Tiger Woods has reclaimed the game's No. 1 ranking. Will Rory McIlroy -- or anyone else -- fight back?
OK, Rory McIlroy, to borrow an expression from your girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki's sport, the ball is in your court.
Your good bud Tiger Woods yanked the No. 1 spot in the Official World Golf Ranking from you while you were beating balls on the range and watching Caroline lose in the Sony Open to someone by the name of Garbine Muguruza.
What do you do now? Do you have what it takes to retaliate?
McIlroy, who has played only three PGA Tour events this year and one on the European Tour, returns to action this week at the Shell Houston Open in what is his last tuneup before the Masters. Woods ended his final competitive test before Augusta with a two-stroke victory in the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
But Woods did more at Bay Hill than win for a record-tying eighth time in the same PGA Tour event: He was busy sending messages. It was his second win in a row, third in five PGA Tour starts this year and sixth in his last 20 tries. Oh yeah, and the long-missing intimidation factor seems to be back. Just ask the guys who folded like a poker hand with no pairs in the final round.
This is the reply young Rory needs to respond with this week in Houston: "Yes, Tiger, I saw what you did at Bay Hill and I am not afraid, I will be ready to take you on and take back No. 1 when we get to the Masters."
If there is a concern about McIlroy, it is that he is not nasty enough to dominate the game. And if there is a concern coming out of Bay Hill, it is that we might be back to where we once were, wondering exactly who is tough enough to stand up to Woods?
At his peak, I thought Woods was the best in the game not just because of his physical skill, intelligence and mental toughness, but also because he had that unteachable ingredient that makes a great athlete truly a special athlete: He wanted to win more than anyone else. Jack Nicklaus had it. Michael Jordan. Derek Jeter.
That is not to say that others DON'T want it; it is merely that Woods wanted it MORE and that he has the skill to back up that desire.
The elements that unfolded in the two-day final round at Bay Hill indicated that the honeymoon is over for McIlroy. If young Rory is to be No. 1 again it will be against the real Woods and not a cheap, physically and emotionally damaged imitation.
And if not Rory, who? I'm not sure there is another contender for the top spot on the horizon right now. Of the 10 players who started the final round at Bay Hill within four strokes of Tiger's lead, none scored better than Woods over the closing 18 holes; and only Justin Rose, now a major-less No. 3 in the world, matched his 70.
Over the opening six holes of the final round, which include two very gettable par 5s, Woods began three under. Rose, one of three guys who started the last round two strokes behind Woods, played that stretch one over par, while of the other two, John Huh was three over and Rickie Fowler a shaky even par.