Jason Day, Rory McIlroy return for stellar FedExCup race
To put it bluntly, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day went missing last season. It was the biggest surprise of the year given they began 2017 as the top two players in the world and McIlroy was also the FedExCup champion. Add to that the fact Tiger Woods has basically been missing for a long time and three huge names were virtual non-factors. Of course, last season was incredible regardless. Justin Thomas truly came of age, Jordan Spieth continued his rise and Dustin Johnson solidified his spot at the top of the world. Then there was a host of other 20-somethings winning events including Xander Schauffele, who won twice to take Rookie of the Year, Jon Rahm rocketed up the world rankings, and Hideki Matsuyama was going from strength to strength. Brooks Koepka found his feet at the U.S. Open. Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose proved the veterans still have what it takes. We didn’t “need” the former World No.1s … but now it appears all three are back with a vengeance. Or at least a new-found resurgence of passion. And with that, we could be set for the greatest FedExCup battle of all time. The critique on McIlroy and Day last year might seem harsh, but with great talent comes great expectation. And they themselves have said as much. Of course, both had some legitimate excuses. McIlroy had a persistent rib injury and only played 14 events. Day had to deal with the emotional fall out of his mother’s cancer diagnosis and continues to manage a dodgy back. And both men moved on from long-term caddies. While Day still managed to five top-10s last season and McIlroy posted six of his own the pair were clearly not satisfied. They are about wins and neither tasted one. Day said as much after a win at the Farmers Insurance Open, his first start in the 2018 calendar year. “Last year was a good kick in the butt, not really being talked about and being talked about for the wrong reasons,” Day said after his victory in San Diego. “I see the guys winning, Jordan and Dustin's playing some tremendous golf, Jon Rahm's playing some tremendous golf, and I feel like I should be there as well winning.” McIlroy is about to embark on his first PGA TOUR start in 2018 this week at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Day is also in the field. In the lead up McIlroy finished T3 in Abu Dhabi and runner up in Dubai – showing extreme promise for a big season ahead. “Let’s just say that between now and when I signed off last year, I feel way more optimistic, focused, motivated, purposeful. I know exactly what I can do,” he told The Telegraph before he hit a ball in anger. Both men have also voiced the opinion they expect to get back to the top of the world. Johnson still holds that spot – although Rahm has threatened it over the last few weeks. Both also play in Monterey this week. For Johnson it is his first PGA TOUR start since winning the Sentry Tournament of Champions. (He was T9 in Abu Dhabi in between.) “If I keep playing well and keep winning then, no, I'm going to stay No. 1,” he said of those hunting him down. “If I don't play well, there's a lot of really good players that are playing really well right now. So, it's going to be tough for me to keep it, but if I keep playing like I am and how I should, then, yeah, I'll be there at the end of the year.” In other words Johnson is saying – bring it on – to McIlroy, Day, Rahm and anyone else. Anyone else like Spieth. He is the defending champion this week. He also has designs on being the best again. As 2018 began Spieth spoke of his own personal excitement of being amongst what shaped as an amazing season. “The next six months it's a pretty special time to be a part of professional golf. I feel that way,” he said in January. Spieth also spoke of a want to take on McIlroy specifically. “I really haven't had any chances competing down the stretch with Rory. And I think I would really enjoy that because he plays so fearlessly, and it would force me to play that way as well,” the Texan stressed. “I've had a lot of battles with D.J. and J Day. Very few with Justin, only a couple now. And really none with Rory. I look forward to those kind of opportunities.” The thought of those battles just has to have you fired up… And then of course… there is Tiger. The ultimate wildcard. Now that he has successfully negotiated his way through a full field event at Torrey Pines – and finished inside the top-25 – we can legitimately start to get excited about what he can bring to the season. Woods might not be the dominant player he once was – but he certainly could be dominant for a week here or there. His short game was great in his return and if he can just pull in his accuracy off the tee a little, he will have guys on the leaderboard looking over their shoulders. Day believes Woods will win this season. Just the thought of that has almost everyone on the edge of their seats. Imagine the Playoffs and a TOUR Championship with Johnson, Spieth, McIlroy, Day, Thomas and Woods all legitimate chances at the FedExCup. Add the likes of Rahm, Rickie Fowler, Schauffele, Matsuyama, Mickelson, Rose and Leishman for good measure. Don’t forget other young guns with breakthrough potential like Patrick Cantlay, Chesson Hadley, Beau Hossler, Patton Kizzire, Cameron Smith and Ollie Schniederjans. We could go on and on and on such is the depth of talent. It isn’t far-fetched at all. Buckle up folks – the battles have just begun. It is going to be one great ride.
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