The battle for that coveted ranking, though, is starting to heat up with the Masters on the horizon, to the extent in fact that two players, Dustin Johnson and Hideki Matsuyama, can topple the game’s current top dog, Jason Day, in this week’s Genesis Open in Los Angeles.
Johnson, the US Open champion, needs to win at Riviera Country Club and for Day to finish worse than a three-way tie for third to become No 1 for the first time, something that Matsuyama would also achieve if the Japanese player won this weekend and Day finished lower than a two-way tie for 24th.
In some respects, it would be fitting if Matsuyama headed into the season’s first major in that top spot. The 24-year-old has been on fire, after all, over the past few months, recording five victories, including the WGC-HSBC Champions in China, and most recently a successful defence of the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
Johnson, meanwhile, has been knocking at Day’s door, having been unable to grasp his first chance to jump above him in the USPGA Championship last summer, then seeing another opportunity go a-begging in last week’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. In fairness, he had to win that and have the Australian finish out of the top 50, and neither bit looked like materialising as Jordan Spieth took that event by the scruff of the neck.
Which leaves Day occupying the spot he’s been in since winning the WGC-Dell Match Play in Texas last March. That means he’s getting close to becoming the first player since Rory McIlroy – his reign started with a victory at the 2014 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and ending when Spieth passed him with a runner-up finish in the 2015 USPGA – to stay at No 1 for longer than a year. As for holding that spot for the entire calendar year, one of Day’s goals at the start of 2017, Woods was the last to achieve that feat in 2009.
“I said that a calendar year would be great to go No 1, but I need to just focus on what I need to do because you can’t really focus on staying No 1,” he said. “The more you focus on the actual target itself, the more you attach yourself to it. You make mental errors, you get more frustrated, you do silly things on the golf course that you shouldn’t be doing.
“They don’t give trophies for it, it is more of a pride thing at the end of your career; you want to know how many weeks you were at No 1. To get there even for one week is pretty special. No one can take that away from you, which is great. But, if someone takes it off me, I’m okay with it. I’m not going to be angry or sad about it.”
Woods, who withdrew from this week’s event last Friday due to his ongoing back spasms, pulled out of a scheduled press conference yesterday – his foundation runs the tournament – after being “advised by doctors to limit activities”, according to a statement released by the Genesis Open organisers.