The Sports Xchange's PGA Tour rankings are selected by TSX Golf Staff, based on play in the 2011 and 2012 seasons, with more emphasis on recent results.
1. Luke Donald, England -- Needing to finish no worse than eighth in the RBC Heritage or lose his No. 1 spot in the World Golf Rankings, Donald struggled to a tie for 37th and relinquished the top spot again to Rory McIlroy. When the Englishman gave up the No. 1 position after 40 weeks earlier this season on the week McIlroy won the Honda Classic, it took Donald only two weeks to get it back with his own victory in the Transitions Championship. ... That same scenario could be in play again. Donald is going to take a week off before making his second appearance in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans. He teed it up for the first time at the TPC Louisiana last year and posted a tie for eighth, one of his 14 top-10 finishes in 2011, which led the PGA Tour. He is off to a slow start in that department with only two top-10s this year, but one of them was a playoff victory in the Transitions, his fifth victory on the U.S. circuit. ... Luke couldn't come close to the top-three finishes he had at Harbour Town in each of the last three years, although he did bounce back from an opening round of 4-over-par 75 to make the cut right on the number when he played his best golf of the week with a 69. But he couldn't get anything going on the weekend, finishing with rounds of 71-71. His normally reliable putter was AWOL when he needed 32 putts in that ugly first round, and he could not climb back into the hunt even though he averaged 27.7 the rest of the way.
2. Rory McIlroy, Northern Ireland -- Following his weekend nightmare in the Masters, the next Anointed One flew off to Copenhagen to be with his girlfriend, tennis star Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark, as she lost in the final in her defense of the $220,000 e-Boks Open. Even without playing, he regained the No. 1 spot in the World Golf Rankings when Luke Donald tied for 37th in the RBC Heritage. McIlroy probably didn't feel as bad as he did leaving Augusta National last year, when he shot 4-over-par 80 in the final round after sleeping on a four-hole lead after 54 holes, but not by much. This time he was in the hunt after 36 holes before shooting 77-76 on the weekend to finish in a tie for 40th, right there with Tiger Woods, the other tournament favorite. ... Rory bounced back last year to win the U.S. Open by eight strokes at Congressional two months after his Sunday collapse at Augusta, and it will be interesting to see if he has the same resilience this time. He will play next in two weeks at the Wells Fargo Championship, in which he missed the cut as defending champion last year before finishing fifth in the Memorial ahead of his tour de force in the second major of the year. ... Perhaps surprisingly, McIlroy took some hits in the Irish media for the way he moped around Augusta National in the last two rounds once it became clear he was out of the running. One writer suggested he should take a page from Phil Mickelson and Padraig Harrington, and Woods can also be included in that list, because they keep battling and never mail it in once their games start going sideways.
3. Phil Mickelson, United States -- It wasn't exactly akin to Lefty's errant tee shot on the 18th hole of the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot, which led to a double bogey that cost him our national championship. But the stories about him after he tied for third in the Masters centered around his thought process on the par-3 fourth hole in the final round, when his tee shot hit a grandstand railing and ricocheted into the bushes. Mickelson, a natural right-hander who is a southpaw only on the golf course, flipped his wedge around and tried to hack the ball out, twice, en route to a triple-bogey 6 and wound up losing by two strokes. ... The consensus of the second-guessers in the media was that Mickelson should have gone back to the tee and tried to salvage a bogey or double bogey, but things never seem to be that simple for Phil the Thrill. After holing out at No. 4, he threw his Callaway ball into the woods, from where it was retrieved Carl Morton, who lives near Augusta and was working on the CBS telecast. Morton wasn't looking to sell the ball; he said he is a golf fan and simply wanted it as a souvenir. ... Mickelson is expected to take three weeks off before playing in the Wells Fargo Championship, where he will continue the quest for his two biggest remaining career goals. Even though he did not earn his fourth Green Jacket, he proved he still is a threat to capture the career Grand Slam, needing victories in the U.S. Open and the Open Championship. And he is 10 PGA Tour victories short of 50.
