No. 1 is on the line at the craziest event on Tour. Who will take it?
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — At this point, Jon Rahm is post-rankings. He really doesn’t care much anymore. Whenever he takes a jab at the Official World Golf Ranking — which he did again Friday afternoon — he says it’s mostly in jest.
“The best line was when Rafa Nadal was asked about being No. 2,” Rahm said Friday, shortly after signing for 66, turning on a slight Spanish accent. “He said, if I am No. 2, I am No. 2.”
In short, so be it. The topic was elevated to Rahm once again because, well, he’s not No. 1, nor is he No. 2. Rahm is somehow No. 3, despite winning four times across the world in the past four months. On the WM Phoenix Open leaderboard, he is No. 2, trailing only Scottie Scheffler, the real No. 2, who openly admitted that he doesn’t even feel like a top 2 player at the moment. And if he’s being honest, he doesn’t want to feel like the best player in the world. Exhausted yet? That’s why Rahm is living in a post-ranking world.
The truth is, this weekend Rahm is playing for the top spot, and golf fans everywhere tend to care about that. You don’t need to bust out a calculator and count how many events everyone has played in the past 24 months. That’s one of the benefits of the PGA Tour designating specific tournaments like this one with $20 million purses. They’re worth a lot more than just money.
And so this first full-field designated event provides an opportunity for a real statement. On Monday, we’ll be talking about a new Super Bowl champion, sure, but maybe a new No. 1 as well. Next week’s Genesis Invitational will offer up another statement opportunity, too, since it offers another $20 mil and happens to be Tiger Woods’ designated return to competition.
“We’ve never had this many fields this strong that we’re going to have in a row,” Rahm said Friday. He’s right. “So if somebody can get up there and keep it, it’s because they have played really good golf and they truly are a well-deserved No. 1.
“Now, with that said, you could also see that, you know, we [end up with] seven different guys being No. 1 because it can happen with the amount of points that you can earn in those tournaments.”
Rahm may not love the algorithms that label him World No. 3 right now, but at least he understands them. Not everyone on Tour dives down these mathematical rabbit holes. The creation of mega-watt events like this one will hold major world ranking implications, especially when they’re held in consecutive weeks. And the race as we know it is not a closed loop. When I mentioned to Rahm that he and Rory seem to be a 1 vs. 1A battle, he jumped in to note that it’s technically 1 vs. 3.
The PGA Tour is never a closed loop. Other players always enter the fray. It seems like Xander Schauffele could never have a bad round out at TPC Scottsdale, mainly because he’s never had a bad round out at TPC Scottsdale. Seventeen of his 21 rounds here were in the 60s. He’s four back of Scheffler with more holes to play.
When the third round begins late Saturday afternoon — pushed back because of frost delays Thursday — we’ll have to note how Friday’s afternoon calmed down as the sun set. The wind dropped and helped flatten the lead Scheffler and Rahm built when they signed their scorecards from the early wave. Rahm may not even end up in the final group. We still need to see finishing scores from Jordan Spieth, Sungjae Im, Nick Taylor and Adam Hadwin. Even Rory McIlroy, who started with a 73 Thursday and then went out in 31 Friday.
At the moment, McIlroy is the one with the rankings in his back pocket. No. 1 by the OWGR and narrowly No. 1, according to the math lords at DataGolf. When asked Wednesday if he feels like the best player in the world, he said he did. Why?
“Because … I do?” McIlroy said. Sometimes it’s that simple. More art and feeling than science, even if the science backs him up. McIlroy is the only player who can keep a Scheffler or Rahm victory from upending the top spot. If McIlroy rallies — we’ve come to expect that over the course of four rounds — a solo third- or second-place will make this whole discussion moot. At which point, we’ll take a few days off and start it all up again in Los Angeles.