Rory McIlroy regains world’s No. 1 ranking

Rory McIlroy, from Northern Ireland and 4-time major champion, bumped Brooks Koepka from the world's No. 1 ranking, even though neither competed last week.

HARTFORD, Conn. – The 2020 Travelers Championship field improved this week without a shot being fired.

Rory McIlroy, the first player to commit to the tournament in October, supplanted Brooks Koepka as No. 1 in the Official World Golf Rankings despite neither playing last week. But because of slight changes to their respective OWGR calculations, McIlroy is now at the top with a 9.19-point average versus Koepka’s 9.16. It marks the first time McIlroy has held the top spot since September 2015, and his 53-month gap sets a record for longest time between a player losing and regaining the No. 1 ranking.

Koepka, the first player to commit to the 2019 Travelers Championship, had held the No. 1 spot since winning the PGA Championship in May but is now No. 2, followed by Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas and Dustin Johnson. Thomas has also committed to the $7.4 million Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell on June 25-28.

Rahm moved to No. 3 by winning the season-ending DP World Tour Championship on Sunday that netted him the overall Race to Dubai honors. It sparked a $5 million payday for the 25-year-old Spaniard and moved him up two spots in the rankings. The win was Rahm’s fourth worldwide this year and continued a rankings ascent for a player who was outside the Top 10 as recently as June. It’s his highest standing since he was No. 2 in February 2018.

Patrick Cantlay’s tie for 11th Sunday bumped him up two spots to No. 6, with Webb Simpson now seventh and Tiger Woods down two spots to No. 8. Xander Schauffele and Justin Rose round out the Top 10, while AT&T Pebble Beach winner Nick Taylor made the week’s biggest jump, vaulting from 229th to 101st with his second PGA Tour victory. Runner-up Kevin Streelman, the 2014 Travelers Championship winner, moved up 48 spots to No. 85, while Phil Mickelson went from 72nd to 55th after finishing third.

Brooks Koepka held the No. 1 Official World Golf Ranking for 38-weeks, until Rory McIlroy ended the streak.

The Top 50 in this week’s rankings qualify for next week’s World Golf Championships-Mexico Championship at Club de Golf Chapultepec in Mexico City, Mexico, and 2017 Travelers Championship winner Jordan Spieth snuck in just in time. Spieth’s chip-in par save on his 72nd hole preserved a tie for ninth, which helped him go from 55th to 49th and qualify for WGC-Mexico Championship.

Spieth closed with a 5-under-par 67, the low score in the final round played in wind that gusted to 30-40 mph when just about every element of his game was better than everyone else’s. He was first in strokes gained: tee-to-green, first in strokes gained: approach, first in strokes gained: around the green, first in strokes gained: total and first in scrambling.

Coming off a missed cut in the Waste Management Phoenix Open the previous week, there was plenty of satisfaction in the completeness of the effort.

“It was pretty solid the whole day,” said Spieth, whose last win was the 2017 British Open, which came three weeks after his victory in Cromwell. “I didn’t do anything overly special. I hit fairways like I have been. I hit greens like I have been and got a couple in there pretty close.”

Spieth was pleased with how he responded after missing birdie chances inside 10 feet at the first and second holes.

“Went to No. 3 and just knocked it right in,” Spieth said. “So I tried to kind of keep my head up, even when it looked like it could kind of get away from me.”

Spieth said it’s confirmation of what he has been working on.

“This is what I’ve been seeing,” he said.

Mickelson, the only back-to-back winner in Travelers Championship history (2001-02), got within two strokes of Taylor on Sunday but failed to sustain his charge and finished a shot behind Streelman when he missed an 8-foot birdie putt on the final hole to close with 74. At No. 55, Mickelson is on the outside looking in in his bid for a spot in the WGC-Mexico Championship and needs to crack the Top 50 after the Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles this week in order to qualify for an event he won two years ago.

“I had a lot of fun having a chance to be in contention and having a chance to win,” said Mickelson, 49, who tied for third in the Saudi Invitational the previous week. “It was fun to get back in it. And these last couple of weeks have really given me a lot of motivation and momentum to continue doing what I’ve been doing.”

Other notables who barely missed the first of two Top-50 cutoffs for the year’s first WGC event included Ian Poulter (No. 51), Collin Morikawa (No. 53) and Scottie Scheffler (No. 54). Morikawa received one of the Travelers Championship’s four sponsors’ exemptions last year and then won the Barracuda Championship a month later.

The field for the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play on March 25-29 at Austin Country Club in Austin, Texas, will be set by the world rankings 10 days prior to the event. The top 64 automatically qualify.

Featured pairings for the first two rounds of the star-studded Genesis Invitational include Woods-Thomas-Steve Stricker, Rahm-J.B. Holmes-Rose, McIlroy-Cantlay-Johnson, Koepka-Mickelson-Bubba Watson. Koepka, who won three times last season, is making his first PGA Tour start since withdrawing from THE CJ CUP @ NINE BRIDGES in October due to injury. Thomas, a two-time winner this season and the FedExCup points leader, led the Genesis Invitational by four strokes entering the final round last year but finished second to Holmes. Woods, who made his PGA Tour debut in the tournament in 1992, will make his second attempt at a record-breaking 83rd PGA Tour win, one more than Sam Snead. Stricker, winner of the 2010 Genesis Invitational, will make his 500th PGA Tour start.

McIlroy, Thomas and Watson, who will seek a record-tying fourth Travelers Championship title, are the first three players to commit to the biggest sporting event in Connecticut.

Worked as sports writer for The Hartford Courant for 38 years before retiring in 2008. His major beats at the paper were golf, the Hartford Whalers, University of Connecticut men’s and women’s basketball, Yale football, United States and World Figure Skating Championships and ski columnist. He has covered every PGA Tour stop in Connecticut since 1971, along with 30 Masters, 25 U.S. Opens, four PGA Championships, 12 Deutsche Bank Championships, 15 Westchester (N.Y.) Classics and four Ryder Cups. He has won several Golf Writers Association of America writing awards, including a first place for a feature on John Daly, and was elected to the Connecticut Golf Hall of Fame in 2009. He also worked for the Connecticut Whale hockey team for two years when they were renamed by former Hartford Whalers managing general partner Howard Baldwin, who had become the marketing director of the Hartford Wolf Pack, the top affiliate of the New York Rangers.

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