Jack Nicklaus had Arnold Palmer.
Tiger Woods never really had Phil Mickelson.
Maybe, just maybe, Rory McIlroy can have Jordan Spieth.
Or better yet, maybe Spieth can have McIlroy.
Golf is at its best when there is a foil for the best player in the world. There doesn’t need to be any animosity or trouble brewing away from the course, but there just needs to be a player who pushes that best player of an era to be an all-time great.
Palmer did that with Nicklaus (after Nicklaus overtook The King). Nicklaus is the game’s greatest player and its all-time winner, but first he had to overcome the game’s most popular player. He did just that and garnered plenty of fans and respect of his own along the way as he claimed 18 majors.
Woods never really had that with Mickelson during his reign over the game. Mickelson is a great player, for sure, but he never really pushed Woods. The two barely have gone head-to-head in regular tour tournaments, much less majors, and Mickelson just has never been in Woods’ league.
Woods, instead, dominated the game for so long that he has shunned any other challengers, whoever they might be. And now Woods has handed over the torch as the game’s top player to McIlroy, who at 25 years old has won four majors and almost played well enough to win his fifth this past week at Augusta National Golf Club.
In a lot of years, McIlroy’s12 under would have been enough to win golf’s first major, but he was just one of the many players chasing Spieth through his historic week at the Masters.
The two didn’t really face off for the green jacket because Spieth was head and shoulders above everyone else during the week. But even though there wasn’t a showdown this week, the Spieth win is a great thing for golf. Because maybe it can set up showdowns for years to come.
"He's got four majors. That's something I can still only dream about," Spieth said. "I'll never hit it as far as he does, so I'll have to make up that somewhere else.
"I look forward to getting in the heat of the moment with him a few more times in the near future. We'll see if we can battle it out and test our games."
Now, that sounds like fun.
The game needs someone of McIlroy’s generation to step up and challenge him (and maybe even surpass him). Spieth looks like just the player to do that.
Remember when people said we’d never see another Woods? It’s quite possible we won’t, and there’s no guarantee anyone will reach Woods’ 14 majors, much less Nicklaus’ record.
But Spieth matched Woods in golf’s greatest tournament this past week. Just like Woods, Spieth is 21 years old at the time of his first major/Masters win. And just like Woods, Spieth blew away the field with an 18-under-par 270 round (matching Woods’ tournament scoring record).
It was special stuff by a special player, and the game can only hope there is plenty more to come.
Contact Daniel Shirley at 744-4227 or firstname.lastname@example.org