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Who Sits On Golf’s Iron Throne?

Golf-Iron-ThronePart of the joy of sports is the bantering. That’s why anytime you turn on ESPN you’re greeted with yet another “embrace debate” style show. It’s a format that’s familiar to every fan – people arguing about sports. Who’s the best? Who’s the worst? It’s conversations you have at your local sports bar, your office, on a mass text chain with your friends or at home with your spouse. Everyone has an opinion about sports, and everyone loves to spout their opinion to anyone who’ll listen.

For golf, the Official World Golf Rankings (OWGR) should, in theory, eliminate these sorts of playful and speculative arguments. Someone wants to argue Phil Mickelson is the best golfer in the world? Sorry Tom from Marketing, it says right here that he’s only the 32nd best golfer in the world. Go directly to jail, do not pass go and send me your TPS report by 3:00.

You don’t need to follow the week to week movement up and down the OWGR like I do to understand it’s a flawed system. To it’s credit, it is probably the best and most fair way to rank golfers worldwide with it’s two year look-back calculation and progressively diminishing credit for older events. But what the OWGR lacks is the eye test, those qualitative factors that if a casual fan follows every golfer around a course, they can point out who the alpha male is.

Case in point – everyone knows that Tiger Woods ruled the golf world from 1997-2013, so much that he held the title of #1 golfer in the world for a record 683 weeks. That’s more than double his closest rival to that achievement. But there were a handful of times he’d trade places with David Duval, Ernie Els or Vijay Singh for the top spot in the 2000’s that rang hollow of significance. Tiger was the apex predator, and nobody needed an excel spreadsheet to tell you that. End of discussion.

Much like several wars for a vacant kingdom we’ve read about in the history books, Tiger’s fall from grace in 2014 created a power vacuum as to who the best golfer in the world was. Not just who held the #1 spot in the OWGR, but who was the top dog that had every podcast and blog falling all over themselves on how many majors King X would win.

Here is the chronological list of who’s sat on Golf’s Iron Throne in a post-Tiger world:

Bubba Watson: 2014 Masters – 2014 Crown Plaza Invitational, 41 Days

Our most despised King, at least in the biased eyes of this blogger. He already was a former major winner, but Bubba began his ascension to the throne by capturing the 2014 Northern Trust (better known as the L.A. Open). From there he finished T9 and T2 in his next two appearances to build momentum to Augusta. We may never know if Tiger Woods, sensing danger to his reign, sent his yes-man Notah Begay III to slip pollen in Bubba’s bag at Bay Hill to force him to card an 83 and conveniently withdraw due to “allergies”. But the voice of Bubba’s Army was strong, and after he claimed his 2nd Green Jacket in as many years he usurped the Iron Throne in the eyes of all.

Adam Scott: 2014 Crown Plaza Invitational – 2014 Open Championship, 76 Days

Thanks to his mercurial attitude, Bubba’s popularity with fans wasn’t the only thing that led to his demise. So was his on-course performance. Luckily there was a chiseled, likeable, and impeccably dressed Aussie available to overthrow the Toddler King.

Adam Scott had flirted with taking the Iron Throne from Tiger Woods throughout 2013 thanks to his victory at the Masters, but he just couldn’t quite get over the hump. That all changed when he defeated Jason Dufner in a playoff at the 2014 Colonial, officially knocking off an injured Tiger for not just the top spot in the OWGR, but as the occupant of the Iron Throne.

Rory McIlroy: 2014 Open Championship – 2015 U.S. Open, 311 Days

Rory shares that “it” factor that made Tiger so dominant and fearsome on the golf course. Even if he’s not consistently winning tournaments, when you watch him play you come away with the impression that he’s the best guy out there.  And when he’s on, he’ll boat race a field.

2014 was the Summer of Rory as he dominated the Open Championship, ran away with the WGC – Bridgestone, and then out-dueled Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Henrik Stenson to claim the PGA Championship. Rory went on to demolish Rickie Fowler 5&4 to help the Europeans capture the Ryder Cup, and then cruised to win the Order of Merit on the European Tour. There was absolutely no doubt during the second half of 2014 who was sitting on the Iron Throne.

