By Ryan Ballangee, Golf Channel
Rory McIlroy is again the No. 1 player in the Official World Golf Ranking. With Luke Donald failing to finish inside the top eight at Harbour Town this week, the idle Ulsterman assumed the top spot in the world for the second time in a month.
Donald and McIlroy have traded the ranking twice since March, when McIlroy claimed the No. 1 position with a win at the Honda Classic. Week to week, the change means little - save for maybe some contractual bonuses for attaining the top spot.
If Donald is able to get out of his short-term funk – his win in Tampa aside – however, then golf may have a longtime rivalry on its hands.
When McIlroy was born in May 1989, Seve Ballesteros was atop the golf world. Back then, the ranking was barely three years old, carried little significance and was more of a marketing tool for IMG than a global measuring stick of form. Ballesteros, however, was part of a two-man race which made the label "No. 1 in the world" relevant.
The Spaniard and Greg Norman locked in a four-year battle for the top spot in the ranking. Between April 27, 1986, and Sept. 1, 1990, the two traded No. 1 nine times before Nick Faldo stepped into the mix. Four of those times – twice for each – the stay at No. 1 lasted merely a week, three lasted for a year or more and two went for five months.
In that four-year span, Seve won 15 times on the European Tour. Norman won six times on the PGA Tour and 18 times around the world, including the '86 Open Championship in the year of his “Saturday Slam.”
Their duel for supremacy will be a difficult measure for Mcilroy and Donald to equal.
Seve and Norman were one-name athletes, transcending golf into the broader consciousness. While Donald has enjoyed an incredible two-year run to the top, he lacks even the number of major close calls Norman had. McIlroy, almost a decade younger than Norman when he began the battle with Seve, is just realizing his potential.
Norman and Ballesteros were not the only names in the No. 1 conversation - though certainly they were the largest. Bernhard Langer, Sandy Lyle, Curtis Strange, Ian Woosnam and Ben Crenshaw were in the conversation, too. Faldo was gaining strength as his reworked swing with David Leadbetter paid dividends.
Perhaps this is merely a transitory period in the game, with several players all getting a turn on the game's statistical throne.
Lee Westwood isn't going anywhere. Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson may still have a reign in them. Bubba Watson could get to the top of the mountain. Martin Kaymer, Hunter Mahan, Jason Day and other 20-somethings are champing at the bit to join McIlroy in the fight to transition the game to the next generation.
If McIlroy continues to contend and win at the pace he set last year, however, this feud with Donald may more closely mirror that of Woods and David Duval in 1999. Winning 10 times in 33 starts, Duval became No. 1 for 14 weeks. Woods took the top spot back on Independence Day. Duval got it back for one final week the next month before Woods began a 264-week reign of terror over the sport.
Surely, McIlroy would prefer less jockeying for No. 1 and more time holding court.