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Never mind Tiger, now there are three giants to fear: Padraig Harrington

Padraig Harrington and Tiger Woods
Padraig Harrington and Tiger Woods
Jason Day, part of the formidable trio with Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy who enjoyed a successful 2015
Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy, who along with Jason Day, enjoyed a successful 2015

By Liam Kelly

Padraig Harrington has seen an array of impressive talent emerge during his 20 years on Tour but nothing to match the combined expertise of Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Jason Day.

The reason? When they are on song, the 'Big Three' have the ability to frighten the opposition.

That quality used to be the sole preserve of Tiger Woods.

Now the fear factor can come from a variety of players.

Always a keen observer and analyst of the game, Harrington would extend his opinion to include Bubba Watson and Rickie Fowler.

These are exciting times for golf and the Dubliner, who is currently recovering well from recent knee surgery, concedes the golfing landscape changed dramatically at the top level in 2015.

Ulsterman McIlroy, 26, won four times and retained his Race To Dubai title as Europe's number one, despite that infamous ankle injury which came at the wrong time of the season.

Spieth, 22, exploded onto the scene to elevate his status from 'promising' a year ago after his Australian Open win to 'awesome' 12 months later.

Five tournament wins including the Masters and US Open from the campaign just ended and heading the FedEx Cup rankings were the highlights of a sensational year.

Australian Day, 27, shattered the glass ceiling and his 'nearly man' status in Majors by winning the US PGA championship. Let's not forget that he also triumphed in four PGA Tour events.

Impressive indeed, and Harrington, who won the Honda Classic in America last March, appreciates there is more to come in 2016 from these players and others who have impressed him this year.

It is, however, a far cry from the days when Woods (pictured with Harrington) stood apart in a class of his own, as the Irishman well remembers.

"In my day when I turned up at a Major or an event, no matter how much you tried to avoid it, you would always look for Tiger Woods' score," he said. "Because if Tiger shoots 65 in the first round, you know he's going to be there on Sunday evening, and you know that there's a chance he's going to shoot 65 in the second, third and fourth round and win the tournament by 10 shots.

"So, there was one name for a long time. If anybody else was leading, like I describe myself, if you gave me a four-shot lead, I'd stall with it.

"I'd be trying to protect it and hold onto it, and the chances were I'd come back to the pack, or the pack would come to me.

"But ultimately it would be a very tight finish.

"Not that I wouldn't win with it, but I'd make it so that it was tight whereas Tiger Woods would go away from the field."

I wondered what the three-time Major winner thought about the tag of 'The Big Three' in relation to Day, McIlroy and Spieth and whether he thought it was justified.

We have to remember that the original 'Big Three' were Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player - each in his own right a genuine legend by the end of their careers.

Harrington said: "They have separated themselves in some way but I don't think it's just the 'Big Three'.

"What you have at the moment is a phenomenon of a number of players who are capable of lapping the field.

"You have four guys who are capable of lapping the field at the moment and a couple of other guys who should be, but who haven't quite got there.

"I don't see why Bubba Watson's not included in this, because he has the ability.

"If Bubba opens up in a tournament and is leading after day one, he's a cause to be concerned about in a Major.

"Obviously Rory, Jordan and Jason Day have proved that if they're leading from day one, the rest of the field have got to watch out.

"They can take a lead and run with it, which is very impressive."

Ian Poulter spoke recently about how hard success is to watch from the outside, but he said the performances of the big guns will make the other top players work harder to match them.

His remarks underline the point Harrington makes about the manner in which McIlroy, Spieth and Day have pushed ahead of the pack, but there are potential threats to their dominance from Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose and Dustin Johnson.

"I get a lot of ribbing about Rickie Fowler because Rickie Fowler is the one I often pick out as 'Rickie's the one to watch' and as people put it, 'you're not really pulling one out of the blue there, are you?'" said Harrington.

"But I really like his attitude.

"If the other three guys hadn't won the Majors, I'd be touting Rickie Fowler as the next big thing, but the fact is, the other guys have gone and done it.

"He's substantially behind Rory and now Jason and Jordan, but Rickie is the guy that to me, has everything, has got it right mentally.

"As I said, I'm no genius pulling him out and saying he's the guy to watch because he has pretty much done everything but win Majors."

Justin Rose has a US Open on his golfing CV, and this year gave the Majors a right good rattle, finishing tied-second in the Masters, tied-sixth in the Open Championship and fourth in the US PGA championship.

Harrington respects Rose's qualities but does not see him as a player who will gain a lead in a Major and just keep extending it in the fashion of, for example, McIlroy in the 2011 US Open when he won by eight shots.

"As good as he is, you'd be more afraid of Justin with nine holes to go if he was in the lead, or if he was two behind with nine holes to go," he added.

"He's proved himself in the pressure situation."

Regarding Johnson, his failure to close out on chances to win Majors, such as this year's US Open, keeps him from worrying opponents.

"Dustin Johnson has got the firepower to do it, but he hasn't actually done it, so the answer is 'no' at this time," concluded Harrington.

Harrington on McIlroy

"The interesting thing about it is that I believe Rory is the only one who's getting close to having success with the 'B' game.

"Tiger Woods could win a tournament by a shot or two with his 'B' game, or finish second with his 'B' game. I think Rory's getting closer to that.

"Rory's starting to understand that, and I see good things happening for him.

"It will bring tremendous confidence to Rory that he could hit it in the water on the 71st hole at Dubai and win.

"That sort of stuff maybe wouldn't have happened five years ago.

"This is important, this is how Tiger would win with his 'B' game.

"He knew he'd hit some great shots and he'd handle the bad shots."

Harrington on Spieth

"He's got the 'X-Factor'. He's got something special. You can't quantify it, but he's got it.

"It's easier with all the other guys to physically label them and say 'this is what they do, and when this is on, this is why they win'.

"Jordan has something special. That something special is belief.

"Everything good has happened to him over the years and he believes.

"His hardest thing is when he stalls and plateaus, the media are going to harp on at him.

"He's going to hit a three footer and miss and the commentator's going to say he missed that because he was looking at the next hole.

"He has to live in his own world. He's got a beautiful temperament, a beautiful belief. It's within him. If he can keep that attitude, it's hugely good."

Harrington on Day

"Physical swing-wise, Jason has been the best, but the strategy of golf has never come easy to him. "He's never been comfortable knowing when to attack and when not to attack.

"I've played with him a bit and you would criticise his decision making.

"That just doesn't come naturally to him, but when you're as good as he is, and as confident as he is, he can over-ride that now and he's making better decisions.

"Physically, nobody has as good an orthodox golf swing as him. He does everything right. Jason has superb capabilities but probably could have done with spending a few months competing in some Irish amateur events in nasty weather to understand the intricacies of playing the game."

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