4. Bubba Watson, United States -- Bubba began life as a major champion the day after winning the Masters by rising early and posting this message on Twitter: "Up early can't sleep, don't want to miss any part of being a dad & going to get a new cell phone number! It's crazy how people get ur number." Watson and his wife recently adopted a one-year-old boy, Caleb, who stayed at home with Mom during the Masters at the house they have rented in Isleworth, near Orlando, Fla. A day later, Bubba flew off to do all the talks shows in New York. ... Watson told reporters after donning the Green Jacket that he still did not know how to change a diaper, but he performed the task three times in his first day home. He won't play again until he defends his title next week in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans. That was the last time he won on the PGA Tour before the Masters, but he has not finished out of the top 20 in eight events on the circuit this season, including four finishes in the top 10. Last season was a career-year for Bubba, who also captured the Farmers Insurance Open and was one of seven two-time winners on the PGA Tour for the season. This year figures to get be even better. ... Watson rose to a career-high No. 4 in the World Golf Rankings as the Americans try to break up the European domination of the standings, with each group now holding five of the top 10 positions. Bubba received Twitter congratulations from the likes of Michael Vick, Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood, Oscar de la Hoya, Jason Gore, Dana Jacobsen of ESPN and Piers Morgan of CNN.
5. Lee Westwood, England -- There were times on the weekend at Augusta National that it appeared Westwood might be the one wearing the Green Jacket on Sunday night, but he fell two strokes short in the Masters and left knowing exactly what he must do to claim his first major championship. He put the blame directly on his putter, always the weakest club in his bag, after averaging 32.0 putts per round and missing several makeable putts, including a two-footer for par on No. 3 on Sunday. It's not as if he's not working hard on the practice green, but evidently he can't carry over his best stroke to the course under major-championship pressure. ... Westwood has flown to Jakarta this week to defend his title in the Indonesian Masters, one of four victories he claimed around the world last year. The Englishman, playing on his 38th birthday, shot 3-under-par 69 in the final round to beat Thongchai Jaidee of Thailand by three strokes. Westy took over the No. 1 spot in the World Golf Rankings that day when Luke Donald lost to Brandt Snedeker in a playoff at the Heritage but has fallen back to No. 3. ... Last year, Westwood was not a member of the PGA Tour, but he regained his membership at the beginning of this year and will return to the circuit in two weeks for the Wells Fargo Championship, one week before playing in the Players Championship, which he skipped in 2011. Even though he has played often on the U.S. tour since 1997, his only victories came in the 1998 Freeport-McDermott Classic and the 2010 St. Jude Classic.
6. Steve Stricker, United States -- Stricker has shown that he can still win on the PGA Tour at the age of 45 even though that first major championship continues to elude him and might never come. After posting three top-10 finishes in his first four outings this season, including a victory in the season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions, he has struggled in his last two events, tying for 36th in the Shell Houston Open and tying for 47th in the Masters, his worst result of the season. ... Strick has taken ample time off, as he always does throughout the season, but expect his game to heat up with the weather. He will be playing next week in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans and will stay busy in order to get his game sharp for the Players Championship and the U.S. Open at the Olympic Club, where he tied for fifth when our national championship was held there last, in 1998. He also will defend his title at the Memorial, before the U.S. Open, and the John Deere Classic, ahead of the Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St. Annes. ... Stricker dropped one spot in the World Golf Rankings after his disappointing finish in the Masters but remains in a solid position at No. 6. He has not complained of the shoulder and neck pain that caused weakness in his right arm late last year. He has rebuilt the strength through a conditioning program, so perhaps he is simply going through a slight dry spell and can be expected to return to form.
7. Hunter Mahan, United States -- Even though he went in the wrong direction on Sunday in the Masters when he had a chance to earn the Green Jacket, this is still shaping up as a career year for Mahan, who has captured the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship and the Shell Houston Open. He also claimed two titles in 2010, the Waste Management Phoenix Open and the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, and since he seems to be playing the best golf of his career, there could be more to come this year. ... Mahan apparently is taking three weeks off before teeing it up again at the Wells Fargo Championship, even passing on the Valero Texas Open (which he hasn't played since 2006) at TPC San Antonio this week even though he lives in the Lone Star State. Hunter threw out the ceremonial first pitch at a Texas Rangers game, wearing No. 24 and his name on the back of the jersey they gave him, at the Ballpark in Arlington one night after the Masters ended. For the record, his pitch was low and outside. He posted a picture of himself on Twitter and also one of Japanese phenom Yu Darvish's first pitch in the majors against the Seattle Mariners. ... Bubba Watson and Phil Mickelson knocked Mahan out of the top spot in the U.S. Ryder Cup standings with their performances in the Masters, but at No. 3 he still is a virtual lock to make the team for the matches in September at Medinah. He would love to make amends for losing the pivotal match to Graeme McDowell two years ago at Celtic Manor in Wales.
