Essential Golf: A passion for the Game

Reaching the Summit: The Three Players Dominating the OWGR

Reaching the Summit: The Three Players Dominating the OWGR
© Debby Wong/ZUMA Press/Alamy)

Love or hate the Official World Golf Rankings (OWGR) —and it’s come under fire over the past year, even from one of the three players who have held the No. 1 spot—the system of ranking the world’s best players and the rewards it brings isn’t going away. 

The positives, even if few understand how the two-year revolving metrics work, is that it’s an easy answer to the question of who’s been playing the best golf. It can be head-scratching. Jon Rahm called it “laughable” in February at Dubai when winning two national opens and finishing among the top-10 in 15 starts still hadn’t elevated him to No. 1. But it’s what golf has. 

Tournaments use the rankings to fill fields. Equipment companies use them for performance bonuses. And players from any international tour among the OWGR top-50 have spots assured in all four major championships, THE PLAYERS Championship and, beginning next year, the PGA TOUR’s “Designated Events.” 

No.1 Drama

Since last fall, there has been more movement and drama about the No. 1 spot than at any time since 2018-20 when Justin Rose, Dustin Johnson, and Brooks Koepka took turns at the top over a three-year period in which the lead changed hands 11 times, none of them staying there for longer than five weeks at a time. Koepka ended that with his PGA victory in 2019, starting a 38-week stay at No. 1.

The Current Battle

But since Rory McIlroy won the CJ Cup, October 23, 2022, and returned to first in the rankings for the eighth time in his career, there has been a pitched battle between Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, and Scottie Scheffler, with the No. 1 spot swapped five times and no one holding it longer than McIlroy’s 16 weeks—six of which were during the off season. 

When the dust cleared at the 2023 PGA at Oak Hill in Rochester, N.Y., after the final round on May 21, Scheffler returned to the top, with Rahm second and McIlroy third. It marked the 18th week in a row in which the top three were some combination of McIlroy, Rahm, and Scheffler. 

It’s certainly no coincidence that each player rose to No. 1 after winning or posting a high finish in a major or one of the PGA TOUR’s “Designated Events.” Scheffler knocked McIlroy out on February 12 by winning the WM Phoenix Open. Rahm took over for the first time this season by winning the Genesis Invitational a week later. Scheffler’s dominant victory at THE PLAYERS Championship returned him to the top, then Rahm promptly countered with his Masters victory to take it back. 

Then at the PGA, Scheffler tied for second, McIlroy for seventh and Rahm for 50th. Scheffler went back to No. 1, with Rahm second and McIlroy third. 

How have Scheffler, Rahm, and McIlroy gotten to this point? 

Scottie Scheffler: Mr. Consistency

Scheffler was the PGA TOUR player of the year in 2022, his breakout season when he won the Masters to cap a stretch of four victories in six starts. 

He’s still playing at the same high level. Scheffler blew away the field at TPC Sawgrass to win THE PLAYERS after repeating at the WM Phoenix Open, tied for 10th in his Masters defense, tied for fourth in defense of his Arnold Palmer Invitational title, and was solo fourth in his defense of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. 

His runner-up finish at the PGA gave Scheffler a TOUR-leading 10 top-10 finishes in 14 starts. He’s also finished among the top-25 in every start but one and has made all 14 of his cuts. 

Scheffler has a devastating combination of driving distance and accuracy. He was 23rd on the tour in driving distance (309.5 yards) through the PGA and was 21st in driving accuracy (65.1 percent of fairways hit). That results in a none-too-surprising 74.1 percent of greens hit in regulation, which led the tour. 

Scheffler may have returned to No. 1 in the world after the PGA but as has been his stance, professed not to care. 

“It’s [the world ranking] just an algorithm,” he said. “I don’t play for world ranking. I play to come out and compete.” 

Jon Rahm: Dominant early season

There was no one playing better golf than Jon Rahm from January to April, regardless of what the rankings showed. 

Beginning with his victory at Kapalua in the Sentry Tournament of Champions, Rahm won four of eight starts and finished outside the top-10 only twice. He won his second major championship at Augusta National, passing a fading Brooks Koepka in the final round with a remarkable display of power off the tee and nerve on the greens. 

Rahm was the only four-time winner on the PGA Tour through the PGA and also led the money list with more than $14.5 million, topping Scheffler’s record year of 2022 with the summer events remaining. 

Rahm, like Scheffler, has unleased power and accuracy off the tee. Through the PGA he was 14th on the Tour in driving distance (311.5) and 72nd in driving accuracy (60.9), leading to third in greens in regulation (72.3 percent). 

His only disappointments were being forced to withdraw from THE PLAYERS after an opening 71 due to an illness and failing to contend in the PGA after an opening-round 76. 

“It’s been a great year … an amazing year,” he said in a pre-tournament news conference at Oak Hill. “It’s been a lot of fun and hopefully I can keep riding that wave.”