No 1 is a Perception in Golf

By Associated PressNovember 5, 2003, 5:00 pm
HOUSTON -- The last time Tiger Woods came to Champions Golf Club, he had only one victory in his previous eight tournaments, nearly missed the cut at a major championship and wasn't in contention at two others.
Yes, he was still No. 1 in the world.
The difference is that two years ago, no one had any illusions of replacing him.
'I feel like my game right now is as strong as it's been,' Vijay Singh said recently during his climb to No. 2, his highest ranking ever.
'If I play like I'm doing right now for the next two or three years, I'm going to contend for the No. 1 spot,' he said. 'That's my goal.'
Ernie Els knows how the world ranking works.
The Big Easy understands the distance between him (No. 3) and Woods is about as wide as the oceans Els crosses while playing a worldwide schedule. But he has won seven times this year, and believes his best is still to come.
'I just want to play as good as I can and try and become No. 1,' Els said.
That goal would have been laughable 16 months ago, when Woods won the Masters and U.S. Open, and the gap between him and everyone else was more like a gulf.
Are Singh and Els playing so well that No. 1 is a possibility?
Singh has won or finished second in his last four PGA Tour events, and he has been in the top 10 at every tournament but one since the Fourth of July. Numbers aside, he is overpowering courses like Woods, and the belly putter has finally given him confidence on the greens.
Singh only needs to finish in a three-way for third this week - no matter what Woods does - to win the PGA Tour money title. Woods has won the title four years in a row.
'After Tiger's 2000 season, I don't think anyone would have thought that he would not have led the money list for the next five or six years,' Charles Howell III said.
Els' record doesn't look as impressive to those with narrow minds or short memories. He hasn't won on the PGA Tour since winning the first two in Hawaii, although he has won more than anyone this year while logging about 100,000 miles in the air.
Is Woods playing that poorly?
Singh has a $768,464 lead on the money list, and it didn't happen by accident. What does that say about Woods, who has played in nine fewer events?
Woods has won five times - the fifth straight year he's won at least that many. Nick Price is the only other player to have won five times in one season over the last 20 years.
Woods' adjusted scoring average (68.19) is the second-lowest in history, behind his 67.79 average in 2000 when only four of his 76 rounds were over par.
Catching Tiger is all about perception.
Singh suggested as much when he won the John Deere Classic and said he wanted to win the money list 'just once before I finish.'
'This will probably be the best opportunity that I get,' Singh said.
Why is this his best chance?
Because the big Fijian doesn't expect to play this well next year? Or because he doesn't expect Woods to leave the door this far open?
Els' ambitions are more a product of Jos Vanstiphout, the Belgian mind guru who keeps beating into Els' head to worry about his own game. While the world rankings are usually accurate at the top - Singh at No. 2, Els at No. 3 - Els has proven to be the most consistent rival to Woods over the last five years.
Still, replacing him at No. 1 in the world ranking will take more than talk.
It will take more than a good year.
Woods is never too far from the lead at any tournament, and his mediocre seasons are career years for everyone else (Singh, Davis Love III, Kenny Perry).
Still, players are starting to believe Woods can be caught.
'The whole standard of the tour has improved,' Retief Goosen said. 'It's going to be more difficult for Tiger to win week-in and week-out. There's going to be so many more guys that can win. And they probably feel if they have a great couple of years, they've got a chance to move very close to him.'
Thomas Bjorn once said the gap between Woods and everyone else is as large as Woods wants it to be.
That's still the case.
Closing the gap on Woods depends more on his game than those behind him.
'As long as Tiger keeps his level at 75 percent, they can't catch him for a long time,' Rocco Mediate said. 'If he goes crazy, it's over. If one of those guys goes out and wins two or three majors, that's a different story.
'Can they do it? We'll find out in the next five years.'
Singh and Els no doubt have cranked up their games a notch. They are closer to Woods than they were two years ago. That they can even talk about being No. 1 no longer seems like such a stretch.
How long that lasts is anyone's guess.
'At least it now seems like there's some light,' Mediate added. 'But Tiger says, 'I'm about to put the light out, boys. I'm not putting up with this any more.''
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - The Tour Championship
  • More PGA Tour Preview Information
    Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
  • Getty Images

    After Further Review: Tiger's return comes at perfect time

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 2:19 am

    Each week, takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

    On the current state of golf as Tiger Woods returns to competition ...

    Less than four days before Tiger Woods returns to official competitive golf for the first time in a year, Jon Rahm, the new second-ranked player in the world, won on the PGA Tour and Rory McIlroy made an impressive 2018 debut on the European Tour (T-3).

    Not since Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus crossed paths at the 1960 U.S. Open has there been so many superstars all poised for big seasons, with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson having already won this year and Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas both coming off stellar seasons.

    It’s a good time for golf. - Rex Hoggard

    On Tommy Fleetwood's continued success ...

    There have been scores of talented European players whose skills didn’t translate to the PGA Tour … and maybe, in a few years, Tommy Fleetwood will prove to be no different.

