Martin Dempster: Jordan Spieth my player of the year

Jason Day kisses the trophy after winning The Barclays in New Jersey last Sunday. Picture: AP
Jason Day kisses the trophy after winning The Barclays in New Jersey last Sunday. Picture: AP
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I’M SURELY not alone in finding it strange that, in football, the manager and player of the year awards are voted for before titles are decided and the season’s main cup competition won or lost. In short, the crucial final few weeks of the campaign count for nothing in that respect.

While “crucial final few weeks” may not exactly be appropriate for the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup Play-Offs, a scenario is developing in golf this year that is likely to be similarly overlooked when it comes to votes being cast.

In any other year probably, Jason Day’s superb run of three wins since agonisingly missing out on making it a four-man play-off in the Open Championship at St Andrews would be cause for swaying at the polls and, boy, is the Australian finally starting to fulfil the potential that has been bursting to flood out for way too long.

However, it would surely be a travesty – one of the greatest ever witnessed in the game, perhaps – if Jordan Spieth doesn’t emerge as the 2015 player of the year and I’d stick by that even if Day won the remaining three FedEx Cup Play-Off events to add to his victories in the RBC Canadian Open, the US PGA Championship and, most recently, the Barclays.

What Spieth achieved in the majors this year was truly astonishing. He performed like a seasoned campaigner to win The Masters on just his second visit to Augusta National at the age of 21. He was just as impressive as he followed up that success coming out on top in a war of attrition in the US Open at Chambers Bay.

In truth, he didn’t really need to do anything more to be this season’s prize guy, but to then get himself in contention in both the Open Championship and US PGA Championship as well, finishing fourth alongside Day and St Andrews then second behind him at Whistling Straits, was truly amazing.

Taken at face value, Spieth’s performance in this year’s Claret Jug joust may have been the weakest of his efforts in the majors. Nothing could be further from the truth, however. Bear in mind that he’d never played the Old Course competitively before. Remember, too, that he didn’t arrive at St Andrews until the Monday afternoon due to the fact he remained loyal to the John Deere Classic and wasn’t letting his crack at history change that.

In truth, he had no right to be in contention down the back nine, yet, digging deep, the Texan took his bid to stay on course for a calendar Grand Slam all the way to the wire. I know it goes against how I feel about those awards in football, but they could have handed that player of the year prize over to him there and then in front of the iconic R&A Clubhouse.

“Right now, Jordan Spieth gets my vote,” said Day in agreement about who should top the player poll despite his latest success. “Winning two majors at such a young age is big. Winning four tournaments overall is great.” The game’s on-form player, however, believes he can still have an influence on the voting process. “I think winning the FedEx Cup and maybe one or two more tournaments, that could put my name in the mix for player of the year,” he added after closing with rounds of 63 and 62 for a six-shot success in the Barclays with a 19-under-par total.

What’s really exciting for the sport, of course, is that the trio of upcoming events, starting with this week’s Deutsche Bank Championship in Boston, are going to have the added bonus of a three-way fight involving Rory McIlroy, Spieth and Day for the world No 1 spot. It belongs to McIlroy again after Spieth’s surprise missed cut last week, but Day has a mathematical chance of claiming the honour for the first time if he wins again, though that will also be dependent on how the other two perform in an event starting on Friday. McIlroy deserved to hold the mantle of the game’s best player after his title-winning exploits. The same applied to Spieth and no-one is likely to grumble about Day’s credentials should he eventually reach the pinnacle of the game. This winning run, after all, is no flash in the pan. 
Even if it continues through to the Tour Championship later this month, however, it shouldn’t really influence that player of the year vote because Spieth’s season has been so very special.