Rory McIlroy was denied another “euphoric moment” in becoming world No 1 for the first time since September 2015 and admits he faces a tough task to stay at the summit.
McIlroy and Brooks Koepka did not contest last week’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, but McIlroy moved above the American due to the vagaries of the two-year rolling ranking system.
Both are in action at this week’s Genesis Invitational, where former US Open champion Webb Simpson is the only member of the world’s top 10 not competing in a star-studded event hosted by Tiger Woods at Riviera.
This is McIlroy’s 96th week in total as world No 1, one behind the record for a European player held by Sir Nick Faldo, although his lead over fellow four-time major winner Koepka is just 0.03 points.
“Everyone keeps saying congratulations but the work’s only started, it’s staying there is the hard part,” McIlroy said. “It’s a calculation based on how you’ve played the last two years and I’ve played consistently well and the mathematics add up that I’m top of the list right now and I have a chance to stay there this week.
“I’ve always said it’s a by-product of doing the right things week in, week out, playing well, trying to win tournaments.” Asked if it was something of an anti-climax to become No 1 during a week off, McIlroy added: “I’ve already that euphoric moment in 2012; I won the Honda Classic to get to No 1 in the world, Tiger was coming down the stretch, I was able to hold him off. That to me was the really cool moment.
“At least I’ve had one of them, that’s nice. To me it doesn’t matter if I was sitting at home on the couch and got there or whatever, it is what it is.”
McIlroy, meanwhile, has joined Woods in speaking out in favour of a possible “bifurcation” of the rules of golf which would see professionals and amateurs using different equipment.
Advances in fitness and golf equipment technology have seen players hit the ball further and further in recent years, leading to courses being lengthened in an effort to continue to test the world’s best.
Golf’s governing bodies announced last week that they intend to break the “ever-increasing cycle of hitting distance”, but admit it could take years. The USGA and R&A will assess the potential of a “local rule” which would allow tournament committees to “specify use of clubs and/or balls intended to result in shorter hitting distances”.
They have also pledged to review their current specifications for equipment to see if they require “tightening or adjusting”, but such potential changes would be aimed at top-level professionals and amateurs, rather than recreational players.
On Tuesday, Woods said designers were “running out of property” in trying to cope with the increased hitting distances and that if professionals were required to use different equipment from recreational players, it would affect “only one per cent of the guys or women”.
McIlroy offered a slightly different number, but the message was the same. “A lot of the stuff about the ball going too far and technology, it really pertains to 0.1 per cent of golfers out there,” McIlroy said.
“So if they want to try to contain what we do, as touring professionals, I’m all for that. Selfishly I think that’s only a good thing for the better players.”