to a lot of golf. Follow Cameron Morfit on Twitter.