8. Justin Rose, England -- It's been exactly the type of start that Rose was looking for in a Ryder Cup year -- he has three finishes in the top 10 and five in the top 25 on the PGA Tour, including his fourth career victory on the circuit in the WGC-Cadillac Championship. Those results have him sitting pretty on the two lists that give automatic berths to players on the European team; he is third on the World List and fourth on the Euro List. The latter comes on the strength of his Cadillac victory and a tie for eighth in the Masters, tournaments that are sanctioned by both major tours. ... Rose knows he can't let up, given that he controversially was left off the Euro team two years ago for the matches at Celtic Manor in Wales despite his victories in the AT&T National and the Memorial. He did not qualify on either of the point tables and Colin Montgomerie somehow did not make him a Captain's Pick, which at this stage might be a plus because Rose feels as if he has much to prove. ... Rose, who outpolled Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods and Luke Donald, all four of them winners on the Florida Swing, to earn the PGA Tour Player of the Month Award for March, will play next week in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans. Zurich is one of his sponsors, and last week Rose posted a note on Twitter that he was participating in the company's Cradles to Crayons program, which benefits children in the Greater Philadelphia area.
9. Bill Haas, United States -- Haas has struggled since winning the Northern Trust Open in a playoff with Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley, and that continued last week when he shot 74-74--148 and missed the cut by four strokes in the RBC Heritage. It was the first time he has failed to reach the weekend since the Wyndham Championship last August, ending a string of 13 straight. Since winning at Riviera, he has finished out of the top 25 in five consecutive tournaments. ... Haas is expected to take two weeks off in an effort to regroup before returning to play in the Wells Fargo Championship, having posted his best finish in the tournament when he finished alone in fourth place last season. He will be playing at Quail Hollow for the eighth consecutive year and the ninth time overall. ... Haas played his best golf last week at stingy Harbour Town when he posted a 1-under-par 35 while finishing on the front nine in round one after putting himself in an early hole with three bogeys and a double bogey to post a 39 on the front. It got worse when he played the first four holes of round two in 4-over, carding two bogeys and another double to virtually end his chances of making the cut. His biggest problem was iron play as he hit only 17 of 36 greens in regulation. After finishing the Northern Trust with three consecutive rounds in the 60s, Haas has failed to break 70 in 13 of his last 14 rounds.
10. Tiger Woods, United States -- In a span of four days, the stories in the media went from Tiger is back to more Tiger is finished. After the worst Masters of his career as a professional, the real story probably is somewhere in between. With all the players stepping up from golf's new generation, Bubba Watson being the latest, it's pretty likely that Woods never will dominate the way he once did. But his victory in the Arnold Palmer Invitational proved that he has something left, and even while tying for 40th in the Masters, he was grinding to the end with far less than his best -- he holed a 15-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole. ... As if Woods didn't have enough people rooting against him, he added to the list when he drop-kicked his 9-iron after he hit into a greenside bunker on the par-3 16th hole in the second round. He later issued something of an apology but was roasted in the media, and rightly so. As Curtis Strange pointed out, this was not Bay Hill, but Augusta, and Paul Azinger took to Twitter to take a few shots at Woods. The great Bobby Jones had some of the same anger-management issues early in his career and worked them out, but it appears that might never happen with Tiger. ... Woods ended the speculation as to where he might play next when he committed to the Wells Fargo Championship, a tournament he won in 2007, in two weeks. He also committed to the Players Championship. TPC Sawgrass is where he limped off after nine holes last year because of left leg injuries and didn't play for nearly three months.
