Lee Westwood won in Indonesia to regain the No. 1 world ranking on his 38th birthday last weekend, but he had help from Brandt Snedeker, who beat third-ranked Luke Donald on the third hole of sudden death. While Donald may be more deserving — he is No. 1 in the latest SI golf poll — Westwood, who last year took the top spot from Tiger Woods and held it for 17 weeks, now replaces Martin Kaymer (eight weeks).
Snedeker, ranked 66th before his Hilton Head heroics, is now 38th.
Got that? Good. Because it could all change as early as Sunday, the last day of this week's Zurich Classic of New Orleans (Donald is in the field), and the Ballantine's Championship in Korea (Westwood).
It used to be so simple. Tiger was No. 1 in the polls; Phil was No. 1 in your heart. Or something like that. Now Woods, having slipped to sixth in the world, is dealing with another injury to his left knee and Achilles, and Phil is still as much of a question mark as ever. Westwood is No. 1 without having won a major, and Donald was almost No. 1 without having won a major. No one is No. 1; everyone is No. 1; the only real No. 1 is the LPGA's Yani Tseng.
She and eight others in the Rolex Ranking top 10 will play this week's Avnet LPGA Classic at the Crossings Course at RTJ Golf Trail at Magnolia Grove. It will mark the first LPGA action since Stacy Lewis beat Tseng by three at the Kraft Nabisco Championship nearly a month ago, and the first start of 2011 for 16-year-old sponsor's exemption Alexis Thompson.
But back to the men — doesn't anybody want to be head of the class in the post-Tiger era? Or is the game's new parity not a function of desire?
"A lot of people have a chance to be No. 1 right now," Donald said after coming up short at Hilton Head. "I think it's a fun time in golf. Obviously Tiger dominated for a number of years and no one was close to him. But now it's a little bit more of a race and just a little added thing to the side that's kind of fun for the spectators."
Donald, who leads the PGA Tour money list with over $2.75 million in earnings already this year, will play New Orleans alongside Ryder Cup teammate Graeme McDowell, Steve Stricker, Nick Watney (the 2007 Zurich winner), Snedeker, Bubba Watson and Rickie Fowler.
Westwood, who in Indonesia prevailed over one of the weakest fields of the year on any tour, will be joined by Dustin Johnson (who is having a surprisingly quiet year so far), Ernie Els, Ian Poulter and Y.E. Yang at the Ballantine's, which moves to Blackstone G.C. in Incheon, near Seoul.
Then again, maybe neither Donald nor Westwood is the true No. 1. Maybe it's Nicolas Colsaerts of Belgium, who won last week's China Open by four strokes with a record 24 under par. Okay, maybe not. And maybe No. 1 is more of a media creation than anything else.
"You want to be in that top 50 in the world, kind of a magic number, gets you in all the events," Snedeker said from New Orleans on Tuesday. "But at the end of the day, we all play to get — my year is successful if I get to the FedEx Championship in Atlanta. That's where I want to get every year. That's how I base my year on. World Ranking is great, it's a great number to have and it's cool to say you're the 38th best player in the world or whatever it is, but it also means nothing if you're not winning golf tournaments and playing good. I just didn't want to be the guy that got Luke to No. 1, more than anything else. That was a big motivating factor."
Tiger's golf buddy tries Nationwide tour
John Smoltz was 19 and in Class A ball when he took up golf. He got better fast, thanks to his role as part of a golf-mad Atlanta Braves pitching rotation. This week, Smoltz, 43, will play in the Nationwide tour's South Georgia Classic at 7,781-yard Kinderlou Forest Golf Club in Valdosta. It will be the first crack at a PGA Tour-sanctioned event for the former big-league star, who has entertained notions of playing on the Champions tour. Of the nine former professional athletes who have played in a Nationwide event, none has come within five shots of making the cut.
Tiger Woods says Smoltz might be different.
"I had not played with an amateur that had ever shot the scores he shot," Woods said recently. "I mean, he is a hell of an athlete. He can play basketball. Obviously he was an incredible pitcher. But I think just the way he's able to take that same tenacity into golf is pretty amazing. I've gone out there and played with him and he shot, what, 69-67 in the same day."
In his first tournament as a professional, the Georgia Open last summer, Smoltz shot 76-72-69-70 to tie for 29th place. He made a hole-in-one in the last round. No matter how well he does this week, Smoltz isn't about to join the tour full time. He calls baseball games as an analyst for TBS and the MLB network, and plans to play in just one more regulation stroke-play event in 2011, the Georgia Open.
Kinderlou is the longest course on the Nationwide and PGA Tour schedules in 2011. Former University of Georgia standout and two-time heart transplant recipient Erik Compton also will play in Valdosta. Compton has made four cuts in four starts on the PGA Tour, and has finished T4, T19 and T4 (last week's Fresh Express Classic) on the Nationwide.
Although the South Georgia Classic was originally scheduled to be on Golf Channel, it was announced last month that it won't be televised.
Troy Merritt, who finished third in New Orleans a year ago and later won the $1 million Kodak Challenge, missed the cut in six of his first seven starts this year and has made just $45,647. The good news: He's made two cuts in a row. … Michael Campbell, the 2005 U.S. Open and HSBC World Match Play champion whose game disappeared shortly after he enjoyed his best season, has made three straight cuts on the European tour. … The Champions tour is dark this week but people are still buzzing about John Cook shooting 65 mostly by himself in the first round of last week's Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf. Joey Sindelar, Cook's partner, hurt his back and played just four holes, but Cook's heroics left them just three off the first-round lead. Sindelar called the performance so extraordinary as to be almost unbelievable. The Cook/Sindelar team eventually withdrew because of the injury. … CBS golf analyst Ian Baker-Finch teamed with Joe Ozaki to tie for third at the Legends. … Jim Furyk is raising money for Children's Miracle Network Hospitals, and fans can join him (miraclebirdies.com) by pledging a minimum of 10 cents for every birdie he makes. … Justin Rose and his wife, Kate, will join Zurich CEO Martin Senn on Wednesday to announce the "Blessings in a Backpack" program, which helps feed elementary school kids whose families qualify for the federal free and reduced meal program. … Jerry Kelly, the 2009 Zurich champion, said he plans to "tear it up" at Big Easy restaurants this week, sampling Emeril Lagasse and Paul Prudhomme creations, among other delicacies. Kelly is believed to hold the PGA Tour record for number of Drago's grilled oysters eaten in one sitting: 52.