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TEE TO GREEN, STEVE SCOTT: The World No 1 ranking actually means something at the end of the year

Rory McIlroy is World No 1 for the ninth time, and at a good time - the end of 2022.

I’ve always thought golf’s World No 1 should only be crowned at the end of any given calendar year.

Yes, I get it. A week-to-week ranking often fills a space for desperate golf column writers.

But when the hurly burly of a full year is done, you get a much better and more representative view of who should be ranked as the best player in the world. All the majors and the biggest events have been played and won, the tours are complete.

Even in the world of the “wraparound” schedule (no more after this year) you still got a clear and representative view once all the main events were played.

The old rankings were a mess

The rankings have been recalibrated so often that drawing any correlation between, say, Nick Faldo’s reign of 81 successive week in 1992-94, Tiger Wood’s 281 weeks from 2005 to 2010 or Rory McIlroy regaining the position at the weekend is impossible.

Rory is back on top as a result of his CJ Cup win at the weekend. It is his ninth separate time at World No 1, dating over a period of ten years. This shows an incredible level of consistency and also that the rankings are very different now.

McIlroy’s longest spell at the top was 54 weeks from August 2014 – just after he won the Open and the PGA within a month. There was no question who was the best player in the world at the time.

Greg Norman the other week sniffily noted on Twitter that Rory had some way to go to match his 331 weeks as World No 1. And true enough, at 107 weeks total, McIlroy’s not even a third of the way there.

But even putting aside T2G’s general antipathy to the attention-seeking Norman (“my players”, he’s taken to calling the LIV contingent) he’s on very shaky ground here.

The rankings in his time were basic, totted up on the back of a fag packet, really. Case in point was a sizeable part of Norman’s reign, 54 weeks from September 1989 to 1990.

The quick-witted quiz nighters among you will know the major winners from that period in time did not include Greg Norman.

Norman was No 1, but Faldo was way better

In fact, Nick Faldo won not only the Masters (for the second time in succession) in 1990, but also of course, the Open at St Andrews. Totally eviscerating one Greg Norman on the Old Course on the Saturday when they played in the final group.

But despite this Faldo did not finally get World No 1 status until two months after that. And then he held it for just six weeks before Norman took over again.

What’s even more ridiculous is that Norman didn’t even win a tournament to regain the top spot; his next win wasn’t until the Canadian Open of 1992.

Not even Norman’s massive ego would begin to assert that anyone but Faldo was the best player in the world in 1990. It wasn’t even close.

The OWGR was full of that sort of stuff in those days, really right up until modern times. Tiger’s status – he passed every sense test and how – and almost complete dominance of the game kind of covered up the failings of the rankings.

It was more exposed during Tiger’s various hiatus(es). Lee Westwood and Luke Donald, both eventually majorless, duelled for the spot over a long spell.

Some glaring omissions

You’d have thought that Phil Mickelson, or perhaps Padraig Harrington, with three majors in two years, might have done a shift. But strangely neither ever attained the World No 1 slot.

I recall Phil at an interview once saying that he had an interesting stat or fact about this which he planned to reveal when he finally did make it. Sadly, it now seems we’ll never know what that was.

There’s been a lot of criticism of the OWGR over its entire existence, and much of it entirely justified.

But putting aside the LIV Golf dispute at the moment (as I’m constantly told I should do about the Saudi financing of that tour) I think it is now actually pretty fit for purpose in identifying the players who should compete in the best tournaments.

It’s much more fluid these days than it was. But Rory has moved to the top at the right time. There’s few points left for the taking now. A decent showing at the DP World Championship should see him retain No 1 status until – probably – February or so.

Taking account of the variances of form, and the various hot streaks of the last 12 months, I think the OWGR’s found the proper best player in the world. At the very end of 2022, when it counts.

There’s still plenty avenues for the Dreamers

Last week’s final PGA EuroPro Tour Championship saw five players, including Scotland’s Michael Stewart, graduate to Challenge Tour status.

But it’s the abrupt end of what was the premier third tier tour in European golf. The plug was unceremoniously pulled by the partners and it won’t play next year.

There’s other UK mini-tours – not least the admirable Paul Lawrie’s Tartan Golf Tour in Scotland. They will partly fill the competitive play gap for those coming up, still trying or trying again. But they probably won’t have those precious playing rights for the DP World Tour’s second-tier.

In one way we’ll be going back to the pre-Challenge Tour days. The “dreamers”, as I like to call them, then had to play where they could. That was mostly in PGA regional events, aiming to be razor sharp for the Tour’s Q School.

We’ve heard a lot in recent weeks about the players who came through the EuroPro. Major champions Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel, Ryder Cup players Tommy Fleetwood, Ross Fisher, Tyrrell Hatton and Oliver Wilson.

A fine list, to be sure. But I’ve a feeling those particular gentlemen would have found a way to get where they did regardless of the method of travel.

Q School was mothballed for Covid but is back this autumn, second stage in Spain is next week. There’s still plenty of ways for the dreamers to get there, if they’re good enough.