11. Keegan Bradley, United States -- Before the Masters, the PGA champion had a funny line he could use at any time -- he would say that he had never failed to win a major he had entered. He used that in the media tent to get a few laughs early in the week, but it wasn't so funny when he wound up in a tie for 27th in the first major of the year. But not to worry, because Bradley has the game to win even more majors, and he'll start ramping up his game for the U.S. Open at the Olympic Club in June when he plays next week in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans. ... Bradley's tie for 27th at Augusta National was the first time he finished outside the top 25 in his 10 events this season, including three results in the top 10. That shows that his victory in the final major of the season in 2011 was no fluke. He played badly only when he shot 5-over-par 77 in the second round, and he simply did not have his best stuff until he closed with a 69. Hey, there's a reason no first-timer has won the Masters since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979. ... Bradley's dad, Mark, is the pro at Jackson Hole Golf and Tennis Club in Wyoming, but he was unable to watch his son claim the PGA Championship last August in person at Atlanta Athletic Club because of job obligations. However, the proud papa walked every step with Keegan in Georgia this time and even got a chance to play a practice round on the hallowed ground several weeks earlier.
12. Matt Kuchar, United States -- Coming off his tie for third in the Masters, Kooch played solid golf for most of the week in the RBC Heritage before he hit the wall on Sunday and closed with a 6-over-par 77 that dropped him to a tie for 44th. That cost him a chance for his fifth consecutive top-10 finish and sixth in a row in the top 25. He still has not finished in the top 20 in his nine appearances on Hilton Head Island. ... Even though he has not had much success in the Valero Texas Open, Kuchar is going to play in the tournament this week for the eighth time but the first at TPC San Antonio. He missed the cut in five of his seven appearances at La Cantera although he did finish in a tie for second there in 2001. He posted four rounds in the 60s that year, including a 7-under-par 64 in the third round, before finishing two strokes behind champion Justin Leonard. ... After opening with a 72 at Harbour Town last week, Kuchar played the middle rounds in 69-69 and had a chance to record his 25th finish in the top 10 in the last three seasons. However, he did not have a thing in the final round, when he drove into the water and took a double-bogey five on the fourth hole before carding five consecutive bogeys through No. 11, and seven in all, en route to his highest score of the year by two strokes. Kuchar hit only half the greens in regulation on Sunday while taking 33 putts after averaging 27.6 in the first three rounds.
13. Dustin Johnson, United States -- DJ has been resting his ailing back, which knocked him out of the Masters before it started, and was asked by a Twitter follower last week when he might return to the PGA Tour. "I can't say for sure but hopefully soon!!" was the answer. He might be shooting for the Wells Fargo Championship in two weeks because Quail Hollow is not that far from his home in Myrtle Beach, S.C., and he has played in the event three times in the last four years. ... David Winkle, Johnson's agent at Hambric Sports Management, said his client first had back pain in January when he withdrew from the Humana Challenge, and Johnson played through minor discomfort the next six weeks before it worsened. He also was planning to play in the Arnold Palmer Invitational two weeks before the Masters but also withdrew from what was planned to be his final tuneup for the first major of the year. Johnson has been undergoing therapy and taking anti-inflammatory medicine in addition to simply resting. When he returned to the course after right knee surgery in November, he rode in a cart and didn't start walking until the week of the Humana, which reportedly led to the injury. ... After his slow start, Johnson's game picked up steam when he tied for fifth in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, tied for fourth in the Northern Trust Open and tied for ninth in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. Then he tied for 35th in the WGC-Cadillac Championship almost midway through March and has not played since.
