No. 1 ranking weighs heavy on those not named Tiger

By Randall MellOctober 30, 2013, 8:02 pm

Shakespeare didn’t write about golf all those years ago, but the great poet and playwright’s words are relevant to what’s happening at the top of the men’s and women’s games today.

Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.

Shakespeare put those words in Henry IV’s mouth in his play about the king’s embattled reign, but they aptly capture the challenge and burden that comes with the No. 1 world ranking in golf these days.

The No. 1 ranking has never appeared to be a more weighty or burdensome crown than it has become for anyone not named Tiger Woods. It’s something that couldn’t be fully appreciated until Woods seized the top ranking back earlier this year.

The WGC-HSBC Champions begins Thursday in China with a Shakespearean mystery as a subplot.

The last four world No. 1s not named Tiger Woods are in the field, and, to varying degrees, they’re all in some sort of puzzling slide, whether gentle or jarring.

Rory McIlroy, Luke Donald, Martin Kaymer and Lee Westwood will tee it up at Sheshan International this week looking to find the form that helped them get atop the world rankings.

When you factor in what’s happening to slumping former No. 1 Yani Tseng in women’s golf, it’s difficult to imagine a time when so many former No. 1s have swooned together.

Woods has won five times this season while taking back the top ranking. McIlroy, Donald, Westwood and Kaymer haven’t won anything this season. Though all four play the PGA Tour, it’s surprising that none of them is really in the thick of the European Tour’s Race to Dubai. Westwood starts this week 19th in the standings, Kaymer 32nd. Donald and McIlroy are in danger of not even qualifying for the season finale DP World Tour Championship. They have to crack the top 60 in the standings to gain a spot. Donald is No. 61, McIlroy No. 62.

“Of course, I expect myself to be a lot higher than that,” McIlroy said in China this week. “I won The Race to Dubai last year, and I was second in '11, and I was second in '09. So, I've been a factor in it for the last few years, and to be down where I am, obviously, doesn't feel too good and is a reflection of how my year has gone. 

“It's just the reality, and the reality is I haven't played well enough to be a factor.” 

Photos: Players who have reached No. 1

Woods isn’t playing the WGC-HSBC Champions, but the nature of what’s happening to all four players who succeeded him as No. 1 in the wake of his personal woes ought to add to the appreciation of Woods’ enduring ability to hold up under all the scrutiny, expectations and demands that come with the No. 1 ranking.

Thursday will mark exactly three years to the day Woods last lost the No. 1 ranking. It took him two-and-a-half years to get it back.

Nobody outside Woods in today’s game understands the unique challenge of holding on to No. 1 after you get there better than McIlroy, Donald, Westwood, Kaymer and Tseng.

This is the 654th week that Woods has reigned atop the world rankings. He has been a pro for 16 years. He has been No. 1 for 12 ½ of those years. In some ways, that’s more remarkable than his 14 majors. You have to try to peak at the right times to win one or two majors a year. You have to consistently be on top of your game to stay No. 1 for any lengthy reign.

The marvel of Woods’ success isn’t necessarily all the talent. It’s how he has kept motivated to do the work to be better than everyone else for so long. Because the thing is, the more you raise the bar, the harder everyone else behind you works to catch up. There’s going to be a relentless parade of challengers testing you.

Even in the women’s game of late, we’ve seen the debilitating burden the No. 1 ranking can bring.

Tseng dominated the LPGA, reigning at No. 1 for 109 weeks, but she is the first to admit the scrutiny and pressures that came with the run wore her down. She was still No. 1 back in March of this year. She has slipped to No. 26 in this newest ranking.

“It just drove me crazy,” Tseng said of trying to live up to being world No. 1. “Everyone wants to be No. 1, but nobody understands how hard it is to be No. 1. Now I know why Lorena [Ochoa] and Annika [Sorenstam] retired, because it’s very hard.”

McIlroy last held the No. 1 ranking on March 24 of this year. He’s No. 6 today.

Donald last sat atop the world rankings on Aug. 11, 2012. He’s No. 14 today.

Westwood last reigned as No. 1 on May 28, 2011. He’s No. 21 today.

Kaymer last held the top ranking on April 23, 2011. He’s No. 41 today.

This week’s WGC-HSBC Champions is a study in the uneasy heads that once wore crowns.

It’s a shame Shakespeare can’t be there to write the story.

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Watch: Daly makes birdie from 18-foot-deep bunker

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 11:14 pm

John Daly on Friday somehow got up and down for birdie from the deepest bunker on the PGA Tour.

The sand to the left of the green on the 16th hole at the Stadium Course at PGA West sits 18 feet below the surface of the green.

