Welcome to Teeing Off, where Devil Ball Golf editor Shane Bacon and writer Jay Busbee take a topic from the world of golf and shank it off the tee. Today: The new Big Three. You know Arnie, Jack and Gary. You know Tiger and Phil. Is there a third member of the latest Big Three, or are the contenders merely pretenders?
Bacon: Last weekend saw Jim Furyk, now 44, miss out on another shot at a PGA Tour title at the Canadian Open. Furyk, one of the stalwarts on the PGA Tour over the last two decades, hasn't won on tour since 2010, and while his slump continues, I simply ask, of this fading generation, where does Furyk rank in terms of the best players of that group? Tiger Woods is one, Phil Mickelson is two, and while Ernie Els has a great case as the third, is Furyk right behind those huge names?
Busbee: "Right behind" in a list, "five holes behind" on a golf course. This is not meant as a dismissal of Furyk in any way; he's a major winner and has an outside shot at a Hall of Fame berth. But he's a lot closer to the median golfer than outliers like Woods and Mickelson. Had he played in another era, Furyk probably would have beaten the world. He'd have been one of the two or three guys always challenging Nicklaus or Palmer, or absolutely dominant in the pre-Tiger '90s. But now? He's a distant shadow. That's not his fault, obviously, but that's the way it is when you're playing behind a pair of legends. How about your perspective?
Bacon: I think when we look back at Furyk's career, we will be wondering how in the world he didn't win more. The guy has finished in second place 28 times in his career include three this season! That's incredible! Do you think this is a situation where he actually does fall apart down the stretch, or just bad luck when he's in contention (like Tim Clark firing a back-nine 30 to get him by a shot on Sunday at the Canadian Open)?
Busbee: I would like to see a statistical study determining whether players do or don't really fall apart on the back nine on Sunday. It's been proven statistically that there's no such thing as a clutch hitter, and that home-field advantage is mainly a result of ref intimidation. I wonder, are we biased against Furyk because of his high-profile miscues? Or is it much easier to get to second place than to win? Would be fascinating to find out.
I was at the Tour Championship when he needed to get up and down from the sand on the 18th at East Lake to win $10 million, and he did so with ease. But then he's had so many opportunities exactly like you mention where he DIDN'T get the job done. Obviously he's right up there with the next tier of greats of this era. But who else besides Els belongs there? You gotta go Vijay, yes?
Bacon: It's easy to forget how much of a monster Vijay was in his prime. The guy won NINE times in 2004!
I think Vijay has to be No. 4, with Furyk a distant No. 5. Is that close? Would you put anyone else in the conversation?
Busbee: I think you're right. Anybody else we start bringing up based on record alone (Padraig Harrington, Angel Cabrera) has had such a spotty record outside of their highlights that it's tough to justify putting them on the list.
Unless, of course, we look forward. At what point do you think Rory McIlroy cracks this list? Or do we start a new one for him?
Bacon: I think he's in a new generation of golfers that includes (Rickie) Fowler, Dustin (Johnson), Zach Johnson and Bubba (Watson). While the ages might not match up, I feel like all those guys came around at the same time and have won together at a consistent rate.
That said, if Rory ever faces Tiger in a major and beats him (think Tom Watson at Turnberry taking down Jack Nicklaus) we might start seeing those two as generational competitors and we could watch their careers overlap in a sense.
All right, your turn! Who's the best of the best, after the two you know, in the current generation? Have your say below!