By Brendan Boylan,
Somebody opined a few years ago that Monaghan midfielder Jason Hughes should’ve been Footballer of the Year. That he was playing football at all was nothing short of a miracle considering the ill health he had been enduring. Perhaps that was the point of the comment suggesting his selection. Naturally, picking the top performers at this or not – be that individually or in terms of something like the All Stars – but throwing a name like Jason’s into the equation served to call into question just how much merit lies behind the perceived pecking order.
Take the world rankings in Golf for example. Officially, the line is that Luke Donald is the best player in the world with Rory McIlroy supposedly closest in his slipstream. Current form would suggest that such a viewpoint might not, though, give a fair picture of who the top players on current form are.
Sometimes it seems form in golf is sporadic. Kyle Stanley topped the FedEx Cup standings in the US – their version of the European Tour’s Order of Merit presumably – but has done little since. As well as winning the Honda Classic – which briefly elevated him to the top of the world rankings – McIlroy enjoyed a plethora of top finishes in the early part of the season.
No matter what way one might try to dress up what has transpired in the interim, the conclusion must be that his form has nosedived. Sympathetic simplicity could say that – after another Masters disaster – Augusta just has a hex on him. But four missed cuts out of five since (at the time of typing, he’s still in action at the Irish Open) suggest that the clouds on the horizon stretch further than Georgia.
All the while, Jason Duffner was hovering up titles as quick as he would’ve gathered wedding presents. Yet, according to the official standings, McIlroy is still the second best in the world, with the in-form American – atop the FedEx standings at the moment – six spots behind him in the rankings.
Luke Donald currently occupies top spot on the planet. Like Duffner, he has won twice this term (once on the European Tour) but is seven places higher in the pecking order. You wonder, sometimes, is there a degree of a profile thing with the rankings. Not in terms of the profile you get from your ranking, but the ranking you get from your profile.
Tiger Woods might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but even the cement hearted will surely concede that his return to prominence has been good for golf, sport in general and this business in particular. His two wins, at the tournaments hosted by Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, were spectacular. Maybe it wasn’t insignificant that the two victories came where they did either.
Whether, however, his restoration has merited a rocketing back up to number four is questionable. And it adds further credence to the notion that profile has a big role to play in things. Essentially, if you don’t have the ‘name’, you’re only a number. Which hardly does justice to the likes of Duffner, or, for that matter, his compatriot Webb Simpson. He recently won the US Open – in my mind the flagship event of the season – but is a place lower than Woods.
Don’t get me wrong, I am a massive McIlroy fan. What he has achieved in his career to date has been flabbergasting. More importantly, though, on a broader scale, the effect the achievements of the golfers from this island has had on the country in general is incalculable. Sport has done similar things in the past. When last things were enveloped in doom and gloom, Euro ’88 and Italia ’90 and US ’94 came to the rescue.
With the soccer summer having come up disappointingly short, now is golf’s time to shine. It goes back to what has been said about other codes in the past, when one of your own comes to the fore, interest levels naturally ratchet up. From a position where the Irish Open was supposedly under threat on the European schedule, this year’s incarnation at Royal Portrush was a sell out. Surely that says it all.
When Rory is on form, he makes the game look ridiculously easy and has the capacity to leave viewers awestruck. Think back to how he demolished a notoriously difficult course at the US Open. Or before that at the Wells Fargo Championship when it really was, as the commentator said ‘Welcome to the big time, Rory McIlroy’!
Hope would be that being back in action close to home might spark a return to form for him. Things just wouldn’t seem right with him out of sorts at a time when Padraig Harrington and Graeme McDowell are starting to show their undoubted class and others like Alan Dunbar prove Irish golf should be in good health for a long time to come.