Now it’s realistic to wonder whether the Australian will ever wrest back the title.
“I welcome the challenge because these are the best years of my career,” Scott told reporters Wednesday, “and I’m going to have to get the best out of myself to beat a guy like that.”
Scott rose to No. 1 on May 18, while not even playing. (He won the following week at Colonial.) Yes, he did so because of consistently excellent play over a two-year period, but it also helped that no player at the top could muster a challenge.
Tiger Woods was hurt. Henrik Stenson had failed to match the success of his 2013 season. Matt Kuchar kicked away a few title chances. Heck, McIlroy was idling along at No. 10, and he thought his next chance to ascend to the top spot wouldn’t be until 2015.
“I didn’t think I could get back to world No. 1 this year,” he said Wednesday. “I remember sitting down with my team and thinking about what I wanted to do, and it was going to take a lot to get back to world No. 1. I didn’t think it was possible this year. I was thinking maybe early ’15.”
So there Scott stayed, for 11 weeks, until McIlroy won the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational on Aug. 3 – his second title in a row, following his Open victory – and followed it up with the PGA Championship.
He’s been No. 1 ever since, opening up more than a 3 ½-point lead over Henrik Stenson, who won last week’s DP World Tour Championship in Dubai to return to No. 2.
Said Scott, “The world rankings, the way I see it … it’s important, of course, but there are two important positions: being No. 1 and being inside the top 50. They’re important for different reasons. Whether I’m (Nos.) 2 or 3 is not a big deal, but being close to 1 is.”