With Tiger Woods poised to overtake his young pal Rory McIlroy in the world rankings, and Yani Tseng's hold on the top spot as precarious as a Pro V1 teetering on the lip, there could soon be a major upheaval among golf’s super powers.
The math is simple and stark for McIlroy, who is not scheduled to take the field again before the Shell Houston Open at the end of the month. By then, the two-time major champion may watch his Nike teammate assume first place in the men’s division, which Woods would do with a win at Bay Hill next week.
Before Woods’ wire-to-wire win at Doral last week, McIlroy held an edge of 2.69 average world ranking points over the former No. 1. Tiger will enter the Arnold Palmer Invitational less than one point behind McIlroy, who showed signs of shrugging off his early-season slump with a final-round 65 and T8 finish at the WGC-Cadillac Championship.
For Tseng, there’s more on the line this week than defending her LPGA Founders Cup title. For the first time in 109 weeks, the superstar from Taiwan could lose her top ranking to Na Yeon Choi or Stacy Lewis. Choi will climb the ladder to the top rung with a win and a fourth-place finish or worse for Tseng.
Lewis, fresh off a victory at the HSBC Women’s Champions and the reigning Player of the Year, would overthrow Tseng with a W and no better than a third-place outcome for the current leader of the pack.
Tseng, 24 and just four months older than McIlroy, has sounded a similar theme to that of her PGA Tour counterpart in talking about the pressures of retaining her top seed. Each took the golf world by storm -- Tseng winning seven times on tour in 2011 and becoming the youngest golfer ever to capture five major championships, and McIlroy with his record-smashing 2011 U.S. Open win followed last year by an equally dominating PGA Championship triumph.
Then came the equipment change and the heat McIlroy took before even swinging his new clubs in competition, followed by the rough start to his 2013 season that included a missed cut in Abu Dhabi, a first-round loss in match play, and a controversial withdrawal from the Honda Classic.
“I’ve been putting a lot of pressure on myself to perform,” McIlroy told reporters almost a week after he quit midway through his second round at PGA National. “It was a buildup of high expectations from myself coming off, you know, the back of such a great year last year, and wanting to continue that form into this year and not being able to do it.
“You know,” said McIlroy, in his 32nd consecutive week at the top, “I just sort of let it all get to me.”
Tseng, for her part, has not won since last March and has noted that her friend and mentor, Annika Sorenstam, called the top ranking the “loneliest place on earth.” With the stress of living up to other-worldly expectations weighing on her, Tseng said she hoped to focus her energies this season not on her status but on finding a way to reclaim her love of the game.
“I just want to have fun and enjoy as more as I can because I know last year I paid too much attention to world No. 1,” Tseng told reporters Tuesday at Wildfire Golf Club in Phoenix. “I feel like I tried to stay on top and tried to play well instead of getting there, instead of like just have fun and keep doing what I'm used to doing....
“I just want to play as a child,” Tseng said. “I feel like I lost that enjoyment for playing golf last year.”