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Weekly Recap: Moment of the Day

Len Hochberg

Hochberg covers golf for RotoWire. A veteran sports journalist, he contributes to Sports on Earth and was an editor and reporter at The Washington Post for many years.

To those of you who thought Rory McIlroy would take the mantle from Tiger Woods and rule golf for a decade, and to those of you who thought that, no, Jordan Spieth would be the true heir apparent to Woods:

Now what?

McIlroy is back to No. 1 in the world and Spieth is second, but does anyone not think No. 3 Jason Day is the best golfer now?

Jim Nantz surely does, proclaiming after the Aussie closed out a whopping six-stroke win on Sunday at The Barclays: "Jason Day once again showing, at the moment, he's the best in the world!"

Nantz did sneak in that little qualifier, at the moment, but it's hard to argue. Day has won three of his past four starts and moved to the top of the FedEx Cup points race heading into this week's Deutsche Bank Championship, the second of four playoff events.

While McIlroy was sitting out The Barclays and Spieth missed the cut, Day shot 63-62 on the weekend en route to a 19-under 261 total, with only Henrik Stenson a distant runner-up. McIlroy, Spieth and Day will all be in Boston this week, with a Friday start preceding a Labor Day finish on Monday.

After his near-miss at the Open Championship, his umpteenth heartbreak in a major, Day won the Canadian Open the next week, then tied for 12th at the WGC-Bridgestone before breaking through with a victory at the PGA Championship. Now he's followed it up with another win.

So who's No. 1: McIlroy, who won two events early in the year before his summer was largely lost to an ankle injury; Spieth, the presumed Player of the Year who won the first two majors; or Day, who with another win in the playoffs could make a strong case to steal the Jack Nicklaus Trophy from Spieth?

Good question (if I say so myself!). No easy answer. The much-maligned Official World Golf Rankings say McIlroy, based on play the last two years. Many golf observers criticize that metric, saying it doesn't put enough weight on recent accomplishments. But No. 1 always seems to work itself out on the course, and if Day can win this week, and if the other two finish third or worse, he would, in fact, vault both McIlroy and Spieth to the top.

So for those of you who thought McIlroy and/or Spieth would challenge Woods' 14 majors or even Nicklaus' 18, the emergence of Day signals that the three of them will take turns winning majors and knocking each other off. Throw in the invariable group of golfers to win a major here or there, or even a few (Rickie Fowler?), and it's hard to envision anyone getting to 14, much less 18. McIlroy has four right now, with Spieth at two and Day at one.

On the surface, 14 doesn't seem like all that much, except when you consider that only two golfers have ever done it. Phil Mickelson is stalled at 5, Arnold Palmer stopped at 7, Tom Watson made it only as far as 8, nowhere near 14.

But for the more immediate future, what about the next three playoff events? Only one of the three, at most, can win at Boston. But if it is McIlroy or Spieth or Day, the winner will be the world's best in the rankings at least, as Nantz said, at the moment.

MONDAY TAKEAWAY

Henrik Stenson

Stenson owners have been waiting all season for their guy to play like the top-10 golfer he is. And at The Barclays, he finally did, finishing runner-up to someone who played otherworldly. Stenson made the cut at all the majors but didn't contend. But he tied for sixth at Firestone in advance of this second-place standing at The Barclays. He's now up to fourth in the point standings heading to a tournament he won two years ago en route to capturing the FedEx Cup. Putting a dent in the Big 3 would be quite an accomplishment.

Zac Blair

Blair was among nine rookies to qualify for the playoffs and, entering the week at No. 106, was a prime candidate for a one-and-done showing. Instead, he turned in his best finish of the season, tying for fourth to zoom to 45th in the point standings. Not only will he be in Boston, but Blair is almost ensured of reaching the BMW Championship. And that is Exhibit A of the volatile swings capable in the FedEx playoffs. Blair owners are fine with it.

