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Punch Shot: How long will Woods remain No. 1?

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By winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Tiger Woods regained the No. 1 world ranking for the first time since 2010. Woods had held the world's top spot on 10 previous occasions for a total of 623 weeks, including a record 281-week run from June 12, 2005, to Oct. 30, 2010. Now the question is, how long will this run last? Our writers weigh in. (Click for 'Morning Drive' discussion).


By RANDALL MELL

As long as Tiger wants to be No. 1.

How's that?

More than anything, his return to No. 1 is about his will and resolve. Yes, his swing matters. Yes, his putting mechanics matter. They're both trumped, though, by his determination to work his way through all the doubt and uncertainty that was piled up in front of him. And it couldn't all have been heaped there from the outside. There had to be a reckoning within, a determination to overcome his own doubts and disappointments. His unshakable belief that this was possible again is something to admire. He willed and worked himself back to No. 1.


By RYAN LAVNER

This reign could last a while. Not for 623 more weeks, mind you. But a while. How about late 2014?

Sure, Rory McIlroy could take back the title this week in Houston, but it would be surprising, if only because of his 8 1/2 competitive rounds this season, 7 1/2 have been unspectacular. I’m not back on the bandwagon just yet.

But it’s impossible to watch Tiger this season and not be impressed. He has consistency off the tee. His irons and wedges have improved. He’s holing 10- to 20-footers again.

With three wins already this season, it would surprise little if he doubled that haul and added in a major, too. Rory will be back in form by summer, at the latest, but Tiger’s momentum should be enough to keep him at No. 1 through the end of the season. And then his early-2014 schedule consists of Torrey Pines, Doral and Bay Hill. Want to pick against him there, too?

Settle in, folks. Tiger is No. 1 again, and he could be there for a while.


By JASON SOBEL

In what has been one of the most interesting and entertaining three-month stretches to start a PGA Tour season in recent memory, the ride continues this week as Tiger Woods will lose his No. 1 ranking after just six days.

There's only one possible scenario which could make that happen – a victory from Rory McIlroy to regain the honor.

While many observers still have McIlroy's second-round walk-off at the Honda Classic fresh in their minds, let's remember that he posted a final-round 65 in his most recent start at Doral. He'll be coming to Houston this week with something to prove, on a course which should suit his game.

Now don't get me wrong. Even though I'm picking Rory to pick off Tiger this week, I still think the latter is the world's best golfer at the moment and will retain the ranking over the long haul.

In a season with a multitude of twists and turns already, though, a win by McIlroy this week would create a terrific subplot heading to Augusta.


By REX HOGGARD

After landmark victories at old haunts this season (Torrey Pines, Doral and Bay Hill) it would seem Tiger Woods has once again entrenched himself atop the Official World Golf Ranking.

How long will Woods stay there? The easy answer is as long as he wants.

But that logic ignores the competitive reality of the current landscape, and a left knee that although is currently capable, has a history of upending the script and leaving the status quo in shambles.

Woods is an old 37, slowed in recent years by multiple knee surgeries and an Achilles’ tendon ailment. The delicate truth for any professional athlete is that they are one awkward swing, a single misplayed layup, an untimely twisted ankle away from chaos.

Woods’ current crop of challengers, specifically former No. 1 Rory McIlroy, also seems more capable of answering the call, although that remains to be seen.

This season’s Grand Slam lineup could also shorten Woods’ reign atop the world order. Merion Golf Club (U.S. Open) and Muirfield (British Open) are not the sprawling ballparks where Woods has dominated in the past, which will open the door to a larger list of potential champions and expose him to the whims of the world ranking arithmetic.

Woods’ climb back to world No. 1 has been impressive; just don’t expect him to stay there through Labor Day.


By WILL GRAY

The golf world needs to reacquaint itself with the concept of Tiger Woods atop the Official World Golf Rankings, because it’s not changing anytime soon. In fact, an understanding of how the rankings system works shows that even if Woods doesn’t continue his winning ways in the coming weeks and months, his grip on the top spot will likely only increase.

The OWGR measures performance on a two-year cycle. So while Rory McIlroy will soon see the points he accrued with his win at the 2011 U.S. Open cycle off, Woods has no significant finishes that will soon drop from his ledger – recall that he spent much of the summer of 2011 on the sideline, and his return that August was less than impressive. So assuming that he maintains his current form, playing well if not continuing to win, his OWGR profile to start the 2014 season (before the points from his 2012 wins begin to expire) will likely be nothing short of formidable.

This is all to say that I expect Woods to remain No. 1 for the foreseeable future. A major win this year appears likely at this point, and a quick look at the 2014 major venues – Augusta, Pinehurst, Royal Liverpool and Valhalla – reveals a rotation of courses upon which Woods has experienced an incredible level of success. To wager a guess, I would say he retains the top ranking until early in the 2015 season, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Woods celebrates his 40th birthday in December 2015 with his top ranking still intact.