Rory’s back at No. 1, but will he stay there?
February 12, 2020
By Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM
Rory McIlroy on his current form before Genesis
PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. – After more than 1,600 days, Rory McIlroy is again No. 1 in the world rankings. It became official after last weekend’s results, with McIlroy overtaking Brooks Koepka after a week in which neither one played.
Since then, McIlroy has heard from many of his competitors, golf officials, fans and general well-wishers.
“Everyone keeps saying congratulations,” McIlroy said. “I said 'the work’s only started.'
“Staying there is the hard part.”
Indeed. McIlroy may not have long to enjoy his return to the top. He’s part of a loaded field at The Genesis Invitational, with nine of the world’s top 10 playing at Riviera – the most for a 500-point FedExCup event since the Wells Fargo Championship in the inaugural FedExCup season 13 years ago.
That chase pack includes the now No. 2 Koepka, who is making his first PGA TOUR start since last fall.
Koepka spent the last eight months at No. 1, maintaining his ranking by winning twice during that stretch. But McIlroy won three PGA TOUR events, including the TOUR Championship when he claimed his second FedExCup title (he moved from No. 3 to No. 2 behind Koepka after that week). In addition, he posted nine other top-10 finishes around the world. The numbers finally worked in his favor.
“It’s a calculation based on how you’ve played over the last two years,” McIlroy said. “I’ve played well and I’ve played consistently well. The mathematics add up that I’m the top of the list right now.”
But McIlroy knows first-hand how finicky the top ranking can be. His 1,605-day gap between stints at No. 1 is the longest in the world ranking's history, and by a large margin. Greg Norman held the previous mark, going 1,100 days between stints atop the OWGR.
Prior to this week, McIlroy had spent 95 weeks at No. 1 – not all consecutive. In fact, he went in and out of the top spot seven different times between 2012 and 2015. The first time it happened was after winning the 2012 Honda Classic, as he held off Tiger Woods down the stretch. “To me, that was a really cool moment,” McIlroy recalled.
He's enjoyed stretches of 32 and 52 weeks at No. 1. Prior to this week, the last time he was No. 1 was Sept. 14, 2015. A week later, he fell to No. 2 behind Jason Day. The week after that, he was No. 3 behind Jordan Spieth and Day.
While Spieth and Day have fallen off the pace – Day is currently 38th; Spieth is 49th – McIlroy has been remarkably consistent. He dropped out of the top 10 briefly during the early portion of 2018, but only fell to 13th at his lowest.
In fact, during the entire decade of the 2010s, McIlroy spent just 20 weeks ranked outside of the top 10. In other words, in that 10-year span, he spent more than 9-1/2 years ranked inside the top 10.
“Obviously I have a chance to stay there this week,” McIlroy said, “but I’ve always said it’s a by-product of doing the right things week in, week out – playing well, shooting good scores, trying to win tournaments. If I can continue to do that, then hopefully that thing just sort of takes care of itself.”
While being considered the world’s top-ranked golfer is nice, McIlroy said it’s not specifically a goal he sets for himself. He focuses more on things within his control.
“For me, it’s all about the process and the steps,” he said. “… Setting goals that are based on objectivity, statistics, Strokes Gained and stuff, all that.
“I rarely set myself goals of ‘I want to win this and I want to win that’ because all of those goals are just a by-product of doing the little things right, and I’m a big believer in that. If you get the little things right day after day after day, and you practice good habits and those habits become completely ingrained in what you do, the rest will follow.”
Rory McIlroy discusses the tournament before Genesis