Rory back at No. 1 and at Riviera; what's not to like?

© Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Art Spander

PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. — What’s not to like? Rory McIlroy asked the question, and indirectly he provided the answer. Which, of course, is “Nothing.”

Here he was back at No. 1 in the world rankings for the first time in four and a half years. Back at the tournament where in the 1920s the PGA Tour began. Back at tantalizing Riviera Country Club. And back in competition after a two-week break when play gets under way on Thursday.

Good weather, a tremendous field — Rory, Brooks Koepka, event host Tiger Woods — and a club where movie stars were members and there’s a statue of Ben Hogan, whose three wins at Riviera included the 1948 U.S. Open.

“Hogan’s Alley,” the place was nicknamed, a touch as special as the drivable, vexing, 315-yard 10th hole or the photos on the clubhouse walls of old Hollywood, Humphrey Bogart, W.C. Fields, Bing Crosby, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, who either were members or made films here.

“Riviera, the field, the fact nine of the top 10 players in the world are here on a great golf course,” said McIlroy. “Yeah, it’s got everything you need. It really, really feels like a big event.”

It’s also the last Tour event on the Hawaii-Arizona-California winter swing, although the PGA Championship will be played at San Francisco’s Harding Park in May. That’s a major. This Genesis (you’re excused if you call it the L.A. Open) has the feel of a major.

McIlroy finished fourth last year, his third in the tournament. The big drives give him an advantage, although golf at Riviera is as dependent on accuracy — stay out of the bunkers and away from the eucalyptus trees — as on length.

At age 30, with four wins in the majors — he still lacks the Masters — there isn’t much that McIlroy, the Northern Irishman, hasn’t accomplished in a sport where he first displayed his skill as a teenager.

“Everyone keeps saying congratulations,” he about overtaking Koepka and getting back to No. 1. “I said the work’s only started. Staying there is the hard part.”

The matter is consistency, of being a factor in every event entered, if not necessarily a winner. In his last three tournaments of a schedule that seems unattached either to the calendar or a continent, McIlroy in order finished third in the ZOZO championship in Japan in October, first in the HSBC in China in October and third in the Farmers Open at Torrey Pines in January

“Look,” said McIlroy of the ranking, “it’s a calculation based on how well you’ve played over the past two years. I’ve played well, and I’ve played consistently well.

“The mathematics add up that I’m the top of the list right now, and obviously I have a chance to stay there this week. But I’ve always said it’s a byproduct of doing the right things week in and week out, playing well, shooting good scores, trying to win tournaments. If I can do that, then hopefully that thing just sort of takes care of itself.”

That’s not a unique thought in any sport, baseball, basketball, tennis, golf. Concentrate on the task at hand, the pitch, the jump shot, the wedge shot, and if they’re done properly, you’ll be in good shape. Which, certainly, McIlroy is.

About the only thing missing from the resume is that Masters title, but we and he can dwell on that in another month or so.

When someone wondered if there was a rivalry with Koepka, who has four majors, McIlroy had a diplomatic and sensible response.

“Golf isn’t about the other people,” said McIlroy. “Golf is about yourself and getting the best out of what you have. If you keep doing that and you keep that mindset, everything will fall into place.”

When you’re only 30 and No. 1, you’d have to say for McIlroy where it’s fallen has been the right place. What’s not to like?

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