The Battle For No. 1
March 5, 2012 by Angus Saul • Print Story •
At first glance, it looks good; three Brits at the top of a sport, all fighting it out to see who is the best in the world. But though the top spot is a prized position in any sport, and one that is well earned, it's not as important as, well, the majors.
Of those top three, only one has won a major, and that same player famously crashed out of the Masters earlier that year, having led by some margin with only one day to play.
That was McIlroy. He's currently No. 2 (as of this writing).
Another has come very close. In 2010, he came second at both the Masters, and the (British) Open Championships. He's also managed third and tied third at the other two majors.
That's Lee Westwood. Currently No. 3.
And last, but not least, Luke Donald. He's won a lot of small tournaments, and a lot of bigger ones, too. But he's never won a major. He's come tied for third twice.
So perhaps there are some underachievers there? It would have been thought that a rivalry, and a fight for the top spot would raise the level of their games, but apparently not. McIlroy can maybe be forgiven, as he is still a youngster who is coming on in leaps and bounds. He has raised his game, but he's proven so far too inconsistent. He can raise his level, and throw it away over two or three days.
But the other two. Even just thinking about them, I'm shaking my head. Even if you're not British, you should well be sitting there tutting.
It's not that these are bad golfers. Not at all. But there is something else.
Donald won seven awards in 2011, including PGA Player of the Year and European Tour Golfer of the Year. He also finished the year as No. 1.
Westwood didn't win any awards in 2011, but has won numerous awards in his career, and has won the European Tour Golfer of the Year three times. He has also won 21 European Tour titles, which leaves him tied ninth on the all-time list with Sam Torrance, who has recently won the Scottish Golf Lifetime Achievement Award.
Should these accolades and achievements be given to those who do not win majors?
Of course they should. And that is the best thing about golf at the moment. There have been seven first-time major winners in a row. They aren't being recognized with by the boards and decision makers because those with the power don't want to give an award to someone who could well turn out to be a flash in the pan.
No doubt if they win another, or two in one year, heads will turn and nod in their direction.
For Luke Donald and Lee Westwood, they don't need to win a major to prove they are exceptionally talented golfers, but I get the feeling they'd really like one on their mantelpiece this year.
For McIlroy, 2012 will surely mean taking the top spot, and securing a second, and maybe third major?
Majors don't define a sport, but they can define a player's career. One extra stroke here and there can send you from being a potential superstar to being "the best of the rest."
This rivalry at the top can be exciting now, and golf is by no means stuck in a rut, but the real excitement comes when one of them steps up and moves head and shoulders above the others. Then we will see who the real superstar is.