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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

But Suppose It's Jason's Breakout Year?

The debate has been gathering steam for a few weeks now: Is Jordan Spieth the unqualified Player of the Year, or does Jason Day have a chance to beat him out for the award?

Jordan Spieth and Jason Day

Each side is passionate in their beliefs but the argument seems to center around one idea: As a general rule, players who win two majors in one year have won the POY award. The argument is that choosing Day over Spieth is a travesty that violates some basic law of the universe. I've even heard it argued that, if Spieth doesn't get the award, future generations will look back at us and question our intelligence. (And yes, the arguer put it in almost those exact words.)
Just to be clear, as of today -- Wednesday, 23 September 2015 -- I don't think there's any question that Jordan Spieth IS the Player of the Year. BUT -- and this is important -- the vote isn't taken today. We need to ask ourselves... could there be anything more spectacular than Jordan winning two majors, complete with all the attendant records?
There are two big assumptions being made in this argument about Jordan over Jason that need to be questioned, so please stick with me for a few moments. I need to explain some things I've been considering lately so you can see where I'm coming from.

The first is simple: Is a major more important than anything else?

Before you immediately say "yes," stop and think a minute. Next year, an Olympic gold medal will be available. That medal hasn't been available for a century and it will be available only once every four years going forward -- at least, it will for as long as golf is in the Olympics this time around. Will a major, four of which are played each and every year, be worth more than that gold medal? (Or the silver medal, or even the bronze medal, which fall into the same category?)

I know you're tempted to argue that the Olympic medals aren't available this year, but it still matters. If there is something that will be more important than a major next year, how can you be so sure that a major is the be-all and end-all of golf now? Likewise, the World Golf Hall of Fame considers THE PLAYERS to be a suitable substitute for a major, no doubt based on the strength of field. (As I have argued before, THE PLAYERS has a stronger field than at least the Masters.) If THE PLAYERS carries the same weight as a major with the WGHoF, why should a major be the determining factor in POY debates?

And we do have the historical precedent of Tiger winning the POY in 2013 without any major at all, but on the strength of having won THE PLAYERS, a WGC and three other prominent events.

Which brings me to the second assumption, the one that I think prompted the "future generations" argument I mentioned earlier but which is less obvious because so many people simply assume it's true. I think everybody has decided that this is Jordan's "breakout year," the year that launched his superstar-to-be career, and that future generations will think we were blind not to recognize it if Jordan doesn't get the award.

But is this automatically Jordan's breakout year simply because he won two majors?

What if it's Jason's breakout year? I think this question isn't being considered seriously enough.
Okay, before I go any further, let me make this clear: My thoughts from this point on are based on the possibility of Jason winning THE TOUR Championship this week. If Jason doesn't win this week, I think Jordan should definitely get the POY Award. Are you with me so far? Good. Then let's proceed...
Let's make sure we've got all the pieces on the gameboard, if you know what I mean.

If Jason wins this week, he also wins the FedExCup. Among other records he would set, like becoming the first player to win three of the four Playoff events, he would also become the first player ever to win a major (in record-setting fashion btw), win the FedExCup and become #1 in the world ALL IN THE SAME YEAR. And he did this coming from behind Jordan -- bear in mind that, on July 11, Jordan was #2 in the world and Jason was #9. That's a lot of points to make up.

Likewise, let's give Jordan credit for the full wraparound season. While Jordan only has four PGA Tour wins in 2015, he also won the Emirates Australian Open and the Hero World Challenge -- and the latter is included on the PGA Tour's tournament list, even though it's not official money. That would mean both players have six worldwide wins during this season. (Again, remember that winning both the FedExCup and the Race to Dubai helped the players give the POY Award to Luke Donald in 2011. They do consider worldwide wins.)

If it matters, Jason would have six official PGA Tour wins and Jordan only four. However, the Australian Open and the Canadian Open (which Jason won) both began in 1904 and both are considered premium tournaments. This would give Jordan three premium events -- the Australian Open and two majors -- and Jason would have three as well, since THE TOUR Championship has always been a premium event on the PGA Tour.

Jordan did all of his winning before the Open Championship; his last win came at the John Deere. Jason's first win this season was in February so -- despite the illness -- his wins came over roughly the same period of time as Jordan's.

Bear in mind that Jason amassed this record while fighting vertigo. It's easy to forget that Jason was tied with Jordan on Saturday night at the US Open at -4 despite the vertigo, and could barely play on Sunday because of the treatment. He still shot a +4 round to finish T9. Otherwise the US Open might have had a different ending. (I'm not saying he gets credit for almost winning. I'm saying his year was seriously hampered by illness, which makes what he's accomplished even more impressive.)

Also bear in mind that, should Jason win THE TOUR Championship, he would have won three out of four of the Playoff events -- as I said, that's never been done -- while Jordan didn't even make the cut in two of them. And the fields in these events are the guys who played well enough to be fully-exempt in 2016... and all of them feel they have nothing to lose, so they're playing aggressively. Four weeks of the full Tour roster throwing everything they've got at him because they all want that $10mil.

Maybe -- just maybe -- 2015 will ultimately be remembered as the year Jason Day became the decade's dominant player.

Look, I'm not saying that Jason Day should win POY if he wins THE TOUR Championship. I'm just saying that, if he does win this week, maybe his year has been much better than we're willing to admit. If you pay attention to my Ruthless Golf World Rankings over there in the sidebar, you know that Jason's been #1 there for a few weeks. My rankings focus on only one year and give a lot of weight to recent form and wins. For me, one more win means Jason would give Jordan some serious competition in the POY race.

I'll be very interested to see if he can get that win and stir up the pot a little!

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