Why do we keep obsessing about the best golfer in the world?

The Scoop

We were spoilt with Tiger. These days they're all too good and they get on too well. Mark Townsend attempts to make sense of the game's top table

For years we never had to worry ourselves with the question of who the world’s best golfer was. We had Tiger Woods and, for the best part of a decade and large chunks either side, he was the governor.

Vijay Singh might have dethroned him for short interludes but, for plenty, he was the best who had ever picked up a club let alone the cream of that current crop.

Then we had a strange limbo period where we had a variety of Europeans keeping the bed warm for Tiger before we could sleep easy again when the GOAT took over the top spot in March 2013. And for more than a year, while there were no more major wins, Woods was officially the best and that was good enough for us.

Tiger Woods

Now who’s the best? The world rankings are no longer enough as there are too many options and they’re all too good. They all win too much, they all hole key putts at key moments and, bizarrely, they’re all good friends.

For three days in China we convinced ourselves that Dustin Johnson was going back in the jar marked ‘when he’s good, he’s unbeatable’. Much like Rory in 2014.

Three WGCs all in one year? Not even Tiger, with all his dominance in these events, could boast such a feat. Look at those Protracers, look at his numbers, look at the swagger. He tried out a putter 20 minutes before teeing off and shot 63. Who does that?

Dustin Johnson P730

He plays so free and easy, he’s one of a kind. He can just throttle the life out of a course.

Then, after Sunday, we all came away muttering the same thing; he’s flaky, strange things keep happening to him to just be a coincidence, he’s his own worst enemy. While in the same breath batting this away with this banal assumption with the fact that he’s so laid back that this won’t affect him in the slightest.

Anyway, Rory’s the unofficial No. 1, isn’t he? When he’s on song and at his fluent best nobody can touch him. He’s won his majors, which is more than his nearest rivals, by bundles of shots so that equates to his best being so much better than the others?

But all that was so long ago. That was 2014. We can barely recall McIlroy bouncing around the majors injury free and deep into red figures. Why is he so slow at starting quickly? How will his putting be this week? Has he settled on his TaylorMade clubs? Who’s going to be on his bag for 2018? He’s married now, how will that change everything?

Anyway, Spieth’s the best mentally, isn’t he? Were you not watching the Open? The man was out on his arse fumbling around those hillocks and tour trucks at the 13th. You wouldn’t have fancied him to get you your each-way money back the way things were looking between 5.05 and 5.33 on that Sunday afternoon. He’s been wonky all week and now it had all come together to bite him.

Come to think of it he’s a bit of a major bottler, isn’t he? He’s said as much himself. Yes yes yes, he might have nearly done the Grand Slam by the age of 22 and won 10 times on the PGA Tour but he’s suspect in the head when it comes to closing out the big ones. And his putting’s gone a bit.

Jordan Spieth

Oh. My. God. One-putt bogey-birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie-par. He’s done Matty by three. Nobody is that strong in the head – McIlroy, Johnson, Day, Matsuyama (we haven’t even mentioned him yet), Rahm, Rose, Fowler, Garcia, Stenson, Koepka. Roll them all up into one big ball and they wouldn’t have been able to do what Spieth just did.

And then there’s Justin Thomas, the Player of the Year, and someone who, as recently as only last week, was definitely the best about after his win in the CJ Cup. Eighteen months ago we might have only known him as ‘the one who’s a bit better at golf than Smylie Kaufman’ but now look at him go.

He can’t stop winning, he’s got the major under his belt before we could even start doubting him and he’s done what none of the others have done and shot a 59 on tour. And he had a bogey on his card which somehow makes it even better.

Justin Thomas

By this time next year we might have a top three of Matsuyama-Rahm-Schauffele so why are we even bothering to try and decipher one from the other? The 2017-18 season is only a few weeks old, the last major was nearly three months ago and we’re already jumping around from one name to the other.

We’re all as relentless and insatiable as the week-in, week-out nature of the schedules. We’ve got five more weeks on the PGA Tour, seven on the European Tour to go and then we can turn our attentions Down Under where we can get an additional guide to Spieth’s form.

We all just need to decompress, take stock and try and make sense of what has just happened this year but we’re already quibbling over who should be the favourite for Augusta and who might go well at the US Open. Johnson, by the way, is the favourite for Shinnecock at 10/1. Thomas is at 28. I know!

BREAKING NEWS…BREAKING NEWS…BREAK… ‘What’s that you say? Tiger’s coming back?’

I need to go and have a lie down.

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