14. Charl Schwartzel, South Africa -- Bouncing back from a tie for 50th in defense of his Masters title, then a 30-hour flight, Schwartzel had only one bad round while finishing solo sixth in the Maybank Malaysian Open. He took the lead with an 8-under-par 64 before stumbling to a 75 in round two and eventually finished six strokes behind the winner, his friend and traveling companion, Louis Oosthuizen. ... There are no new events posted on the schedule page at charlschwartzel.com, but last year after playing in Malaysia the week after the Masters, Charl went home to South Africa for a break and did not return until the Players Championship. He has played 10 times already this season, including six tournaments on the PGA Tour, so it appears he will follow that same schedule, returning to the U.S. tour for the so-called Fifth Major in three weeks. ... Schwartzel was red-hot right out of the box last week in Kuala Lumpur, recording eight birdies in his first 14 holes before making his only bogey of the first day at No. 15. He carded only two bogeys the next day and could not gain ground on Oosthuizen while playing the last two rounds in 70-68. After taking only 24 putts in round one, he faltered with the flat stick, averaging 31.3 over the last three rounds. That wasted some pretty good ball-striking -- he ranked among the leaders by hitting 56 of 72 greens in regulation. The putting stroke that took him to the Masters title has let Schwartzel down at times this season, on both tours.
15. Mark Wilson, United States -- Wilson, who has won three times in the last two years on the PGA Tour, seemed headed for his fourth missed cut of the season and second in succession after missing the weekend in the Masters. But he rallied to make the weekend right on the number at 73-72--145 in the RBC Heritage before playing the weekend in 68-71 to wind up in a tie for 24th. His third-round score broke a string of 15 consecutive rounds in which he failed to break 70, quite a turnabout from early in the year, when he captured the Humana Challenge and tied for third in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. ... The 37-year-old Wilson has played in 12 tournaments already this season on the PGA Tour, and the schedule at markwilsongolf.com indicates he is going to take what for him in a long break, two weeks, before he tees it up in the Wells Fargo Championship for the seventh time. He's hoping to have better luck this time, having missed the cut in three of his previous six appearances at Quail Hollow. ... Wilson seemed to be headed for an early exit at Harbour Town before he hit his second shot on the second hole, from 240 yards, to within two feet for a tap-in eagle before adding a birdie on No. 5 for a strong finish on the front nine to make the cut.
Then he made his only bogey of the day on No. 3 in the third round but could not keep it up on Sunday. He hit barely half the greens in regulation but kept himself going by averaging 27.0 putts per round.
16. Brandt Snedeker, United States -- Snedeker started the final round of the RBC Heritage with an outside shot at his second victory of the season and still seemed to have his fourth top-10 finish of the season well in hand when he started the back nine. However, he made bogeys at Nos. 10 and 11 before carding double bogeys at Nos. 17 and 18 en route to a 40 on the back nine to close with a 4-over-par 75. That dropped him 12 spots on the scoreboard to a tie for 17th. ... Sneds will not play in the Valero Texas Open this week even though he finished solo fourth in his appearance at TPC San Antonio last year when the tournament was played the week after the Masters. It appears that he also might pass on the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, where he has missed the cut in all four of his appearances, including last year, but he could return in two weeks for the Wells Fargo Championship, a week ahead of the Players Championship. ... Coming off a tie for 19th in the Masters, Snedeker opened with a 71 at Harbour Town and then moved up the leaderboard by going 67-69 through the middle rounds. His second round could have been even better as he carded six birdies on the front nine, the last five in a row through No. 9. However, he did not make another the rest of the day and carded two bogeys coming home. That was the story of his week -- he made 11 of his 15 birdies on the front and played the first nine holes in 7-under and the back in 5-over.
17. Adam Scott, Australia -- When he left Augusta National, Scott tried to put the best spin on his week, calling his tie for eighth "a backdoor top-10" after he closed with a 6-under-par 66, but he clearly was disappointed after entering the week with high expectations coming off a tie for second last year. He knew exactly where to place the blame: on the long putter that performed so well for him a year earlier. Good or bad, it's always about the putter for one of the better ball-strikers in the world. ... Scott said if you live with regrets in golf you will continue to struggle, so he plans to put it behind him quickly and simply get back to work. For him that means practice because he is not scheduled to play again until the Ballantines Championship next week in South Korea, and he won't play again on the PGA Tour until the Players Championship at the beginning of next month. He's even skipping this week's Valero Texas Open, which he captured in 2010 for one of his eight PGA Tour victories. The Aussie has played only four events on the U.S. tour this season, the fewest among the top players in the game, but that will pick up with the big summer events approaching. ... Scott was excited to pick up Mercedes Benz as a sponsor this year because he is something of a car freak. He joined Bernhard Langer as a brand ambassador for Mercedes and recently filmed his first commercial for the company, which he said will be on television soon.
