Golf: World No. 1 ranking like a 'hot potato' – McIlroy

Rory McIlroy became No. 1 for the ninth time in October. PHOTO: AFP

LOS ANGELES – The world No. 1 ranking is being passed around like a “hot potato” due to the depth of talent in the sport, Rory McIlroy said on Wednesday as he looks to regain top spot from Scottie Scheffler at the PGA Tour’s Genesis Invitational this week.

McIlroy, who became No. 1 for the ninth time in October, slipped to second last weekend after Scheffler retained his Phoenix Open title but is only 0.5 points behind the American.

“I’ve got a chance to get it back this week,” the Northern Irishman told reporters ahead of the opening round at Riviera County Club in Pacific Palisades.

“Hopefully it’s a bit of a sort of hot potato thing where me, Scottie and Jon (Rahm) sort of pass it around a little bit because it means we’re all playing great golf.

“I think it’s a really cool thing to be ranked No. 1 in whatever you do, but I think it just goes to show the level of depth and the level of talent that’s out here,” the 33-year-old added.

McIlroy said he had lost the top ranking to Scheffler despite not playing poorly.

“I literally have one average week, it wasn’t even a bad week, just an average week, and there’s always someone waiting to overtake you or to come and try to take that mantle from you,” he added.

Tournament host Tiger Woods has also committed to playing at the event, which will mark his first non-Major PGA Tour start since October 2020.

Meanwhile, McIlroy said the PGA Tour’s plans to streamline their bigger events won’t harm golfers lower down the rankings.

The tour has responded to the emergence of the Saudi-backed LIV Golf by focusing on top tier “designated events” in a bid to bring the biggest stars together more frequently.

The latest defectors are Mito Pereira, who squandered a chance at last year’s PGA Championship to become the first Chilean to win a Major, and Colombian Sebastian Munoz, the Saudi-backed circuit said on Wednesday.

No plans have yet been agreed for the future evolution of the PGA Tour’s designated events but there have been reports that they may feature smaller fields with no cut.

McIlroy, who as a board member of the PGA Tour has been involved in those talks, says he has sensed concern among some lesser known players about the plans.

“I’ve had tons of conversations with guys that are worried about what events they’re going to play next year and all that. The one thing I said, ‘Look, no one’s trying to screw the bottom half of the tour here’. If anything, we’re trying to lift it up,” McIlroy told reporters.

The Northern Irishman said it was, however, crucial to have the elite featuring in such events.

“The best players should be playing in them because ultimately the PGA Tour needs to be built around the best players because that’s what will maximise the value of the product,” he added.

“But that doesn’t mean that there’s not great storylines further down that list, which we’re all very cognisant of,” he added.

A four-time Major winner, McIlroy suggested the lesser known players would benefit from boosting the value of the tour overall.

“If you look at like the NBA’s trajectory over the last 20 years, they’ve built that league around their best players and their stars, not around the 12th guy on the team,” he said.

“But because they’ve built that league up around the stars, the 12th guy on the team does way better than he used to. So that’s sort of the way I’ve been trying to tell it.”

McIlroy said that dealing with the split in the sport had been hard to balance with playing at the top.

He said: “It was a busy year for me, I had a ton of stuff going on, but I sort of knew going into this year that... there’s still a lot of stuff that needs to be decided.

“For better or for worse, I’m part of that conversation, I’m on the board of the Tour, and I need to be a part of it.

“Would I love to just get back to playing golf at some stage? Absolutely, but hopefully after this year and the schedule’s set for ‘24 and beyond and we sort of get everything else in place, hopefully, I will be able to go back and concentrate on the day job a little bit more,” he added. REUTERS, AFP

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