Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott put down markers of ambition
Australian cements position as world number one after win at Colonial as McIlroy goes to sixth after BMW PGA Championship success
Golf’s tour scene is rocking at the moment, even without its long-time poster boy. In Tiger Woods’s absence, recuperating from back surgery with no apparent set time for his return
, two would-be kings have stepped up to the mark: Adam Scott and Rory McIlroy won Sunday shootouts on either side of the Atlantic that was pure box office, each laying down markers of present intent and future ambition.
Scott’s play-off win over Jason Dufner in the Colonial cemented his position as world number one in the official rankings; but McIlroy’s triumph in the BMW PGA Championship jumped him from 10th up to sixth. And although he has some work to catch Scott, McIlroy moves into a pack of chasers that make for an intriguing battle to occupy that top-ranked spot heading into month-on-month staging of the Major championships.
Indeed, immediately behind Scott, the rankings are rather cramped with less than a one point average separating second-placed Henrik Stenson down to sixth-placed McIlroy. Further down, the most dramatic jump of all over the weekend came from Shane Lowry, his runner-up finish behind McIlroy moving him up from 142nd to 74th in the latest rankings.
It has been a while since there was so much close competition from so many for the world number one position. You have to go back to the summer of 1997 for the most shifting and changing, when the number one spot changed hands five times in five weeks: Greg Norman to Tiger Woods to Ernie Els to Norman again and then back to Woods, who held the top spot for the following nine weeks.
In the aftermath of his win at Wentworth on Sunday, McIlroy talked of how the game was looking for some player to “kick on” and to effectively take things by the scruff of the neck. “I’d like to be that guy,” he added, believing this latest win would be the springboard. “I think the win at the end of last year in Australia sort of stopped all the questions about equipment and about struggling (to win) and slump and all that stuff,” he suggested.
The expected kick-on from Australia never truly materialised in terms of wins, but the BMW PGA success could have more in common with the manner of his win in the 2012 US PGA at Kiawah Island when he brought that momentum on for the rest of the season. Then, there were times he appeared invincible. That US PGA win kick-started a run that saw him win the BMW and Deutsche Bank Championships (part of the FedEx Cup series) and the DP World in Dubai (the closure to the Race to Dubai series) in topping the money lists on both of the main tours.
After his Wentworth heroics, McIlroy returned home to Belfast to visit with his mother before yesterday flying on to play in the Memorial Tournament on the US Tour this week, where Scott is also in action. It will be his final tournament before he plays in the US Open, at Pinehurst in North Carolina, in a fortnight’s time.
The reconditioned course at Pinehurst resort will be a new test for McIlroy. He has never been there before. “No rough for a US Open is going to be very different. I hear it’s going to be a long, long course, which I’m looking forward to. I don’t mind that at all, getting the driver in the hand. A long golf course, it would suit me. And obviously the greens are very trick, a lot of run-offs and slopes. I think you’re going to have to have everything there.”
His intentions are to stop off for a reconnaissance visit to Pinehurst after the Memorial.
Scott, for his part, felt his win in the Colonial was “validation” for his rise to number one the previous week, when he took over from Woods without actually playing.
Lowry’s runner-up finish at Wentworth has risen the bar for the Offalyman and moves him very much closer to winning back a spot in the world’s top-50. Lowry’s payday has also brought him into the chase for a Ryder Cup place. The 27-year-old has moved up to 19th in the European Tour points ranking and to 24th on the World Points ranking.
As things stand, Lowry has accumulated 894,888 points in the European Tour table (which accounts for the first four players for Paul McGinley’s team with five coming off the World Points). When Italy’s Francisco Molinari claimed the last qualifying spot off the European Points table ahead of Medinah in 2012, he had just over 2.1 million points. So, Lowry has work to do but it is a target to aim for.
Whilst McIlroy returns stateside this week, Lowry heads an eight-strong Irish contingent to play in the Nordea Masters in Sweden where he is joined by Michael Hoey, Simon Thornton, Damien McGrane, Gareth Maybin, Peter Lawrie, Kevin Phelan and David Higgins.