    He sure looks like the real deal, though.  

    His title defense in Abu Dhabi – on the strength of a back-nine 30 in windy conditions – was his third title in the past 12 months and 11th top-10 overall. A few of those have come in majors and World Golf Championship events, too, which led the reigning Race to Dubai champion to accept PGA Tour membership for this season.

    Beginning at Riviera, he plans to play exclusively in the States through May, then reassess for the rest of the year. Hope he sticks, because he’s a fun personality with tons of game. - Ryan Lavner

    Getty Images

    Rahm passes Spieth to become world No. 2

    By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:25 am

    With his win Sunday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, Jon Rahm picked up his second PGA Tour victory and moved to No. 2 in the FedExCup points standings.

    He picked up one more No. 2, too.

    The 23-year-old Spaniard passed Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, behind only Dustin Johnson.

    In 19 months, since June 2016, Rahm has rocketed from No. 776 in the world to No. 2, thanks in part to his low divisor, his number of events played.

    Asked after his playoff victory over Andrew Landry to discuss his rapid ascent up the world rankings, Rahm was almost at a loss.

    “It's hard to believe to be honest, passing Jordan Spieth,” he said. “That's a three-time major champion. I only have two wins. He's got 10-plus, right? It's again – I've said it many times – I never thought I was going to be at this point in my life right now.”

    Rahm may only have two PGA Tour titles, but this is his fourth worldwide win in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. He also took the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and the DP World Tour Championship on his way to claiming the European Tour’s 2017 Rookie of the Year Award.

    Dating back to the start of last season on the PGA Tour, Rahm has racked up 12 top-10s, three runner-ups, and two wins.

    He will head to Torrey Pines next week ready to defend for the first time.

    Getty Images

    Brady compares self to Woods after winning AFC title

    By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 1:05 am

    Tom Brady and Tiger Woods are two of the all-time greats in their respective sports ... a fact that is not lost on the five-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.

    Fresh off leading the New England Patriots to a AFC Championship victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brady was asked about winning the game despite a cut on his throwing hand - which made national news heading into the matchup.

    His response invoked the name of a certain 14-time major winner, something that would be tough to pull off, if not for the fact that he is, you know, Tom Brady.

    “I think it's kind of arrogant to say it bothered me when we had a pretty good game, so I wouldn't say that," the 40-year-old told reporters after the game. "It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament."

    Tiger Woods winning with his "C game" may be a distant memory for golf fans, but no matter what game he brings, his next chance to win comes next week at Torrey Pines during his official comeback to the PGA Tour.

    Brady has a shot at his sixth Super Bowl title in two weeks. The Patriots would probably benefit from him bringing a little better than his "C game" as well.

    Getty Images

    Rahm beats Landry in playoff to win CareerBuilder

    By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:00 am

    Jon Rahm birdied the fourth extra hole Sunday to defeat Andrew Landry in a playoff, win the CareerBuilder Challenge and move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Here’s how things played out in overtime at PGA West:

    Leaderboard: Rahm (-22), Landry (-22), John Huh (-20), Adam Hadwin (-20), Martin Piller (-20), Kevin Chappell (-19), Scott Piercy (-19)

    What it means: This is Rahm’s second PGA Tour win and his fourth worldwide victory in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. Rahm took the early lead Thursday with an opening 62 and after rounds of 67-70, he started the final round two back. On Sunday, he made five birdies without dropping a single shot on the intimidating Stadium Course. In the clubhouse at 22 under, Rahm watched as Landry made birdie on 18 to force a playoff.

    Rahm missed birdie putts that would have ended the tournament on the final hole of regulation and on each playoff hole. Finally, on his fourth trip down 18 of the day, his birdie bid found the cup. With the victory, Rahm passes Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, trailing only Dustin Johnson. He enters next week at Torrey Pines looking to defend for the first time.

    Best of the rest: A two-time winner playing his second full season on the PGA Tour, Landry shot 68 Sunday, making birdie on the 72nd hole to force extras. Once Rahm finally made birdie on the fourth playoff hole, Landry's putt to extend slid by on the right edge. This is Landry's best career finish on the PGA Tour. Had he won, he would have secured full Tour status through the 2019-20 season and earned invites to the Masters, Players, and PGA Championships.

    Round of the day: Sam Saunders fired an 8-under 64 to register this best finish of the season, a tie for eighth at 18 under. The reigning Tour Championship winner was 9 under par through 12 holes before making bogey at 13 and parring his way into the clubhouse.

    Biggest disappointment: Overnight leader Austin Cook was eyeing his second win of the season but never contended. The RSM champion carded two double bogeys Sunday en route to a 3-over 75, dropping him from the 54-hole lead to a tie for 14th.

    Shot of the day: Rahm's putt to win:

    Quote of the day: "One of us had to do it and either one of us would have been a well-deserving champion." - Rahm on his playoff victory over Landry