New World No. 1 Rory McIlroy returns to competition this week not only heading golf’s strongest field of the New Year but determined to unseat childhood mentor Nick Faldo.
McIlroy heads nine of the world’s top-10 teeing-up in this week’s Genesis Open near Santa Monica, California.
Included in the field is tournament host and current World No. 8 Tiger Woods with World No. 7 Webb Simpson the only player currently inside the top-10 not competing in the €8.5m event.
It is the strongest field in golf since last August when McIlroy captured the PGA Tour’s season-ending Tour Championship.
McIlroy, bizarrely without playing a shot last week, unseated American Brooks Koepka atop of the World Rankings and moving back to No. 1 for a first occasion since September, 2015.
And in returning as the game’s best, McIlroy has only to remain No. 1 for two weeks and he will overhaul Faldo and move into third place overall in the number of weeks as World No. 1.
Faldo first went to World No. 1 in September, 1990 and then regained the No. 1 for a fourth occasion in July 1992 in capturing a third Open Championship before staying on top up until the first week of February, 1994.
Faldo’s combined tally of 97-weeks atop of the Rankings is third overall behind Tiger Woods (683 weeks) while Aussie Greg Norman is a distant second with 331 weeks.
McIlroy was one of the stars of ‘The Faldo Series’, a revolutionary series of worldwide amateur events established by the six-time Major winner in 1996 for boys and girls aged 12 to 21-years.
McIlroy etched his name into ‘Faldo Series’ history winning the 2004 Under-15 final resulting in the endearing photograph of Faldo with his arm over the shoulder of a very young-looking, freckle-faced and very curly-haired 14-year old.
McIlroy then finished runner-up in the 2005 Under-16 final and won the 2006 Under-17 final when he cruised to a six-shot victory at Celtic Manor, the same year Portrush’s Stephanie Meadow won the girls title.
However, since turning pro, the relationship between McIlroy and Faldo has been tested on many an occasion including Faldo’s advice to McIlroy ahead of the 2013 Open that he should ‘concentrate solely on golf’.
“I know Nick wasn’t trying to get on my case, and he was just offering advice but I think Nick has to remember how hard this game can be,” said McIlroy at the time.
Then there was Faldo’s criticism prior to the 2015 Masters that he felt McIlroy was spending too much time in the gym.
Again, the McIlroy gloves were off in responding to Faldo.
“I think when people make judgements or criticisms without being educated on the subject that they’re criticising, like for me getting in the gym, for example, that’s my pet peeve,” said McIlroy.
“If I wasn’t in the gym, I wouldn’t be sitting here today. It’s a big part of who I am, it’s a big part of my success. That’s always I feel an unfair criticism.
“But with my game, the critics and the analysts and everyone that are out there, they’re educated about golf, so they for the most part know what they’re talking about.
“A criticism of my golf game, I take it, and I know what I need to work on and sometimes those people point out the obvious but, I would say that’s the most unfair criticism I receive, is what I do at the gym.”
Good news World Rankings-wise for Graeme McDowell who has remained at World No. 47 despite missing the cut at last week’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
GMac only needs to hang-on to a top-50 ranking until March 30th and he’ll be returning for a first time since 2016 to the Masters.
Shane Lowry has dropped one place to be the new World No. 17.
And Seamus Power has jumped 13 spots since his top-40 Pebble Beach result to be the new World No. 461st ranked golfer.