18. Webb Simpson, United States -- Even though he has not yet played as well as he did later in his breakthrough season a year ago, Simpson is right about where he was at this time in 2011 despite a disappointing tie for 52nd in the RBC Heritage. He has three top-10 finishes this season on the PGA Tour compared to two at the same time last year. ... Simpson will take at least one week off and is expected to play in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans the following week for the fourth consecutive year although he had not committed as of last week. He lost to Bubba Watson last year in a playoff at TPC Louisiana, but he might have walked off with the trophy in regulation. Webb was assessed a one-stroke penalty when the wind moved his ball as he addressed it on the 15th green in the final round. That, and several other similar incidents in recent years, caused the USGA and the R&A to change the rule this season -- no penalty is added when an outside force moves the ball. Simpson took off from there, finishing second on the money last and in the FedEx Cup standings. ... Simpson couldn't break 70 in any round last week at Harbour Town and has not recorded a round in the 60s in his last 11 tries, or since he shot 6-under-par 66 in round two of the Arnold Palmer Invitational. His best chance came when he carded only one bogey in a third-round 70, but he had sand trouble en route to double bogeys on the third and 15th holes.
19. Jason Day, Australia -- Having been denied a chance to make another run at the Green Jacket because a tendon injury to his left foot and ankle forced him to withdraw from the Masters after seven holes of round two, Day hopes to return to the PGA Tour before the Players Championship at the beginning of next month. The Australian Associated Press reported that he would take at least two weeks off before returning, which means he could be hoping to come back for the Wells Fargo Championship, the week before the Players at TPC Sawgrass. ... Day, who was in the top 10 in the World Golf Rankings earlier this season after a tie for second in the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters on the European Tour, was down to No. 16 last week. He badly wanted to play at Augusta National, where he tied for second last year. He underwent extensive treatment and even took painkillers to get to the first tee Thursday after sustaining the injury in training a week earlier. ... Down the road, the tournament Day really has his eye on is the U.S. Open at the Olympic Club because he finished solo second in the tournament last year at Congressional and seems to be a major player at the age of 24. After posting 10 finishes in the top 10 last season on the PGA Tour, he was off to a bit of a slow start with a tie for 62nd in the Northern Trust Open before finishing in the top 20 of his last three tournaments before the Masters.
20. Nick Watney, United States -- Even though he closed with a 5-over-par 77 in the Masters, the good news for Watney was that hard work he has been putting in with instructor Butch Harmon showed when he played solid golf in the first three rounds at Augusta National, which will expose any flaws. He hopes to be back in form when he plays next week in the Zurich Classic at New Orleans, where he claimed the first of his four PGA Tour victories in 2007. ... Coming off a season in which he captured the WGC-Cadillac Championship and the AT&T National to become one of seven two-time winners on the PGA Tour for the year, Watney has only one finish in the top 10 and three in the top 25 in nine outings this season. One positive is that he has made the cut in all nine of his stroke-play events, stretching his streak to playing on the weekend to 16 tournaments. His best golf of the season came when he tied for ninth in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, knocking off British Open champion Darren Clarke and Tiger Woods before losing in round three to Lee Westwood. ... Watney's struggles seemingly came out of nowhere. He finished 68-68 to tie for 12th in the season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions before opening his next event, the Farmers Insurance Open, with scores of 69-68. However, he has not put together consecutive scores in the 60s since and has failed to break 70 in any of his last six rounds, since he opened the Arnold Palmer Invitational with a 4-under-par 68. He's too good for that to continue much longer.
Others receiving consideration: Graeme McDowell, Northern Ireland; Ian Poulter, England; Louis Oosthuizen, South Africa; Geoff Ogilvy, Australia; Martin Laird, Scotland; Gary Woodland, United States; Zach Johnson, United States; Johnson Wagner, United States; Kyle Stanley, United States; Aaron Baddeley, Australia; Ben Crane, United States; K.J. Choi, South Korea; Robert Garrigus, United States; Ernie Els, South Africa; Jim Furyk, United States; Kevin Na, United States; Carl Pettersson, Sweden.