Jon Rahm heads to The Players as world No 1, although Scottie Scheffler and Rory McIlroy can both overtake him at TPC Sawgrass; Watch the opening round live on Thursday from 11.30am on Sky Sports Golf
Last Updated: 08/03/23 1:56pm
Jon Rahm, Scottie Scheffler and Rory McIlroy will continue their three-way tussle at the top of the world rankings at The Players, but which of the trio when at their best is golf’s pound-for-pound No 1?
All three have enjoyed at least one worldwide victory and a spell as world No 1 this year, with each of the trio having the chance to end the PGA Tour’s flagship event in that spot this week.
Reigning FedExCup champion McIlroy began 2023 in pole position and retained top spot by starting the year with Hero Dubai Desert Classic victory, a third win in a run of seven worldwide starts where he finished no worse than fourth.
McIlroy saw his 16-week stay as world No 1 ended when Scheffler won the WM Phoenix Open, only to be overtaken a week later when Rahm continued his winning streak with an impressive victory at the Genesis Invitational.
Rahm’s victory followed wins at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and the American Express earlier in the year, with further successes on the DP World Tour towards the end of 2022 part of five titles in a nine-tournament stretch.
The Spaniard suffered his worst finish since July at last week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational, settling for tied-39th after back-to-back 76s mid-tournament, although Scheffler and McIlroy were both unable to leapfrog Rahm at the top of the world rankings at Bay Hill.
McIlroy finished a shot behind winner Kurt Kitayama in tied-second, with Scheffler a further stroke back and ending his title defence in a share of fourth, meaning Rahm arrives at TPC Sawgrass as world No 1 for the second successive year.
The trio have been grouped together for the first two rounds, going out at 7.56am local time (12.56pm GMT) on Thursday and 12.56pm (5.56pm GMT) on Friday, with all three looking to end the week as world No 1.
McIlroy could finish as low as tied-eighth and still get to number one – depending on the results of the other two – while a top-five finish for Scheffler could be enough, with over 100 different scenarios for one of them to overtake Rahm!
Form of the world’s top three (since January 2022)
Who has the edge?
McIlroy said last month that he had no problem with the world No 1 spot becoming a “hot potato”, with Sky Sports’ Nick Dougherty believing the four-time major champion has the edge when firing at his best.
“What makes it interesting right now is that there’s not an obvious answer like there was in years gone by, when Tiger Woods dominated for such long periods,” Dougherty said. “It’s exciting in a different way because Rahm, Scheffler and McIlroy aren’t Woods, but are all phenomenal golfers.
“Rahm looked head and shoulders of the other two after the West Coast swing, even though Scheffler won in Phoenix! He had that run of five wins in nine starts, which was almost Tiger-esque and made him stand out, although then had those two bad rounds in the middle of Bay Hill.
“That was the point you saw McIlroy pushing himself into contention and Scheffler finding his way back up there, so you start second-guessing yourself on which one of them is best! The fact that they’re all so close, do it in slightly different areas and are very different characters makes it compelling viewing.
“It’s hard to pick one out individual but I still am a believer that when all three play their best, McIlroy still just about edges it. For McIlroy, his big motivation this year is going to be winning another major and of course he’ll have one in particular on his mind.
“If he wins The Masters, which I think he has a great chance of after coming second last, I think we might see a time for him again where we see him pull away from those others, but he has his got his work cut out.”
Could someone dominate No 1?
Tiger Woods once had a record 281 consecutive weeks as world No 1 between 2005 and 2010, while Dustin Johnson and McIlroy have both had stints of over a year in top spot, although former major champion Rich Beem doesn’t expect anyone to have a long stint ahead of the other two.
“When they’re on their day it’s really close between Rahm and McIlroy, but I’ve also seen some pretty amazing things from Scheffler,” Beem said. “I don’t think we’re going to get anybody dominating any time soon.
“Rahm and McIlroy both drive the golf ball so well but right now I’d probably give the upper hand to the Spaniard, as he has a few more shots in his arsenal – especially with the wedges. If anybody can have a long stay as world No 1 then I think it’s probably him, but it’s splitting hairs!
“We’ve seen at Bay Hill last week that he’s human at times. It might have been the golf course or it might be something else about Bay Hill that just didn’t suit his eye after the first round, but I don’t think there are a lot of golf courses that Rahm can’t go to and figure it out.
“McIlroy said after the WM Phoenix Open that he didn’t like TPC Scottsdale and didn’t suit his eye, but to be world No 1 you’ve got to suit your eye sometimes and got to figure out. I think Rahm’s got that capability a little bit more than the other players.
“We thought years ago McIlroy was going to take the mantle and run with world No 1 for a long time, then Dustin Johnson was clearly No 1 for a while every time he showed up. We’re talking in miniscule amounts, but I think if anybody is going to break out and do it then it’s going to be Rahm.”
Watch The Players throughout the week live on Sky Sports. Live coverage continues on Wednesday with the ‘Live from The Players’ show at 2pm, while the opening round is live on Thursday from 11.30am on Sky Sports Golf!