That proved no problem for Daly, who cleared the lip three times taller than he is and then rolled in a 26-footer.

He fared just slightly better than former Speaker of the House, Tip O'Neill.

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Koepka (wrist) likely out until the Masters

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 9:08 pm

Defending U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka is expected to miss at least the next two months because of a torn tendon in his left wrist.

Koepka, who suffered a partially torn Extensor Carpi Ulnaris (ECU), is hoping to return in time for the Masters.

In a statement released by his management company, Koepka said that doctors are unsure when the injury occurred but that he first felt discomfort at the Hero World Challenge, where he finished last in the 18-man event. Playing through pain, he also finished last at the Tournament of Champions, after which he underwent a second MRI that revealed the tear.

Koepka is expected to miss the next eight to 12 weeks.

“I am frustrated that I will now not be able to play my intended schedule,” Koepka said. “But I am confident in my doctors and in the treatment they have prescribed, and I look forward to teeing it up at the Masters. … I look forward to a quick and successful recovery.”

Prior to the injury, Koepka won the Dunlop Phoenix and cracked the top 10 in the world ranking. 

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Cut Line: Color Rory unafraid of the Ryder Cup

By Rex HoggardJanuary 19, 2018, 7:09 pm

In this week’s edition, Rory McIlroy gets things rolling with some early Ryder Cup banter, Dustin Johnson changes his tune on a possible golf ball roll-back, and the PGA Tour rolls ahead with integrity training.

Made Cut

Paris or bust. Rory McIlroy, who made his 2018 debut this week on the European Tour, can be one of the game’s most affable athletes. He can also be pointed, particularly when discussing the Ryder Cup.

Asked this week in Abu Dhabi about the U.S. team, which won the last Ryder Cup and appears to be rejuvenated by a collection of new players, McIlroy didn’t disappoint.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

McIlroy has come by his confidence honestly, having won three of the four Ryder Cups he’s played, so it’s understandable if he doesn't feel like an underdog heaidng to Paris.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that,” he said. “The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

September can’t get here quick enough.

Mr. Spieth goes to Ponte Vedra Beach. The Tour announced this year’s player advisory council, the 16-member group that works with the circuit’s policy board to govern.

There were no real surprises to the PAC, but news that Jordan Spieth had been selected to run for council chair is interesting. Spieth, who is running against Billy Hurley III and would ascend to the policy board next year if he wins the election, served on the PAC last year and would make a fine addition to the policy board, but it is somewhat out of character for a marquee player.

In recent years, top players like Spieth have largely avoided the distractions that come with the PAC and policy board. Of course, we’ve also learned in recent years that Spieth is not your typical superstar.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

On second thought. In December at the Hero World Challenge, Dustin Johnson was asked about a possible golf ball roll-back, which has become an increasingly popular notion in recent years.

“I don't mind seeing every other professional sport. They play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball,” he said in the Bahamas. “I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage.”

The world No. 1 appeared to dial back that take this week in Abu Dhabi, telling BBC Sport, “It's not like we are dominating golf courses. When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy?”

Maybe it didn’t feel that way, but DJ’s eight-stroke romp two weeks ago at the Sentry Tournament of Champions certainly looked pretty easy.

Long odds. I had a chance to watch the Tour’s 15-minute integrity training video that players have been required view and came away with a mixture of confusion and concern.

The majority of the video, which includes a Q&A element, focuses on how to avoid match fixing. Although the circuit has made it clear there is no indication of current match fixing, it’s obviously something to keep an eye on.

The other element that’s worth pointing out is that although the Tour may be taking the new program seriously, some players are not.

“My agent watched [the training video] for me,” said one Tour pro last week at the Sony Open.

Missed Cut

Groundhog Day. To be fair, no one expected Patton Kizzire and James Hahn to need six playoff holes to decide last week’s Sony Open, but the episode does show why variety is the spice of life.

After finishing 72 holes tied at 17 under, Kizzire and Hahn played the 18th hole again and again and again and again. In total, the duo played the par-5 closing hole at Waialae Country Club five times (including in regulation play) on Sunday.

It’s worth noting that the playoff finally ended with Kizzire’s par at the sixth extra hole, which was the par-3 17th. Waialae’s 18th is a fine golf hole, but in this case familiarity really did breed contempt.

Tweet of the week:

It was a common theme last Saturday on Oahu after an island-wide text alert was issued warning of an inbound ballistic missile and advising citizens to “seek immediate shelter.”

The alert turned out to be a mistake, someone pushed the wrong button during a shift change, but for many, like Peterson, it was a serious lesson in perspective.

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Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.