Rory McIlroy issued a one-word response when asked earlier this month if he felt like the best player in the world.
That was before the Waste Management Phoenix Open, when the Northern Irishman indeed occupied the top spot in the Official World Golf Ranking.
McIlroy, who regained the No. 1 ranking in October, would remain on that perch for only a few more days before Scottie Scheffler snatched it by successfully defending at TPC Scottsdale. Scheffler’s reign lasted exactly one week, with Jon Rahm reclaiming the No. 1 ranking with his victory at The Genesis Invitational.
The Spaniard holds the spot entering this week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational. Asked on Tuesday if there’s anyone who could beat him when “firing on all cylinders,” Rahm issued his own one-word response.
He was quick to add that he hopes a lot of players would feel the same way.
It’s hard to argue with the confidence Rahm has in the state of his game. He arrived at Bay Hill coming off his fifth win in his past nine worldwide starts, and Rahm is the first player since Johnny Miller in 1975 to win three events in a year before the calendar reached March.
“There’s a lot of satisfaction that comes to it when you get to be No. 1 when the other players have been playing great golf as well,” Rahm said. “Scottie had a great year last year, Rory had a great year last year, and then towards the end of the year I kind of picked up.
“And even with Scottie winning at Phoenix, I was able to get to No. 1 right after.”
How long Rahm stays there remains to be seen — McIlroy or Scheffler could leapfrog him again depending upon how things go at Bay Hill.
Rahm, who has been an outspoken critic of the OWGR, acknowledged the power struggle over No. 1 between three players competing at such an elite level is exciting for the game.
“I mean, it’s been great,” he said. “What is it, the most amount of No. 1 changes in this short period of time? I saw some of those stats because it’s just really interesting, which speaks to the greatness of the game of golf right now, how good everybody’s been playing.”
The revamped schedule and increased purses the PGA Tour implemented in response to the threat from LIV Golf has led the top players competing in the same event far more often.
This week, 43 of the top 50 players in the OWGR are at Bay Hill — the most at an event since the 2022 Open Championship. The majority of them will head two hours north for next week’s Players Championship.
That’s all with an eye toward the Masters the first week of April.
Rahm said he recently received some advice from Tiger Woods on how to maintain to keep his game at its peak level for as long as possible.
“I asked him, ‘Out of the 82 wins on the PGA Tour,’ — I didn’t get into the other ones — ‘how many times do you think you played your best all four days?’ And he said, ‘Three at most.’ Right? A lot of those Sundays he played his best, but the whole week, very few.
“The thing is, you don’t need to be firing on all cylinders to win.”
Perhaps the ongoing threat from the likes of McIlroy and Scheffler at the top of the world rankings will continue to push Rahm to maintain his current level.
“There’s a lot of satisfaction that comes to it,” he said of being No. 1 in the world. “When we’ve been playing the way we’ve been playing, it’s a lot of fun.
“You should sit down and reflect and enjoy what you’re doing, obviously. But as competitors you don’t want it to end, obviously.”
–Field Level Media