Coming off an impressive second place at the Quail Hollow Championship, world number two Phil Mickelson has the historic chance of taking the number one spot in the official world golf rankings from Tiger Woods at this week’s Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass.
Woods has been sitting atop the world rankings for 258 consecutive weeks, but will be relegated into second place if Lefty wins this week and Tiger does not finish better than fifth. Phil would be the 14th player since the inception of the official world golf ranking in 1986 to occupy the number one spot. With four majors under his belt Mickelson has surpassed the other great players of his generation (Els, Goosen, Singh, Harrington) but has yet to be recognized as the No. 1 player in the world relative to the rankings.
“It would mean a lot to me”, Mickelson said. He added: “"But for me to accomplish that, I can’t focus on that. I’ve got to go out and get ready to play this golf course because it’s not an easy challenge, and for me to have a chance to achieve No. 1, I’ve got to win. So I’ve got a lot of work ahead."
With the world of golf turning most of its attention at the race for the number one spot between Tiger and Lefty, the starting position for the two stars cannot be more different: While Mickelson has finished 1st and 2nd in his last two starts on the PGA Tour, Woods struggled to a fourth place in his return to competitive golf at the US Masters (his first tournament after his infamous sex scandal) and missed the cut last week for only the sixth time in his career as a professional golfer.
Despite his poor showing at Charlotte and putting several balls into the water during today’s practice round at TPC Sawgrass, no one expects Tiger to surrender his spot without putting up a fight: "I have seen him hit shots that I don’t know if anybody else in the world could ever possibly hit," Mickelson said. "He is an incredible player and talent, and he has one of the most impressive records, if not the most impressive record, in the history of the game. I won’t ever underestimate him.
Tiger Woods has been atop the world ranking for a total of more than 10 years but has already been passed by David Duval (for 15 weeks in 1999) and Vijay Singh (for 32 weeks in 2004): "I’ve had it happen before, Double D and Vijay," Woods said. "I’ve had it happen before, and the whole idea to be No. 1 and to continue being No. 1, you have to win golf tournaments. And I haven’t done that in a while. I haven’t played in a while."
Both players are past champions at The Players Championship with Woods winning in 2001 and Mickelson in 2007 but haven’t had too many Top-10 finishes in the other years. Lefty definitively has momentum coming into the unofficial fifth major of the season and I am certain he will do better than Tiger this year. However, expecting him to win again would be too much ask, so we’ll have to wait at least until the HP Byron Nelson Championship in two weeks for a world number one Phil Mickelson.