No. 1 on the line at The Players ... and, yes, it matters

By Jason SobelMay 7, 2014, 6:38 pm

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. - Four different players are capable of overtaking Tiger Woods for No. 1 on the Official World Golf Ranking this week and …

I know what you're thinking: Who cares?

Who cares about which player claims the top spot because of a mathematical algorithm that would leave NASA confused? Who cares about a ranking in which these contenders could only unseat the current No. 1 because he's injured? Who cares that three of the four could essentially win something this week without winning anything at all? (Click here for full world rankings)

And I totally agree with you – well, I totally did agree with you. Until I asked the players involved and uncovered some valuable information.

They care. That's who.

“It would be the same as the green jacket,” said recent Masters champion Bubba Watson.

“Of course it would be a nice thing to put on your [resume],” Henrik Stenson declared.

“To be No. 1 in the world at anything is amazing,” agreed Matt Kuchar.

Those three players, along with second-ranked Adam Scott, each have an opportunity at this week’s Players Championship to become the 17th different No. 1 player in the 28-year history of the world ranking.

Here’s your handy breakdown: Scott needs to finish in a two-way tie for 16th or better; Stenson needs a two-way tie for sixth or better; Watson needs a solo second place or a win; Kuchar needs a victory – and each of them could be affected by the other three.

(In a mathematical quirk of eye-rolling proportions, Scott could become No. 1 if he wakes up Thursday morning and decides not to play. “See you later, guys,” he laughed when informed of that peculiarity. “Good to see you.”)

Welcome to the reformation of the OWGR Era. Much like the period from early-2011 to mid-2012, when the top spot traded hands 11 times between four different players (Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer, Luke Donald and Rory McIlroy) during Woods’ blue period, we appear on the verge of another revolving door swinging back and forth each week.

Such a development helps with talk-show fodder as the “real best player” gets consistently debated against the power of the algorithm.

Fair enough. But that doesn’t devalue what that one little number in front of a player’s name would mean to him personally.

“It's a cool thing about the game of golf at the moment; that title is a pretty impressive title,” Kuchar said. “To have a chance to be No. 1 in the world in the game of golf, I think all of us that play have those dreams. I think all of us that are out here are dreaming of being No. 1.”

For these players, the opportunity is there to join a club so exclusive that in the past quarter-century, the likes of Padraig Harrington, Davis Love III, Jim Furyk and, yes, even Phil Mickelson haven’t been included.

“We've seen Phil Mickelson, who is arguably top‑five best of all time, and he's never been No. 1,” Watson said. “That would just show me that the rankings are kind of messed up if Bubba Watson has been No. 1 and Phil Mickelson has never been No. 1.”

Such is the brave, new world of the No. 1 ranking.

Anyone taking advantage of Woods’ absence following back surgery can likewise thank him. When the year began, he owned 11.48 average points, more than two full points ahead of the next-closest competitor. Now, after a disappointing start that saw him fail to finish better than 25th in four appearances, he owns 8.26 average points and leads by a mere two-tenths of a point.

“If I compare my best game with Tiger’s best game, I would always put his a little higher, what he achieved over such a long period of time,” maintained Stenson. “I know I can beat him; I did that in Atlanta [at last year’s Tour Championship] when I gave him a pretty good beating in the first round, when my game was really good and he wasn’t playing his best.

“I know I can beat the best players when I’m playing my best and that’s good enough for me – whether I’m ranked (No.) 1 or 3 or 7.”

Scott, who has the best chance of succeeding Woods, echoed those sentiments.

“I haven't really thought about it too much; I'm really just into the process of trying to get my game better all the time,” he said. “Wins take care of all the rankings and all the questions and I'm really focused on getting myself in contention this week.”

Sure, the No. 1 ranking is just a number. It doesn’t necessarily mean one player is better than another, nor does it mean he’s achieved more than anyone else.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t care, though. We should care because they care. It should matter to us because it matters to the players who are trying to reach that pinnacle.

How much? When broached with that scenario this week, Watson thought about the prospect of reaching No. 1 and joked that if it happens, “I’ll retire.”

He then demurred: “Well, maybe not.” After all, the way things are looking on the world ranking right now, prosperity is a fleeting prospect.

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Rahm (62) fires career low round

By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:

Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)

What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.

Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.

Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.

Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.

Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.

Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm

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Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.

"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."

Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.

"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."

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Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.

Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.

Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.

Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.


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The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.

It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.

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Mickelson starts fast, fades to 70 at La Quinta

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:07 pm

Phil Mickelson got off to a fast start in his first competitive round of 2018 - for six holes, at least.

The 47-year-old is making his first start since the WGC-HSBC Champions this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, and only his third competitive appearance since the BMW Championship in September. Four birdies over his first six holes indicated that a strong opener might be in the cards, but Mickelson played his subsequent holes in 2 over.

It added up to a 2-under 70 at La Quinta Country Club, typically the easiest of the three courses in rotation this week, and left Mickelson eight shots behind Jon Rahm.

"It was fun to get back out and be competitive," Mickelson told reporters. "I for some reason am stuck on 70 here at La Quinta, whether I get off to a good start or a bad one, I end up shooting the same score."

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

Mickelson stunted his momentum with a tee shot out of bounds on the par-4 eighth hole, but he managed to save bogey and otherwise drove the ball relatively well. Instead, he pointed to his normally reliable iron play as the culprit for his back-nine backslide on a day when more than 120 players in the 156-man field broke par.

Mickelson will now head to the Nicklaus Tournament Course with the Stadium Course on tap for Saturday's third round. While there were several low scores Thursday at La Quinta, Mickelson remains bullish about the birdie opportunities that still lie ahead.

"This isn't the course where I go low on," Mickelson said. "I feel more comfortable on Stadium and Nicklaus. Neither of them are nearly as tight and I tend to score a lot lower on those other two than I do here, historically."