Rory McIlroy can return to world number one with win at Genesis Invitational

Rory McIlroy can return to world number one at the earliest possible opportunity with victory in this week’s Genesis Invitational.

While the return to competitive action of tournament host Tiger Woods has dominated the headlines at Riviera Country Club, McIlroy will be focused on regaining top spot in the rankings from Masters champion Scottie Scheffler.

McIlroy became number one for the ninth time by successfully defending his CJ Cup title in October, the Northern Irishman reaching the summit after an absence of more than two years courtesy of his 23rd PGA Tour title.

Victory in January’s Dubai Desert Classic helped McIlroy remain number one until Scheffler defended his WM Phoenix Open title last weekend, the American moving 0.5 points ahead of McIlroy.

However, if McIlroy wins the Genesis Invitational he will overhaul Scheffler regardless of the latter’s result, while outright third place would be good enough for McIlroy unless Scheffler finishes in the top 25 or Jon Rahm wins or is outright second.

Rahm can also become number one with a win or solo second in one of the PGA Tour’s “elevated” events, which features a prize fund of GBP 16.7million and has attracted 19 of the world’s top 20.

Open champion Cameron Smith is the only absentee, while world number 23 Joaquin Niemann is unable to defend his title after joining Smith on the Saudi-funded LIV Golf circuit.

The elevated events are a key part of the PGA Tour’s response to the threat posed by LIV, but Woods concedes they have generated “mixed emotions” as questions remain about the future format and access for lower ranked players.

Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods (left) is back in action in the Genesis Invitational, but defending champion Joaquin Niemann (right) is absent after joining LIV Golf (Ryan Kang/AP)

“We are in the process of figuring all that out and it’s been a variety of different models, different opinions, trying to figure out what is the best product and competitive environment and what we should do going forward,” Woods said.

“Yes, limited fields, what’s the number? Cuts? Yes or no. What’s the number, what do we go to? How many players are playing the event? What is the ability to get into the designated events?

“How is Jay (Monahan, PGA Tour commissioner) able to sell our product to all the different sponsors across the board? There’s so much give and take. It’s still ongoing.

“It’s been difficult. A lot of the players have been very forthright which is great, it’s the way it should be.”