May 21, 2014

Will Scott still be No. 1 at Colonial finish?

Adam Scott will be introduced at the Crowne Plaza Invitational as No. 1 in the world, but Tiger Woods’ injury puts the “one” goal in play for others.

This much we know: Adam Scott will be the world’s top-ranked golfer when he competes in Thursday’s opening round at the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial.

How well Scott plays in Fort Worth will determine if he still holds that distinction after the final putt falls Sunday. Elite golfers are so tightly bunched at the top of the rankings that three players could be No. 1 when the next set of rankings are updated after this week’s professional events: Scott, Sweden’s Henrik Stenson (No. 3) or Matt Kuchar (No. 4), last year’s Colonial runner-up.

Scott and Kuchar are playing at Colonial. Stenson is competing at the BMW PGA Championship on the European Tour.

Scott, who will make his competitive debut as the world’s top-ranked golfer in Fort Worth, has waited years to be introduced with that title attached to his name. It is one of the reasons he is playing Colonial for the first time since 2011 and only the third time in his career.

“Part of coming here this week was to play as the No. 1 golfer in the world and enjoy it for a least a week. From there, we’ll see what happens,” Scott said in a Wednesday news conference. “I’m going to have to work pretty hard to stay on top. It certainly means a lot to me and my family. It’s an amazing accomplishment for me.”

Scott, 33, acknowledged that reaching the top spot in the world rankings is a goal he has pursued since he was a 12-year-old playing junior golf in Australia. But in the early stages of his professional career, Tiger Woods held a hammerlock on the top spot.

The rankings are determined by a golfer’s two-year rolling average of finishes in professional events. Because he faced such a deficit, Scott said the goal “was really off the radar for me” until Woods’ recent back surgery sidelined him indefinitely during the 2014 season.

Woods’ extended absence, combined with Scott’s on-course efforts, culminated Monday with Scott (7.99 average points) passing Woods (7.85) for the top spot while Scott was at his home in the Bahamas. To celebrate, Scott popped a bottle of Dom Perignon champagne after a Monday dinner with friends. The friends sent the cork and bottle wrapper to be cast in sterling silver and engraved.

“That’s a very nice touch and really nice of them to do that,” Scott said. “You’ve just got to enjoy the moment, I think. Adding this [tournament] to the schedule was important, I felt, for me. It’s something that you throw around when you’re 12 years old that you’ll be the best player in the world. And it’s really quite incredible to have it happen.”

Because Woods owns the record for most total weeks at No. 1 (683) and most consecutive weeks in the top spot (281), peers who once viewed the top of the rankings as unattainable are now more focused on that goal. Kuchar, 35, is one of those players.

“It’s a cool title. All of us that play here have the aspirations to be the best of the best,” said Kuchar, who could take over the top spot for the first time in his career with a Colonial victory and down-the-line finishes by Scott and Stenson. “It wasn’t long ago that the No. 1 ranking was not attainable. Tiger had such a hold on it, second was the only place you could really get to. Now, there are a number of us within striking distance, and it’s at least attainable by year-end to be the best in the world.”

But for the three golfers who surround Woods in the rankings, the top spot is up for grabs this week. Although iron-clad projections cannot be made until Thursday, when the strengths of the respective fields are finalized, analysts project Stenson (7.72) should pass Scott (7.99) if he finishes higher in Europe than Scott finishes in Fort Worth.

If Scott wins in Fort Worth, he’ll keep the top spot. If Kuchar (7.12) wins a Colonial plaid jacket, he’ll take over the top spot if Stenson and Scott finish fourth or lower in their respective events.

Jim Furyk, the No. 12 player in the world rankings, once climbed as high as No. 2 in the world when Woods held the top spot. But Furyk, 44, never concerned himself with his spot in the rankings — then or now — because of the gap between himself and No. 1.

“It would be cool to be sitting here now and say there was a week at one time in my life when I was ranked No. 1 in the world,” Furyk said. “But I’m past that. I was No. 2. But instead of being like a baby step to No. 1, it was three giant leaps, a hop, skip and a jump, and hop in the car for another mile to catch where Tiger was.”

Now, Woods is No. 2 and dropping roughly 0.2 average points each week while sidelined. That makes the top spot accessible to just about any top-10 golfer who can claim a major championship this summer. The list includes Colonial competitor Jordan Spieth (6.09 average points), who heads into Thursday’s opening round at No. 9 in the rankings.

For Spieth, 20, the top spot is not up for grabs in Fort Worth. But the opportunity is very real for Scott, who holds it, and Kuchar, who seeks it. Scott said he definitely is motivated by being No. 1 this week.

“I think you’re a fool not to use everything to your advantage. I’m definitely going to take some confidence out of this,” Scott said. “But at the end of the day, our confidence is based on our results and how we’re playing. And I know I’m playing well at the moment.”

Well enough, certainly, to be the first Colonial competitor since 1995 (Nick Price) to head into the opening round in Fort Worth as the No. 1 player in the world golf rankings.

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