Comparing the Games of Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and Rory McIlroy as 2016 Begins

Ben Alberstadt@benalberstadtFeatured ColumnistJanuary 5, 2016

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, left, and Jordan Spieth of the US walk up to the 14th tee box during the second day of the British Open Golf championship at the Royal Liverpool golf club, Hoylake, England, Friday July 18, 2014. (AP Photo/Scott Heppell)
Scott Heppell/Associated Press

If you were somehow unaware, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and Rory McIlroy are the three best golfers on the planet, respectively, both in popular opinion and according to the Official World Golf Ranking

In 2015, Spieth won five times in 25 starts, including two majors, finished second four times and totaled 15 top-10 finishes. Day won the PGA Championship and tallied four additional victories, and he totaled 11 top-10 finishes in 20 starts. McIlroy, in an injury-shortened campaign, won twice in just 12 starts and collected seven top 10s. 

Instead of arguing about who the best golfer is or predicting which of the three will have the best 2016, let's instead look at the facets of their golf games in comparison to one another.  

First, the basics. 

The basics
Age: 222628
Major wins241

It's worth remembering that Spieth is the youngest and least seasoned of the three—by a lot. Day is six years his senior with more than twice as many PGA Tour starts. McIlroy has the highest winning percentage of the three and finishes inside the top 10 in nearly half of his starts. 

Next, let's look at the golfers strokes gained metrics. But a note here: McIlroy didn't meet the required number of rounds on the PGA Tour to officially rank statistically. However, with 12 starts under his belt for the 2014-15 season, we have a good sample of his recent work. His ranks are based on where he would have placed had he cleared the bar. 

Strokes gained
Strokes gained: Total2.082 (3)1.786 (5*)2.030 (4)
Strokes gained: Tee to green1.511 (4)1.855 (2*)1.444 (5)
Strokes gained: Putting.572 (8)-0.07 (T126*).585 (6)

The takeaway here: All three golfers are great from tee to green. McIlroy, however, struggled mightily with his putting in 2015, while both Day and Spieth were very, very good. 

Moving on to the Big Three's driving numbers. 

Driving distance291.8 (78)304 (14*)313.7 (3)
Accuracy62.91% (80)67.69% (29*)55.94% (162)
Total driving158 (52)43 (1*)165 (T60)
Clubhead speed112.79 (97)119.57 (T57*)120.16 (12)

Both McIlroy and Day are among the longest drivers on tour. Spieth, who generates about eight mph less in clubhead speed, is slightly above average with respect to driving distance. It's worth noting just how much more accurate McIlroy is than Day. Had McIlroy officially placed statistically, he'd have been the tour's best driver from a total driving standpoint. Spieth is helped by his above-average accuracy off the tee. 

Let's look now at approach play. 

GIR67.97% (49)71.03% (7*)70.83% (7)
Proximity33'8'' (26)35'2'' (T90*)36'3'' (136)

Not surprisingly, Spieth is well behind Day and McIlroy in greens in regulation, owing this to his inferior distance off the tee. However, Spieth's proximity numbers are quite good, meaning he doesn't miss the green by much when he does miss. It certainly helps his impressive scrambling numbers, which you can see in the chart below. Both Day and McIlroy hit greens in abundance, but are prone to big misses, as indicated by their proximity rankings. 

Up next: play around the green. 

Short game
Scrambling65.03% (4)58.45% (109*)65.34% (2)
Sand save %58.14% (24)56.34% (32*)61.11% (10)

The takeaway here: Spieth and Day are among the best on tour when they miss the green. McIlroy, not so much. 

Finally, the trio's putting numbers. 

Strokes gained:putting.572 (8)-0.07 (T126*).585 (6)
1-putt %44.26% (1)38.1% (126*)42.05% (16)
Putt 10-1530.59% (82)32.98% (48*)30.26% (89)
3-putt avoidance2.40% (37)2.78% (81)2.39% (36)

Same story as above: Day and Spieth are top-10 putters. McIlroy struggled mightily with the flatstick in 2015. However, it should be noted that McIlroy's practice time had to have been impacted by his ankle injury. He was 41st on tour in strokes gained: putting in 2014. Expect him to be closer to that position in 2016. 


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