I will admit I am not a fan of the World Golf Rankings. They can't be ignored in commenting about the game, but to me the only stat that matters is wins. The OWGR may be helpful for fantasy golf fans, but no one will qualify for Hall of Fame based on the number of weeks they were #1.
England's Luke Donald spent 56 weeks ranked first in the world, sixth on the all-time list. During that time period, he collected a total of one tournament win. Tiger Woods' 683 weeks at the top may have demonstrated his superiority over the competition, but 79 career wins and 14 majors are the important examinations that he aced.
Which brings us to the current top dog in the game -- Jason Day. The Australian, on a current 17-week run of excellence with seven tournament wins, has bounced in and out of #1 three times and has been there 11 weeks in his latest ranking. He solidified that standing with his performance at The Players Championship.
The 28-year-old had an awesome opening two days to get to 15-under par, highlighted by a first-round 63. Like most of the field, he struggled on Saturday and then collected a four-shot win over Kevin Chappell with a workmanlike closing 71.
Day's tourney statistics revealed the completeness of his game. He topped the field in driving distance, was in the top 20 in greens in regulation and was top 10 in putting.
The panel on the Golf Channel didn't hesitate to reference Tiger in assessing where Day was headed. Last year at this time it was Rickie Fowler and his brilliant final five holes and playoff performance that had him anointed by the golf intelligentsia as the "fourth horseman," alongside Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Day. Since that win, Fowler has had one additional win in this country and six missed cuts, including last year's U.S. Open, this year's Masters and last week's Players.
Day's recent successes may have opened up some daylight in the discussion of the big three with Spieth and McIlroy, but 10 career wins, one major and a Players leaves him 27 wins and seven majors shy of Tiger Woods at the same age. Day may have even stoked the Woods comparisons when, in his post-tournament press conference, he glanced at his career numbers in the room and said, "I say to myself, 'that's not enough.'"
And it isn't enough for me either. "I want more than 10. I want to be able to be looked back on and know that he was one of the greats in the game," he added. "I'm motivated to be No. 1. I'm motivated to extend that lead, but I'm very motivated to win as much as I can right now."
Seventeen weeks is too small of a sample size to guarantee he'll get there.
The Other Two
What did a week at Ponte Vedra tell about McIlroy and Spieth? It raised more questions than it answered.
McIlroy's ability to contend has remained solid. Since his last win in the U.S. at Wells Fargo a year ago, he has only been out of the top 20 two times. But McIlroy knows that something is missing. "I've been saying I'm close for a very long time. Feels like I've been saying I'm close all year."
That week will only happen when he raises the bar on the greens. At Sawgrass he was 68th in putting, and for the 2016 season, he his 175th and 70th in scrambling. Getting the ball in the hole is an essential skill.
For Spieth the missed cut at The Players has to be an incomplete grade. When you play a total of 36 holes in a span of nearly six weeks, it is difficult to accurately assess one's game, but Spieth thinks the difference is between his ears. "I just think that, you know, I'm beating myself up a little bit too much on the golf course, and it's affecting me, and I realize that now."
"And I feel rested," he continued. "I feel healthy. Again, my ball striking feels great. Just need to be a little bit more positive with myself on the course and maybe kind of lower expectations a little bit and just kind of free myself up. It just seems I'm so tense, and I just need to get back to the way I enjoy playing golf, and I'm not far off."
A more active schedule between now and Oakmont will help fill in the grade for Spieth.
Dan Reardon has covered golf for radio station KMOX in St. Louis for 32 years. In that time, he has covered more than 100 events, including majors and other PGA, LPGA and Champions Tour tournaments. During his broadcast career, Reardon conducted one-on-one interviews with three dozen members of the World Golf of Fame. He has contributed to many publications over the years and co-authored the book Golf's Greatest Eighteen from Random House. Reardon served as Director of Media relations for LPGA events in both St. Louis and Chicago for 10 years.
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