Punch Shot: Who will challenge Rory for No. 1?

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Rory McIlroy has a firm grasp on the No. 1 ranking, but who is the best bet to challenge him for the top spot in 2015? GolfChannel.com writers weigh in.

By JASON SOBEL

Rory McIlroy probably isn’t losing the No. 1 ranking anytime soon. But if he does, that honor will go to another player who’s held the top spot before: Adam Scott.

Currently No. 3 in the world, Scott is one of the only players whose ball-striking abilities can rival those of McIlroy at times. He’s a proven winner and the pressure of trying to overtake that No. 1 spot shouldn’t be too bothersome considering he’s already held the position.

Then there’s the anxiety factor. Scott knows that this will be his final year of being able to anchor his putter. While some fellow anchorers might start making the transition ahead of time, it appears Scott will continue this putting stroke for as long as he’s allowed. Playing on borrowed time should be enough to light a fire under the normally laid-back Aussie.

It will be tough for anyone to catch McIlroy – damned near impossible if the current No. 1 keeps playing the way he did for the last six months – but if anyone is equipped to do it, that player is Scott.


By RYAN LAVNER

It won’t just be one player. Not on today’s PGA Tour.

Adam Scott will make a run at Rory in his final year with the long wand.

Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and Rickie Fowler will only get better.

Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia will pick off a few titles.

Tiger Woods will … well … who knows what he’s going to do, but would it surprise you at all if he wins multiple events?

The point is, the thing working against Rory as the game’s next dominant player is the fact that the rest of the PGA Tour is really good, too. If McIlroy doesn’t show up with his best stuff, you can bet that one of the other top-30 players in the world will beat him.

The Tour is stronger and deeper than it’s ever been. That’s not ideal for the development of a massive star, but it makes the product infinitely better.


By REX HOGGARD

Mathematically it would be Henrik Stenson who has the best chance of knocking Rory McIlroy off the world golf ranking perch.

The Swede is currently ranked second, some 2.88 average points behind the Northern Irishman and the way McIlroy finished 2014, with back-to-back majors and a World Golf Championship high card, it may as well be 2.88 million ranking points.

Yet to put McIlroy’s lead in context, consider that in June 2008, following his last major victory, Tiger Woods’ lead in the ranking was 11.06 average points. Although it took time - more than two years - and persistence, that insurmountable lead eventually evaporated.

Persistence has become Stenson’s calling card. He began 2014 third in the ranking, played his best golf in the most important events (including ties for fourth at the U.S. Open, third at the PGA Championship and seventh at the European Tour’s flagship BMW PGA) and closed the year with a series of strong finishes.

Stenson also has an advantage over the likes of Adam Scott (No. 3) and McIlroy because he plays a lot, currently averaging the maximum divisor (52 events).

In short, Stenson is a workhorse with a flare for the dramatic and if anyone can catch McIlroy it will be the Iceman.


By RANDALL MELL

It’s Adam Scott.

At his best, he can match McIlroy’s power and his shot making when McIlroy’s also at his best. Scott can drive it deep and straight with McIlroy. He can make a load of birdies with McIlroy. He can match McIlroy’s overall gifts in ways other players can’t. Of course, the key for Scott is delivering his best more often, more consistently. The key is closing out more ferociously, more often. It’s elevating his game one last step.

Yes, it’s that way for a lot of the game’s top challengers, but they don’t all have the depth of Scott’s skills, abilities that rival McIlroy’s.

At 34, Scott is more consistently good than he has ever been. That puts him at the doorstep of something great this year.