Ryan Palmer

Just a week after his father died in a car accident, Palmer played a noble tournament in honor of his dad. He tied for sixth, his first top-10 since May, to climb to 33rd in the point standings. Palmer played about as well as he can play, even with his normally balky putter not so balky. Palmer's strokes gained-putting was .524, a very good number for him.

Jim Herman

In his first playoffs, Herman began the week at No. 89, surely a candidate to tumble out of the top 100 needed to advance. Instead, the one-time big hitter continued his best season, tying for 13th to climb to 64th in points, giving him a good chance to make it past Boston to Chicago. Herman has taken a little off his driver, and the result has been shorter drives but more greens. He was second on the entire tour in GIR during the regular season (behind Stenson), and hit more than 73 percent at The Barclays.

Spencer Levin

Also is his first playoff event, Levin made a Friday charge into the lead. He couldn't sustain it, but his T16 was enough to catapult him from 115th in the point standings to 80th -- and thus at least one more week of action. Levin was a promising player on tour in 2012, when he suddenly was devastated by the loss of a step-brother and soon after needed thumb surgery. Levin might just now be approaching full recovering from that difficult stretch.

Luke Donald

No, the former No. 1 is longer in that conversation, but he did perform admirably when the pressure was on. Donald tied for 24th at Plainfield Country Club to rise from 119th to 87th in points. He'll need another good showing to reach the BMW Championship in his adopted hometown of Chicago (a Northwestern alum). The Barclays track was super short, at little more than 7,000 yards, and it played into Donald's strength's as he gained 2.163 strokes putting on the week. The TPC Boston plays at about 7,200 yards, so Donald could make some noise there, too.

Lee Westwood, Adam Scott, Padraig Harrington, Charl Schwartzel

Four big names are done for 2014-15. Westwood made the cut but could barely move from 110th place (to 109th). The other three began the week inside the top 100 but flamed out with missed cuts. Harrington and rookie Nick Taylor are the only tournament winners this season not to reach the Deutsche Bank. Westwood and Schwartzel's best years are behind them, and Harrington, too. The same could be said for the 35-year-old Scott, just 2.5 years removed from his Masters win. Come Jan. 1, Scott will no longer be allowed to anchor his putter, and he wasn't a good putter even when anchoring. At The Barclays, Scott's strokes gained-putting was minus .971.

Sergio Garcia

Garcia didn't play at The Barclays and, surprisingly, he's also skipping the Deutsche Bank. He slipped only from 31st to 43rd in the point standings, so he should still be able to qualify for Chicago. But that is of little solace to his owners. It's bad enough they scream "SERGIO!!" when they see him play. To have that happen also when he's not playing is downright cruel.

Outside in:
Camilo Villegas, Jason Dufner, Johnson Wagner

All three of these golfers began the week outside the top 100, but made their way in, Dufner and Villegas tying for 30th to move to 82nd and 99th, respectively, in the point standings. Both have been playing well for a few weeks now, especially Dufner, who could salvage his season by cracking the top 70 to get to the BMW. Wagner moved from 101st to 92nd with a tie for 45th. He last reached Boston in 2012, tying for 51st, and his season likely will come to an end this week. Rookie Carlos Ortiz and veteran Mark Wilson also moved into the top 100 and live to play another day, making it eight golfers outside the top 100 moving in.

Inside out:
John Peterson, Adam Hadwin, Greg Owen, John Huh

These four golfers began the week in the top 100 but missed the cut to play their way out. It could be considered a good rookie season for Hadwin, the Web.com Tour's regular-season money champ in 2013-14. But Peterson was a sophomore and, after missing the playoffs altogether last season, really needs to show something more in 2015-16. Owen had four top-20s in his six previous starts, but he was doomed by a terrible start to his season. Huh's career path has now gone from 29th in points as rookie in 2012, then 42nd, 96th and now 110th. Put that in your back pocket for draft day next season.

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