Rory regressed a bit during the first half of 2015, but for every tournament he entered he was still the prohibitive favorite. That is until a fiery young American battered down the doors, threw the Ulsterman off the Iron Throne and claimed it for his own…

Jordan Spieth: 2015 U.S. Open – 2016 Players Championship, 324 Days

While it was a surprise how dominant Jordan Spieth looked on his way towards capturing his first major, it was inevitable he’d one day be the King of Augusta. The course was made for him. It requires premium iron play into the greens and clutch putting on its fast surfaces to pile up birdies. No one can compare to how well Spieth excels in these two facets of golf. And while everyone was excited for golf’s newest Golden Boy, the conversation was more about how many more Green Jackets he’d win than when he’d win his next major.

Jordan Spieth wasn’t supposed to win the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay. The course was too long for him. The greens were like broccoli and neutralized any advantage he’d have over the field. But arguably Jordan’s performance at Chambers Bay was more impressive than his one at Augusta. This was the defining moment where we all knew we were watching a special talent, and he took clear possession of the Iron Throne.

Jordan Spieth put together one of the most dominant 13 months of golf since Tiger Woods. Two major titles. Top 5’s at both the Open Championship and PGA Championship. Four more wins, including capturing the 2015 Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup. And through three rounds of the 2016 Masters, it looked like we could be in for another year long reign for the Golden Boy.

But then Amen Corner happened. Jordan sprayed his tee shot on 11 deep into the trees, missed his short par putt and fell only one shot ahead of a hard charging Danny Willett. And then the next hole, well, we all know what happened there…

Just like that, his reign was over. Well, technically for the purposes of this list it lasted a few more weeks. But he was a lame duck on the Iron Throne and it was only a matter of time before he’d be unceremoniously knocked off his pedestal.

Jason Day: 2016 Players Championship – 2016 WGC Bridgestone, 48 Days

Jason Day should have had a longer reign. If it wasn’t for Jordan Spieth winning the 2015 FedEx Cup, Jason would have sat on the Iron Throne for almost a year.  After a heartbreak at the 2015 Open Championship, Jason Day went on a similar year long tear like Jordan Spieth. Starting with the 2015 Canadian Open, Jason Day won seven times in 17 events, including wins at the 2015 PGA Championship, two wins in the 2015 FedEx Playoffs, a WGC title and the 2016 Players Championship. Spieth’s Tour Championship victory delayed Day’s coronation, but he was breathing down Spieth’s neck the whole time.

Similar to Jordan Spieth, Jason Day also had an epic meltdown during the final round at the 2016 WGC Bridgestone to eject him from the Iron Throne. Since then, Jason Day has gone winless as he struggles to stay healthy and regain his dominance.

Dustin Johnson: 2016 WGC Bridgestone – 2016 Tour Championship, 82 Days

It was a long time coming for Dustin to claim the Iron Throne. By the time he captured his first major title, the 2016 U.S. Open arguably could have been his 6th major trophy to add to his collection. But his career couldn’t stay on track, on or off the golf course. The man had limitless talent from the neck on down, but we always wondered if he had enough between the ears to truly reach his potential.

After the 2016 U.S. Open, the flood gates opened. It was a few weeks later that Dustin Johnson capitalized on Jason Day’s miscues and capture not just the WGC Bridgestone, but also outduel him Mano y Mano to claim the Iron Throne for his own.

Unfortunately for DJ, his play wasn’t the reason why his reign was cut short. It was forcibly taken from him by a returning conquering hero…

Rory McIlroy: 2016 Tour Championship – 2016 Ryder Cup, Day 3, 7 Days

Rory went on another one of his hot streaks, and just like in 2014 he couldn’t be stopped. He first stole the Deutsche Bank Championship away from Paul Casey with a final round 65. Two weeks later, he outdueled Kevin Chappell and Ryan Moore in a playoff to capture both the 2016 Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup.

He carried that momentum to the Ryder Cup the following weekend and put the struggling Europeans on his back. Teaming with Thomas Pieters, he slayed any American team he faced and wielded the same terrifying iron fist he did when he last sat on the Iron Throne in 2014. He was a stone cold killer.

As Rory wiped Brooks Koepka’s blood off his driver on Saturday, a knight donning red, white and blue rode to the battlefield and called out The King. It was Sunday, October 2nd where we witnessed the most storied battle for the Iron Throne the golf world has seen…

Patrick Reed: 2016 Ryder Cup, Day 3 – 2016 Hero World Challenge, 60 Days

I’m not going to attempt to wax poetic on the awesomeness of Patrick Reed usurping of the Iron Throne from Rory McIlroy. As I’m bouncing my future grand kid on my knee and they ask me how lit the Battle at Hazeltine was, I’ll just throw on this clip.

Patrick Reed did next to nothing for the remainder of 2016, but what he did at Hazeltine that day was the stuff of legends.

