DORAL, Fla. — If Tiger Woods’ back feels well enough to look over his shoulder, he’ll see Adam Scott a lot closer on his tail than he first appeared.
The reigning Masters Tournament champion could take over the No. 1 ranking in the world from Woods this week at the WGC-Cadillac Championship at the Trumped-up Doral. All it would take is a victory by Scott coupled with a finish worse than sixth by Woods.
“I’ve said the whole time, I wouldn’t really think about it until it came to this and it’s impossible not to think about it,” Scott said. “It would be a dream come true to make it to that point, but it’s not necessarily probable, either. If you look at stats and numbers, there’s no reason why I’m just going to roll out and win this week, but there’s great motivation for me to do that.”
It was certainly not something Scott could think about as recently as last summer before the PGA Tour playoffs. Woods had won five times already last season to build up a comfortable lead in the complicated world rankings points system.
Before the Barclays Championship last August, Woods had a lead of 237.49 points over then-No. 4 Scott. His average
points that establish the ranking was almost double Scott’s average (13.87 to 7.93).
Then then Scott prevailed by a stroke to beat Woods in the Barclays, when Woods’ back spasms sent him to his knees on the 13th hole in the final round, Scott jumped to No. 2 for the first time in his career.
That proved to be the turning point in the No. 1 world ranking chase for Scott, who before going on a string of successes in Australia still believed he was a long way from catching Woods on that bucket-list pursuit. The only Australian golfer to hold the No. 1 ranking was Greg Norman, who owned it for a record 331 weeks before Woods came along to shatter his record.
“Well, I think it’s a dream more then a goal,” Scott said in November. “It’s something I told myself when I was playing up at Twin Waters (Golf Club) as a kid, or even younger in the street with a plastic ball and stuff, that I wanted to be world No. 1. And for a long time it really wasn’t attainable. I am getting close so I would like to get there, but I don’t make it a goal, because the process of getting there is winning tournaments so if I can keep winning tournaments, I can get close so you know there is no better time then now. I’ve never been closer so I have to keep pushing on.”
Scott won twice in Australia and finished second and third in two other starts to ignite a dogged pursuit of Woods. Starting with his Barclays win, Scott has gained 169.30 world rankings points while Woods has struggled to collect only 80.67. Coupled with Woods losing points from various past successes, such as his 2012 victory at Torrey Pines, the gap between No. 1 and 2 has closed to a scant 42.68 points.
The winner this week will probably earn 76 points.
“It is certainly a little bit sooner than I expected,” Scott said of the opportunity. “But, so far, it seems guys at the top of the rankings have played a fairly light schedule so no one has been really able to run away and Tiger has only played a couple of events. So he has not run away with a lot of points so far this year.
“So here we are, and it’s an incredible opportunity for me. I mean, it’s taken me a long time to get to this point. I’d love to go out and play great this week and have you guys thinking of writing stories and me thinking of being the No. 1 player in the world when I wake up next Monday. That would be amazing. So for me, it’s all upside this week.”
While Scott has been preparing at his home in the Bahamas before coming back for the Florida Swing, Woods hasn’t been able to get into any rhythm. He withdrew after 13 holes in the final round on Sunday at the Honda Classic and will not play a practice round on the completely rebuilt Blue Monster.
But Scott doesn’t believe even a wounded Woods will be a pushover regarding the top ranking he’s held for 673 weeks in his career. The top three players in the world – Woods, Scott and Henrik Stenson – will be grouped together the first two rounds.
“I think it is absolutely a good pairing with the No. 1 up for grabs,” Scott said. “I don’t know how Tiger feels about it but it’s obviously a position he’s pretty comfortable with for a long time throughout his career, and I can assure you from knowing him just a little bit, it’s a position he probably wouldn’t want to give up. So I don’t know that we’re going to be trying to play each other head-to-head because we know this field is a lot bigger than the two of us.”
Woods confirmed that the No. 1 ranking still means something to him – especially after he regained it last year after sliding as low as 58th in the world in 2011.
“It feels good, because you have to earn it,” Woods said of the ranking. “You have to win golf tournaments to get there. And you have to be pretty consistent. I have won, what, eight times in the last couple years to get back there? And that wasn’t an easy task, especially coming from outside the top 50. To be able to come back from that and get to where I’m at is something I’m very proud of. A lot of you in here have wrote me off, that I would never come back – but here I am.”