Thanks to a back-nine rally at Colonial, Adam Scott’s hopes of retaining the No. 1 spot in the world rankings remain alive.
With Henrik Stenson playing well at the BMW PGA Championship, though, Scott's stay at the top coould be brief. One thing is certain: A cross-continental abacus will come in handy this weekend to determine who will hold the top spot Monday morning.
Scott was in danger of missing the cut at the Crowne Plaza Invitational before a trio of back-nine birdies put him on the right side of the number. At T-36 and six shots off the pace after rounds of 71 and 68, he still has some work to do in order to leave Texas with any substantive world ranking points.
Scott was a late addition to the field in Fort Worth after assuming the top spot in the rankings for the first time this week. During his pre-tournament news conference, the Aussie noted that he wanted to tee it up at least once as world No. 1 before potentially getting bumped from his perch – a very real possibility with the top five players in the world currently separated by less than a point.
“I’m going to have to work pretty hard to stay on top, but part of coming here this week was to play as the No. 1 golfer in the world and enjoy it for at least a week, hopefully,” Scott said Wednesday. “From there, we’ll see what happens.”
The “what happens” part is largely influenced by his play this week at Colonial, but he’s also at the mercy of Stenson’s performance at Wentworth – which through 36 holes has been quite good.
The Swede will start the third round in England tied for fifth, five shots behind co-leaders Thomas Bjorn and Shane Lowry. With six time zones separating Stenson and Scott, the scenarios for world No. 1 now begin to sound like a high school geometry proof:
If Scott finishes 53rd or worse at Colonial, Stenson will pass him with a top-29 finish at the BMW. If Scott finishes 40th, Stenson needs to crack the top 17. If Scott moves into the top 20 this weekend, he would relinquish the top spot only if Stenson finished 12th or better at Wentworth, and a top 10 from Scott means Stenson needs to finish in the top six.
OWGR divisors add a twist to the various scenarios, since Scott – who took over the top spot without hitting a shot last week – essentially “hurt” his own cause by playing this week at Colonial. If Scott had opted to rest up for the Memorial, Stenson would have needed at least a top-six finish to pass him. Now that he’s added a competitive start, he could be leapfrogged by a lesser result from Stenson.
Should Stenson end Scott’s reign, it would hardly be the first time a player got bumped from the top after only one week. Fred Couples and Ernie Els both saw their first trips to No. 1 end after only seven days, but both eventually regained the top spot. Tom Lehman held the No. 1 ranking for only one week back in April 1997, then gave it back to Greg Norman without ever hitting a competitive shot as the top-ranked player in the world. He never again reached the (mathematical) summit of golf.
Even Tiger Woods saw his first stint at No. 1 end after only one week in June 1997. Of course, he has since occupied the top spot for another 13 years or so.
With Woods sidelined indefinitely, unable to defend the No. 1 ranking he held when he last teed it up, perhaps it’s fitting that the top spot looks like it may turn into a revolving door this summer – in addition to Scott and Stenson, both Matt Kuchar and Bubba Watson are within reach of No. 1, and world No. 6 Jason Day will return to action next week after making only one start since February.
The current landscape is a far cry from 10-12 years ago, an era in which Woods often doubled up his nearest competitor in terms of OWGR points.
“Honestly, from when I turned professional, it seemed quite unrealistic to think about the No. 1 spot for a while,” said Scott, who started playing for checks in 2000. “It was just remarkable golf for such a long period of time. For a while it was really off the radar for me.”
The top spot is now not only on Scott’s radar, but in his back pocket. Whether he keeps it past Sunday will depend on his play over the next 36 holes and on that of Stenson, some 5,000 miles away.
Get your abacus ready.