Tiger Woods: 2016 Hero Challenge, Rd. 2 – 2016 Hero Challenge, Rd. 4, 3 Days

Laugh all you want here. How DARE you forget how much you lost your mind and exclaimed that Tiger was back after shooting nine under in Rounds 2 and 3 of the Hero World Challenge. Those 72 hours turned Golf Twitter into a Chuckie Cheese as grown men screamed and fawned all over themselves after every Tiger birdie. Raise your hand if you put down a Tigers/Masters Win bet in Early December. Not even Dennis Green could stop them from crowning his ass.

Hideki Matsuyama: 2016 Hero Challenge, Round 4 – 2017 Genesis Open, 75 Days

All silliness aside from the last two rulers of the Iron Throne, the real King during the Winter of 2016 and 2017 was Hideki Matsuyama. Sick of the rejuvenated Tiger-mania, Hideki cashed in his Money in the Bank briefcase, cracked Tiger Woods with a chair across his back and sent him into exile once again.

Matsuyama took a page out of Rory’s playbook and went on a nuclear hot streak. Like Rory, when Matsuyama has the putter going there are few golfers who can chase him down. Starting at the 2016 Tour Championship through the Asian Swing, Hideki closed out his 2016 with a 5th, WIN, 2nd, WIN, WIN, and WIN. That, my friends, is a King worthy of the Iron Throne.

Hideki then returned stateside and defended his title at the Waste Management Phoenix Open on Super Bowl Sunday. But, understandably enough, he grew weak and fatigued fending off several capable contenders to the crown. His putter turned ice cold once again, and his grip on the Iron Throne subsided for another repeat King…

Dustin Johnson: 2017 Genesis Open –  2017 Open Championship, 154 Days

DJ reclaimed the Iron Throne with his win at the 2017 L.A. Open and dominated the rest of the spring schedule by taking each of the next two WGC events. He looked as primed as ever to capture his first Green Jacket heading into the 2017 Masters.

But then, something really weird happened. DJ went to move his car, slipped on the hardwood and injured his back, forcing him out of the Masters. This wasn’t the first time Dustin Johnson missed the Masters due to a shady reason (that “jet-ski” injury turned out to be a secret drug suspension from the PGA Tour). One day we’ll find out who Tonya Harding’d poor Dustin Johnson. Whatever happened, it killed all of his momentum and he abdicated the Iron Throne later that summer.

Jordan Spieth: 2017 Open Championship – 2017 Dell Technologies Championship, 40 Days

The Golden Boy reclaimed the Iron Throne to the delight of mainstream golf fans and TV Executives alike. Jordan Spieth’s dramatic duel with Matt Kuchar on the Back 9 at Royal Birkdale helped garner very strong ratings to quiet down the demise of golf in a post-Tiger era. After a miraculous bogey save on the 13th, Spieth went 5 under over his final five holes to capture his 3rd Major Title and retake his place as the King of Golf.

I remember asking my buddy the next day how many more majors Spieth would win and I set the over/under at 4.5. Without hesitation he took the over. That was general consensus from the rest of the golf world that, at 24 years old, Spieth’s best years were ahead of him.

His second reign on the Iron Throne was a short one, as someone he held near and dear to him betrayed the Golden Boy and took the crown from him…

Justin Thomas: 2017 Dell Technologies Championship – Current, 53 Days and Counting.

Always known as “Jordan Spieth’s Good Friend”, Justin Thomas got sick of playing his trusty Lieutenant, staged a coup d’etat and took the Iron Throne for himself.  Justin Thomas captured the 2017 PGA Championship for his first major, followed that up with another win at the Dell Technologies Championship,  won the FedEx Cup, put in a strong performance at the Presidents Cup and, finally, won just last weekend over in South Korea. A remarkable stretch of golf for someone once known as Jordan Spieth’s Sidekick.

After his win, our King declared that he was burnt out and ready for some much needed time off. Heavy lies the crown, and he’s earned the right to sit on the Iron Throne, drink mead and eat wild boar to build up his energy for 2018.

But he should keep a watchful eye on the landscape of potential challengers. Who knows when the next usurper to the Iron Throne will present themselves next…

CHECK BACK TOMORROW FOR 2017 WGC-HSBC CHAMPIONS PICKS.

Golf analyst for SportsGamblingPodcast.com, providing insight on news and betting tips for the PGA Tour, as well as commentary and banter on the World of Sports. Follow him on Twitter @SteveSchirmer

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