By Emily Kay on Sep 1, 2015, 11:00a  SB Nation  

Image by David Cannon/Getty Images

Before he ripped up his ankle playing soccer in July, Rory McIlroy was battling Jordan Spieth for golf supremacy. He returns to golf after a brief layoff in danger of losing his regained No. 1 ranking to Spieth or Jason Day.


Rory McIlroy, then atop the world rankings with Jordan Spieth nipping at his heels, said on the eve of the PGA Championship that we would know by that Sunday whether he or Spieth stood alone as the world’s best golfer.

"If you go by this year, you’d have to say Jordan," McIlroy reasoned. "I would say if you go over the last two years, it’s probably a toss-up between Jordan and myself. That’s a hard one."

It turned out to be Spieth, after he finished second to McIlroy’s 17th. Jason Day was not even part of the conversation until he topped Spieth by three strokes.

Flash forward three weeks and Rory, after little more than a week as No. 2 looking up at Heir Jordan, is once again the king of the hill thanks to Spieth's missed cut at last week's Barclays.

This time around, though, as McIlroy returns from a two-week break to rest his injured ankle, he could soon be chasing Spieth or Day for No. 1 honors. We’ll know more on Labor Day.

Because McIlroy, who not that long ago was the undisputed heavyweight taking on and dispatching all potential rivals (remember Tiger Woods-McIlroy, Rory-Rickie Fowler, Rory Mac-Spieth?), is now just one-third of what pundits have taken to calling the modern-day Big Three.

Even McIlroy's scheduled return to competition at the Deutsche Bank Championship on Friday in only his second start since June is not the headline. The marquee players are Day -- who's going for three in a row after wins at the PGA and The Barclays -- and Spieth, who is entering the second leg of the four-game FedEx Cup playoff series in the wake of a missed cut at The Barclays after his worst round since May.

It’s somewhat mind-boggling that the accolades once reserved for Woods have moved from McIlroy ("the next Tiger") to Spieth ("he’ll win many more") to Day ("he’s my thorn right now") in what seems a nanosecond. Indeed, to paraphrase McIlroy at Whistling Straits, blink your eyes and there’s a new era in golf.

Into today’s new reality will step the winner of four major titles who’s back on top of the golf world. For sure, McIlroy remains one of the favorites to hoist his second DBC trophy (he won at TPC Boston in 2012) and third tour event of the season.

He also showed good form at Augusta where he finished fourth, won at Doral, shared eighth place at The Players Championship, prevailed at the Wells Fargo Championship and carded a T9 at the U.S. Open.

But that was before he tore ligaments in his left ankle playing soccer, an injury that forced him to skip title defenses at Firestone and St. Andrews. Though he chose to miss The Barclays to rest his ankle, at 15th in playoff points he can still capture his first FedEx Cup trophy with just three events on his card.

McIlroy will take the field on Friday at 9:06 a.m. ET with Hideki Matsuyama and Kevin Kisner on the 10th tee. Day, Spieth and Bubba Watson will not be far behind, with Nos. 1, 2 and 3 in the FedEx Cup standings scheduled to tee off No. 10 at 9:30 a.m.

Back to Articles