PARIS — Tiger Woods regained the world number one ranking after an absence of two and a half years in 2013, but the debate over who is currently the best golfer in the world rages on.
Woods owes his return to top spot to his wins in five tournaments, but crucially he came up short once again in the four majors, failing to end a drought that dates back to June 2008 when he won his 14th major title at the US Open.
Instead, four players shared the honors in the tournaments that are the crown jewels of golf.
Adam Scott finally smashed the Aussie jinx at the Masters, Justin Rose became the first Englishman to win the US Open in 43 years at Merion, Phil Mickelson took the British Open at his 20th attempt and Jason Dufner was a popular winner of the PGA Championship.
With his 38th birthday coming up on December 30, Woods can hardly be called a veteran just yet, but he admits that the golfing landscape around him is changing fast.
“It’s a whole different generation of guys,” he said.
“I’ve played probably more head-to-head matches against Ernie (Els) than anybody because we played around the world; and Vijay (Singh) would probably be the second and Phil (Mickelson) would probably be third.
“But along the way … I had Goose (Retief Goosen) in there and (David) Duval in there as well for a number of years.
“It’s a different crop of guys. All those guys are in their 40s and 50s. So we got a whole new crew, and I think the youngest probably being Rory (McIlroy).
“But there’s a lot of guys who are in their late 20s, early 30s that are right in their prime.”
McIlroy in fact started the year as the world number one but, after a change of golfing equipment, his year went rapidly downhill as he became distracted by business affairs and a clear loss of form.
Still there were some signs that he can put all that behind him and he has plenty of career time left to significantly add to his majors haul of two.
“Golf’s a long career and I’m 24 years old,” said McIlroy in Sydney earlier this month after overhauling Scott to win the Australian Open — his first and only tournament victory of the year.
“I get a little impatient at times and if I actually just took a step back and looked at the bigger picture, it hasn’t been too bad a year.
“It’s obviously been made a lot better with the win. You know you have to go through the lows and I’m not saying it was a low this year. It’s not like I plummeted off the face of the earth.
“I’m still sixth in the world so it’s not too bad. It’s not the level that I feel like I can play to but I feel I’m getting back there, so it’s very pleasing.”
McIlroy’s win in Sydney prevented Scott from becoming just the second player to achieve the Down Under “Grand Slam” of Australian PGA, Australian Masters and Australian Open which would have brought down the curtain splendidly on a breakthrough year for him.
Long touted as set to become a dominant figure in the game, Scott had — until April — flattered to deceive.
But all that changed at Augusta National — where he beat Angel Cabrera in a drama-filled playoff.
He nearly — once again — won the British Open three months later and many see Scott as being the next player to hold the world number one spot.
Others point to Henrik Stenson, the big Swede who started 2013 way down the rankings after a miserable last two years and wasn’t even eligible for the Masters until the week prior to the tournament.
But in a super summer, Stenson tied for third at the Scottish Open, was runner-up at the British Open, runner-up to Woods at Firestone and third in the PGA Championship.
He then won the FedEx Cup in the United States and the final event in Europe to become the first player to win the FedEx Cup and the Race to Dubai in the same season.
He was rightly named as European Tour Player of the Year.
“It just reflects the stellar year I have had. You can call it a dream season, year of my life, whatever you want. It has been an unbelievable year and I am delighted to win this award, especially as I am the first Swede to do so,” he said.
All then augurs well for 2014 with the US Open at Pinehurst, British Open at Hoylake and PGA Championship at Valhalla followed by Europe’s defence of the Ryder Cup in Scotland in late September.