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Analyzing the head-to-head battles between Rahm-McIlroy-Scheffler over the past year: The winner might surprise you

March 08, 2023
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Rory McIlroy posted eight top-10 finishes to Jon Rahm's five in the 12 tournaments in which they both competed over the last year.

Warren Little

Quibble if you’d like about the legitimacy of the Official World Golf Ranking and whether it needs a few tweaks or to be blown up and rebuilt from the ground up. This much is true: In this calendar year, the OWGR has offered the black-and-white evidence of what has been a fantastic battle at the top of the golf world between three players: Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy and Scottie Scheffler.

Each has occupied the No. 1 spot at some point. On the strength of three worldwide wins and four other top-four finishes in a stretch of seven starts, McIlroy held the top position at the start of 2023 and maintained it for the first five weeks. Then Scheffler captured the WM Phoenix Open for the second straight year and rose to No. 1. And only a week later, Rahm finally—some would say belatedly—ascended to the peak after capturing the Genesis Invitational—his third victory in five PGA Tour starts and fifth worldwide in the last nine. He was still there entering this week’s Players Championship.

While the label “hottest golfer on the planet” may be overused, it applied to all of these guys in such a brief span that it’s arguably made this one of the greatest displays of top star power at the start of any season.

And it also fuels the fun debate: Who’s the best performer among these three? And how do you measure that?

Golf Digest’s Jamie Kennedy tackled the task of trying to quantify it and came up with some fascinating comparisons, not the least of which is how the trio has fared head-to-head when all three played in the same week. That doesn’t happen all that often, though we’re seeing more of it this year and will do so in the future with the tour’s new slate of “designated” events.

For now, Kennedy tabulated the last year of results, from the 2022 Players Championship to last week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational. There were 12 events in which all three played: the four majors, FedEx Cup Playoffs, CJ Cup in South Carolina and the three bigger events this year­—Phoenix Open, Genesis and Arnold Palmer.

And who came out best when the world’s best played? The answer is …

McIlroy.

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The Northern Irishman posted a 14-8-2 record against Rahm and Scheffler when considering where they all placed each week. Scheffler was second with a 12-10-2 mark, and then Rahm’s number might shock you—he was 7-15-2 against his biggest rivals.

How could that be, considering Rahm’s current standing? The Spaniard has said it himself, and it’s true: He did not play well on the biggest stages last year, especially in the majors. Rahm’s best finish in the Big Four was a tie for 12th in the U.S. Open, and he was outside the top 30 in the PGA Championship and Open Championship. McIlroy, meantime, earned top-eights in all of the majors, including a second in the Masters. Scheffler won his first major at Augusta and was second in the U.S. Open.

McIlroy also put a strong cap on his year with back-to-back wins in the Tour Championship and CJ Cup. Since then, however, Rahm and Scheffler had bettered him in their meetings—each winning once—until Rory rallied at Bay Hill last week by finishing second.

A few other observations in Kennedy’s research: All three averaged an impressive 69-plus for their scores in the tournaments, with McIlroy being best at 69.04. He also had the top average placing of 16.3, compared to Rahm at 20.9 and Scheffler at 24.0. The worst score any of them shot over a combined total of 138 rounds was 76—twice by Rahm at last week’s Palmer and once by Scheffler, in the final round of last year’s Players. The lowest score was a 62 scored by Rahm in the CJ Cup, where he was fourth in McIlroy’s victory.

Rahm can certainly contend that he’s owned 2023 thus far, with three wins to Scheffler’s one and McIlroy’s zero. And Rahm won two tournaments in which McIlroy didn’t compete—Sentry Tournament of Champions and The American Express.

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Scottie Scheffler celebrates his 2023 WM Phoenix Open win.

Ben Jared

If we go head-to-head again for the calendar year, it’s Scheffler who comes out on top of the trio with a 4-2 record. Rahm is 3-3 and McIlroy is 2-4.

Of course, the best part of all of this is that we have months left in the season and all of the majors to be played. If this is the preview, we’re in for one hell of a summer.