Will the real No. 1 player stand up - pretty please?
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FLA.— Parity sounds like a great idea, not to mention democratic and terribly politically correct, until you get a big helping of it. Then it turns out to be more boring than a meet-and-greet at a convention of insurance adjusters. See Golf, lately, for details.
Enter The Players, 2014 edition. No matter what happens this week, we’re not going to leave The Swamp (the tour’s vaunted Stadium Course) with an obvious candidate as the actual, legitimate, oh-so-real No. 1 Player in the World.
Martin Kaymer, our new favorite German, shot 29 on his opening nine Thursday. Herr Kaymer backed it up with a 69 on Friday, a much tougher day with gustier winds and trickier pin positions. He’s 12-under par. Before Jordan Spieth roared into second place with a 66, it was shades of Henrik Stenson’s runaway Players win of a few years back. Or for you Geritol guzzlers, the year when Greg Norman shot a bazillion under par and Fuzzy Zoeller theatrically wiped the sweat (and the dollar signs) off the Great White Shark’s epic brow with a Great White Surrender Towel.
There are possibilities galore this weekend. Four players could take over the No. 1 ranking, it turns out. Thank Tiger Woods for making it possible by being sidelined due to back surgery. He won five times last year and left little doubt about who was No. 1 even though he didn’t win a major.
Right now, there is no deserving No. 1. Tiger, Adam Scott, in his new state of wedded bliss, and Jason Day to hold down the official top three spots. If you just went by world ranking points earned this year, the top three would be Bubba Watson, Matt Kuchar and Patrick Reed. That trio makes more sense to me, as politicians pompously like to say, at this particular moment in time.
I’m not going to try to sell you on a new No. 1. We’ve already done a variety of taste tests in that department. Rory McIlroy. Luke Donald. Lee Westwood. Kaymer. A man named Vijay Singh.
None of them were really as satisfying as expected. None of them had the staying power of a redwood tree. None of them were Tiger.
It will take a long run of wins before anyone convinces us of their blinding superiority in golf. And we’re in an era of parity where a really good player, like Scott, gains superstar status by winning one major and then piling up two other wins in three years. The bar is set pretty low. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Still, the specter of Tiger leaves our expectations malingering at a higher level. Scott, your no-longer-reigning Masters champ, had a mathematical shot to get to No. 1 this week. If he skipped The Players, in fact, a quirk in the rankings would’ve lifted him past the idle Tiger. Bubba Watson, your current Masters winner, can also reach No. 1. The others are Stenson and Matt Kuchar.
Any of these gents are fine by me as the new king of the hill. They just aren’t convincing.
Bubba won that first Masters, then effectively took off the next two seasons, before returning with a new-and-improved desire and attitude. I could see him as a No. 1 but I’d like him better if he also had, say, a Players, a Colonial and a U.S. Open title on his bio.
Kuchar is a top-ten machine who had four chances to win in four successive weeks and closed like Mariano Rivera only once and won one of them. Even then, he had to hole out an unlikely bunker shot on Harbour Town’s 72nd hole. He is an excellent default No. 1.
Stenson is a fun-loving personality with a big game who seems to have celebrated last season’s rebound year a little too much. Nobody blames him for that. But No. 1 in the world? That’s like wearing a suit and tie to the golf course. It doesn’t fit.
That leaves Adam. Since he hasn’t won this year, it’s hard to get excited about him. It was even harder after his opening-round 77 at The Players, although he did rally Friday for 67.
A real No. 1 player in the world is someone with staying power, someone we could take a long-term look at and say yes, he’s definitely the best player for the next five years.
It’s probably not going to be Tiger. It’s not going to be an aging Phil. Rory? Maybe. Young Spieth? Perhaps, but he’s got a lot of winning to do first. Somebody else? Call me maybe after your next five wins.
Your next too-legit-to-quit No. 1 should be someone still relatively young, somebody with power, somebody who’s won at least one major, somebody with experience and for the media (it’s always all about us), a guy who can deliver a good quote.
When asked after that opening 63 why he’s playing well again, Kaymer quipped, “Well, I stopped thinking.”
He went on to explain how he suffered paralysis by analysis and was distracted by all the pressure that went with being No. 1.
Kaymer is 29. He has already won a PGA. He’s got an excellent grasp of English and humor, especially for it being his second language. And he is definitely not boring.
That’s good enough for me. I’m adding Kaymer to the list of potential next No. 1 candidates. As long as one of them saves us from parity soon, I don’t care which one it is.