The World Golf Ranking’s revolving door might take another spin after Sunday’s final round of the Masters Tournament.
In the past 22 months, there have been six changes at the top, which is a far cry from April 1997 to October 2010, when Tiger Woods held the top spot for 623 weeks. That dominant period included 281 weeks in a row at No. 1 before England’s Lee Westwood took it over nearly two years ago.
Woods, who is back on his game after a 30-month drought on the PGA Tour, is ranked seventh, but can’t move to the top with a win this week.
The only ones who can pass current No. 1 Luke Donald, of England, this week are No. 2 Rory McIlroy, of Northern Ireland, and No. 3 Westwood.
The recent musical chairs at the top started when Westwood passed Woods on Oct. 31, 2010.
Since then, Martin Kaymer, Westwood again, Donald, McIlroy and now Donald again have held the top spot.
Donald, McIlroy and Westwood are golf’s newest version of the “Big Three,” at least in the world ranking.
In this week’s ranking, Donald has 9.702 points, McIlroy 9.592 and Westwood 7.759.
After that, it drops off to No. 4 Hunter Mahan (5.750), No. 5 Steve Stricker (5.668), No. 6 Kaymer (5.641), No. 7 Woods (5.528), No. 8 Charl Schwartzel (5.091), No. 9 Justin Rose (5.058) and No. 10 Webb Simpson (5.035).
Donald’s second stint at the top came three weeks ago when he won in Tampa.
He found out immediately – through Twitter, he said – that he’d still be No. 1 when the Masters rolled around because neither he nor McIlroy would be playing again before the Masters.
“It doesn’t really matter,” Donald said Tuesday. “It’s nice to be back to No. 1. You know, it just means I’m playing well. That’s all.”
It was a big deal for McIlroy when he ascended to No. 1 with his victory in the Honda Classic in early March.
“It was always a dream of mine to become the world No. 1 and the best player in the world or whatever you want to call it,” the 22-year-old McIlroy said after winning the Honda. “But I didn’t know that I would be able to get here this quickly.”
The following week at Doral, Westwood couldn’t help but give Donald a little jab.
He said he ran into Donald on the putting green and said, “Oh, morning, No. 2. And he looked at me and nodded. And he said, ‘Yeah, it’s sort of a bit of a relief.’ He said, ‘There’s only one way to go when you’re No. 1. At least there’s more than one way to go at No. 2.’
“You’re at the top there and everybody shoots at you but I think that’s the position you want to be in, You want the position that everybody is envious of.”
“It’s nice being No. 1,” he said. “I think there’s a few bragging rights. The prestige is great. But it’s not what I’m really focused on.”
What Donald is focused on, he said, is simply playing well. He did that last year when he became the first player to win money titles on the PGA and European tours the same year.
“I’ve always focused on putting myself into contention to try and win tournaments and hopefully majors, and obviously did that a lot last year; and as a consequence, I went to No. 1,” he said.
Of the Big Three in the world ranking, McIlroy is the only one to win a major championship. That, he said, is more difficult to do than make it to No. 1.
“There’s been a few guys at No. 1 without a major, so it’s probably harder to win a major,” McIlroy said.
“I would love to win a major,” Donald said. “That’s always been something I’m striving to do. I think that would make my résumé look a lot better.”
Westwood said his goals, in order, are to “win a major championship, to win World Golf Championships, to win in the States and do that more regularly.”
“If I do that, then the No. 1 in the world ranking just comes along as a product of that,” he said. “But obviously, you know, I’d be lying if I didn’t say every guy playing this week wants to be No. 1 in the world. It means you’re playing well, for starters.”
When McIlroy took over No. 1, Donald was just behind him, but that was hardly noticed until the Englishman won two weeks later at Tampa.
“I don’t pay too much attention to it, but I certainly wasn’t in the media at all,” Donald said. “I think people thought that my last year was maybe a little bit more of a – not a fluke – but I don’t think many people thought I could do that all over again this year. You know, hopefully I can prove them wrong.”