PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Here’s a suggestion for how Adam Scott should spend Sunday afternoon in the Bahamas.
Go out to the practice green and throw a ball down about 10 feet from the cup, maybe longer if he wants to add some drama. And then whisper to himself, as so many young golfers have done over the years, with one minor change in the wording.
“This putt to go to No. 1 in the world.”
The alternative is to follow what Nick Faldo, Ian Woosnam and Lee Westwood did the first time they reached the top of the world ranking.
This is the official nightmare of the Official World Golf Ranking.
Scott had four mathematical chances over the last two months to replace Tiger Woods at No. 1 in the world. His best chance was to win at Bay Hill, only he couldn’t hold a seven-shot lead on the weekend. His most recent opportunity was The Players Championship, where he would have needed a 68 on Sunday. He closed with a 73.
And now that he has a week off, Scott will go to No. 1.
It won’t be official until next week, but here’s what we know. Woods keeps losing points without being able to replace them because he is recovering from back surgery and has not played a tournament in more than two months. Scott will move past Woods this week, and the field at the Byron Nelson Championship is not strong enough that Matt Kuchar could surpass them even if he were to win.
Is it awkward? Sure.
Unprecedented? Not even close.
Of the 17 players who reached No. 1 for the first time, Scott will be the fifth who did not play that week. The list includes Bernhard Langer, who was No. 1 in the inaugural world ranking on April 6, 1986.
This will be the 57th change at the top, and the 13th time that a new No. 1 didn’t play the week before he got there. That includes Woods – twice.
Faldo won the Masters and British Open, and tied for third in the U.S. Open in 1990. He still didn’t get to No. 1, back when the formula was different and the ranking moved at the speed of Kevin Na. Faldo injured his wrist at the PGA Championship, where he shot 80 in the third round and tied for 19th. He took off three weeks to let it heal, and when he showed up at the European Open, he was No. 1.
And don’t forget about Westwood. He completed only two tournaments in a three-month stretch in 2010 because of a calf injury. Coming off the Ryder Cup, he took off three weeks and went to No. 1 while watching TV at home in England.
The most confounding of all was in 1999, the summer when Woods and David Duval were the best two players in golf. They were so good that IMG created a made-for-TV exhibition on Monday night called the “Showdown at Sherwood,” a battle between No. 1 and No. 2.
Woods was ranked No. 1 and on the course, closing out Duval on the 17th hole. Both took the rest of the week off, and thanks to the mathematical wonder of the world ranking, Duval went back to No. 1.
Not that Duval cared how he got there.
“I guess that’s the story right there,” he said Monday on his way to Dallas. “I don’t remember.”
He remembers the first time he got to No. 1. In front of a hometown crowd, and on the same day his father won on the Champions Tour, Duval won The Players Championship to replace Woods atop the ranking.
That’s a lot more fun than being at home.
Rory McIlroy reached No. 1 for the first time by winning the Honda Classic. Luke Donald made his debut at No. 1 when he won the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth in a playoff over Westwood, whom he replaced at No. 1. Donald has gone to No. 1 four times, three of them by winning.
Greg Norman won five times out of the 11 occasions he got to No. 1 – with four of those wins on different continents. Woods won six times to get to No. 1, including two majors, the ideal way to reach the top of the ranking. Then again, he first reached No. 1 with a tie for 19th in the 1997 U.S. Open. Pretty riveting.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how a player gets to No. 1.
And ultimately, all of them would just as soon win a major than be No. 1. Scott, a former Masters champion, said as much before leaving the TPC Sawgrass.
“I think it’s a nice feather in the cap,” Scott said. “I mean, if I was never world No. 1 when I’m this close, I’d be disappointed. But I’d also much rather win the U.S. Open and not be No. 1 at all this year. That’s what it comes down to.”
Even so, being No. 1 should not be dismissed. It doesn’t define the best player in the world, rather who has performed the best over the most recent two-year period. And as Westwood correctly noted when he got to No. 1, “It’s a fairly elite list.”
So lace up your shoes, grab a putter and head to the practice green, Adam. Make a putt. Pretend it’s to be No. 1 in the world.
And then take a bow.