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Watch out Rory McIlroy: Just one week into 2023 there could be a new World No. 1

January 02, 2023

Scottie Scheffler congratulates Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland on the 18th green after McIlroy won the Tour Championship in August.

Cliff Hawkins

Rory McIlroy enters 2023 as the No. 1 player in the Official World Golf Ranking, the third time the Northern Irishman begins a calendar year in the top spot having done it previously in 2013 and 2015. But his decision not to play in this week’s PGA Tour 2023 opener, the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii, means his hold of the top spot in the new year could be very short lived.

According to early projections from OWGR Twitter guru Nosferatu, Scottie Scheffler, who is in the 39-player field at Kapalua, can overtake McIlroy with at least a top-three finish this week.

Scheffler had the opportunity to take back the World No. 1 label two times since McIlroy took it from him in October after Rory's win at the CJ Cup. Scheffler needed a second-place finish at the Houston Open in November, but posted a T-9 result. A month later, he needed a win at the Hero World Challenge in December, but came in second by two shots to Viktor Hovland. 

Seventeen of the top 20 ranked players in the world will compete this week as the PGA Tour resumes its 2022-23 season. McIlroy, along with Shane Lowry, will be playing in DP World Tour events later this month and thus delayed their return to the PGA Tour. The other missing top player is Cam Smith, the defending champion at the Sentry TOC who is ineligible to play in the event after leaving the PGA Tour to join LIV Golf in September.

A shuffle in the top of the World Ranking after Week 1 could be a precursor of some interesting movement in 2023. Last year, the World No. 1 traded hands just three times, Jon Rahm holding it from the start of the year until Scheffler took it after his win at the WGC-Dell Match Play in March, then McIlroy seizing it in October. But if it changes hands this early in 2023, it could mean that the year will give 2018 a run for its money as the most times the label was swapped around.

From Golf Digest Architecture Editor emeritus Ron Whitten: Most golf fans are familiar with Kapalua Golf Club’s Plantation Course, home of the PGA Tour's opening event each year. Located on the north shore of the Hawaiian island of Maui, the Plantation was built from open, windswept pineapple fields on the pronounced slope of a volcano and is irrigated by sprinklers pressured solely by gravity. As the first design collaboration by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, it unveiled their joint admiration for old-style courses. The blind drive on the fourth, the cut-the-corner drives on the fifth and sixth are all based on tee shots found at National Golf Links. So, too, are its punchbowl green and strings of diagonal bunkers. It's also a massive course, built on a huge scale, Coore says, to accommodate the wind and the slope and the fact that it gets mostly resort play. So it's a big course.

But what sets it apart in my mind are the little things. When I played the course years ago with Coore, it took only one hole for me to appreciate one of its subtleties. We were on the tee of the par-3 second, an OK hole but nothing riveting, nothing like the canyon-carry par-3 eighth or the ocean-backdropped par-3 11th. The second sits on a rare flat portion of the property. The green sits at a diagonal, angling left to right, and there's a string of bunkers staggering up the right side of the green. I suppose a lot of present-day architects would not have placed that forwardmost bunker on the hole, in the interests of playability for high-handicap resort golfers. But most of the old-time architects probably would have used such carry bunkers, especially in the days before irrigation, when greens were hard as a rock and every approach shot had to be bounced aboard. Another reason why studying the history of architecture might just help your score.

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In 2018, Dustin Johnson started the year at No. 1, but Justin Thomas took the title in May. Four weeks later, DJ wrestled it back, only to have Justin Rose claim it for the first time in his career that September. DJ got it back two weeks later, but then dropped it to Brooks Koepka in late October. Rose and Keopka subsequently traded it four more times, Koepka claiming it on Nov. 25 to be able to boast of being No. 1 at the end of the calendar year.