AUGUSTA, Ga. — Over the years, there have been number of iterations of a “Big Three” in golf.
Before Tiger Woods experienced his litany of physical ailments, beginning with his back surgeries and ending with his serious right leg injury resulting from his 2021 car crash, he was always a part of that three, whether grouped with Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh, Ernie Els, Retief Goosen and others.
As the game stands now, there’s a clear and current “Big Three” that has separated itself from the pack as this week’s Masters begins with Thursday’s opening round at Augusta National.
Scottie Scheffler, the defending champion and No. 1 ranked player in the world, leads that group, followed by Rory McIlroy (No. 2) and Jon Rahm (No. 3).
Earlier this year, it didn’t look like Rahm was going to lose another golf tournament, having won three of his first five starts.
The 28-year-old Spaniard hit a speed bump at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, Scheffler entered the fray and has looked close to unstoppable since, most recently winning the Players Championship.
“I look at both of those guys and it’s hard to see them not consistently finishing in the top 10 of every tournament that they play,” McIlroy said. “They both do it a different way. They both sort of have different attitudes towards the game. But it just seems like every week that we’re playing, one of us has got a chance to win that tournament, going back to Kapalua the first week of the year and then me in Dubai and Scottie in Phoenix and then Jon in L.A. and then Scottie in the Players and then Scottie and I at the Match Play.
“It just seems like one [of] us three is popping up every week we play with a chance to win. That’s the level that we all want to be at. That for me, anyway, seeing those two guys consistently performing at that level just pushes me to want to be better.”
Scheffler, trying to become the first player to defend his Masters title since Woods did it in 2002, spoke about the “high level of consistency from us so far this year,” referring to himself, McIlroy and Rahm.
“I think if you look at a lot of the leaderboards, we’ve been pretty close to winning most of the elevated events,’’ Scheffler said. “You had Jon beating up on everybody starting the year, and I had a little run there with the Players in Phoenix and Rory is up on a bunch of leaderboards like he seemingly always is.
“A lot of that is just good, healthy competition, and hopefully we’ll continue to elevate ourselves through that competition, and then the guys behind us will be nothing but motivated to get to where we are. That kind of competition is really good and healthy for our game.”
Asked if that’s making him, McIlroy and Rahm better, Scheffler smiled and said, “We are definitely not making each other worse, that’s for sure.”
Patrick Cantlay, who’s ranked No. 4 in the world, insisted he doesn’t “think about” the three players in front of him in the rankings, but added, “Definitely, when I see other people win golf tournaments, it makes me hungrier to go out and win golf tournaments.
“Those three have played exceptionally well the last couple years and they have won a lot of big tournaments. So, I think it’s rightfully so and understandable that people refer to them that way.”
Justin Thomas, a two-time PGA Championship winner (2016 and last year) is another player like Cantlay who’s just on the outside looking up at the current “Big Three.” He’s surely in a “what-about-me” mode.
Rahm is not a believer in the “Big Three” theory, contending that the margin is a lot closer than the world-ranking points might suggest. He, too, believes this “Big Three” has much more to do to validate that title.
“I would say you can say that if we can do it for at least five-plus years like many of those players did — even while Tiger has been on his run in the 2000s, Phil and Vijay still managed to win 45 and 20-plus times themselves in that time frame,” Rahm said. “For us to be compared to something like that, we have a very long way to go. It could be the start. But still a long way to go.”
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