Tue, Dec 31, 2013 - Page 18 News List

Tiger returns to the top, but challengers abound

AFP, PARIS

Tiger Woods regained the world No. 1 ranking after an absence of two-and-a-half years this year, but the debate over who is currently the best golfer in the world rages on.

Woods owes his return to the top spot to his wins in five tournaments, but crucially he came up short once again in the four majors, failing to end a drought that dates back to June 2008 when he won his 14th major title at the US Open.

Instead, four players shared the honors in the tournaments that are the crown jewels of golf.

Adam Scott finally smashed the Aussie jinx at the Masters, Justin Rose became the first Englishman to win the US Open in 43 years at Merion, Phil Mickelson took The Open at his 20th attempt and Jason Dufner was a popular winner of the PGA Championship.

After celebrating his 38th birthday yesterday, Woods can hardly be called a veteran just yet, but he admits that the golfing landscape around him is changing fast.

“It’s a whole different generation of guys,” Woods said. “I’ve played probably more head-to-head matches against Ernie [Els] than anybody because we played around the world; and Vijay [Singh] would probably be the second and Phil [Mickelson] would probably be third, but along the way ... I had Goose [Retief Goosen] in there and [David] Duval in there as well for a number of years.”

“It’s a different crop of guys,” he said. “All those guys are in their 40s and 50s. So we got a whole new crew and I think the youngest probably being Rory [McIlroy], but there’s a lot of guys who are in their late 20s, early 30s, that are right in their prime.”

McIlroy started the year as the world No. 1, but after a change of golfing equipment his year went rapidly downhill as he became distracted by business affairs and a clear loss of form.

Still, there were some signs that he can put all that behind him and he has plenty of career time left to significantly add to his majors haul of two.

“Golf’s a long career and I’m 24 years old,” said McIlroy in Sydney earlier this month after overhauling Scott to win the Australian Open — his first and only tournament victory of the year.

“I get a little impatient at times, and if I actually just took a step back and looked at the bigger picture, it hasn’t been too bad a year,” he said. “It’s obviously been made a lot better with the win. You know you have to go through the lows and I’m not saying it was a low this year. It’s not like I plummeted off the face of the earth. I’m still sixth in the world, so it’s not too bad. It’s not the level that I feel like I can play to, but I feel I’m getting back there, so it’s very pleasing.”

McIlroy’s win in Sydney prevented Scott from becoming just the second player to achieve the “Grand Slam” of Australian PGA, Australian Masters and Australian Open, which would have brought down the curtain splendidly on a breakthrough year for him.

Long touted to become a dominant figure in the game, Scott had — until April — flattered to deceive, but all that changed at Augusta National where he beat Angel Cabrera in a drama-filled playoff.

He nearly — once again — won The Open three months later and many see Scott as being the next player to hold the world No. 1 spot.

Others point to Henrik Stenson, the big Swede who started the year way down the rankings after a miserable previous two years and was not even eligible for the Masters until the week prior to the tournament, but in a super summer Stenson tied for third at the Scottish Open, was runner-up at The Open, runner-up to Woods at Firestone and third in the PGA Championship.

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