Rory McIlroy has no problem with the world number one ranking becoming a “hot potato” as he battles to reclaim top spot at the earliest possible opportunity in the Genesis Invitational.
While the return to competitive action of tournament host Tiger Woods has dominated the headlines at Riviera Country Club, McIlroy will be focused on replacing Scottie Scheffler at the head of the rankings.
McIlroy became number one for the ninth time by successfully defending his CJ Cup title in October, the Northern Irishman reaching the summit after an absence of more than two years courtesy of his 23rd PGA Tour title.
Victory in January’s Dubai Desert Classic helped McIlroy remain number one until Scheffler defended his WM Phoenix Open title last weekend, the American moving 0.5 points ahead of McIlroy.
However, if McIlroy wins the Genesis Invitational he will overhaul Scheffler regardless of the latter’s result, while outright third place would be good enough for McIlroy unless Scheffler finishes in the top 25 or Jon Rahm wins or is outright second.
“Yeah, of course I care about it,” McIlroy told a pre-tournament press conference. “I think it’s a really cool thing to be ranked number one in whatever you do, but I think it just goes to show the level of depth and the level of talent that’s out here.
“I literally have one average week, it wasn’t even a bad week, just an average week, and there’s always someone waiting to overtake you or to come and try to take that mantle from you. I think it’s a great thing for the game.
“I’ve got a chance to get it back this week. You know, hopefully it’s a bit of a sort of hot potato thing where me, Scottie and Jon (Rahm) sort of pass it around a little bit because it means we’re all playing great golf.”
Rahm can also become number one with a win or solo second in one of the PGA Tour’s “elevated” events, which features a prize fund of £16.7million and has attracted 19 of the world’s top 20.
Open champion Cameron Smith is the only absentee, while world number 23 Joaquin Niemann is unable to defend his title after joining Smith on the Saudi-funded LIV Golf circuit.
The elevated events are a key part of the PGA Tour’s response to the threat posed by LIV, but Woods conceded on Tuesday that they had generated “mixed emotions” as questions remain about the future format and access for lower-ranked players.
“The feedback is, I would say, similar to what Tiger said,” added McIlroy, who admitted he would be glad to focus more on his game in future after being heavily involved in off-field issues recently.
“I think that the big thing has been, is this going to be like a closed shop for the same guys every single week? And it’s not. This tour was built on meritocracy.
“This tour was built on ‘if you shoot the scores, you can move up the levels and play the biggest events’. That’s not going to be taken away.”