SHEBOYGAN, Wis. -- There is no easy answer to the question that asks, who is the No. 1 golfer in the world? The Official World Golf Ranking says it is Rory McIlroy. McIlroy says it is open to debate.
"I mean, if you were to go by this year, you would have to say Jordan,'' he said Wednesday, referring to Jordan Spieth, who won the first two majors of the year and came close in the third. "If you go over the last two years, I would say it's probably a toss-up between Jordan and myself. That's a hard one.''
When he was pressed for an answer, McIlroy smiled and said, "I'll tell you at the end of the week.''
This week will be telling, and probably interesting, what with the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits completing a major season marked by Spieth's presence and McIlroy's absence. Spieth just missed a shot at history, falling one shot short of a playoff at the British Open. McIlroy missed St Andrews after severely injuring an ankle playing soccer with buddies.
The two are together this week and will play Thursday and Friday in a threesome with British Open champion Zach Johnson. Maybe Spieth will have an advantage because he is healthy and hungry. Maybe McIlroy will have the advantage because he is formally No. 1 and is 22 shots better in eight head-to-head rounds with Spieth.
Possibly this is a turning point in a budding rivalry. It just does not seem like a boiling point or a heated rivalry. Each is gentlemanly, likable and extremely complimentary of the other.
With regard to the mano-a-mano aspect of this championship, Spieth told reporters, "I think that's just what you guys want to see. I think he and I just want to go out there and try to win the tournament . . . I'm excited to just share a couple days with Rory, and Zach as well.''
McIlroy called Spieth's Masters and U.S. Open victories, and strong finish in the British Open, "inspirational performances . . . that's something for him to be really proud of.''
McIlroy said he watched most of the British Open while he was rehabbing. "I think it would have been great for the game of golf if Jordan had prevailed, but I think Zach was a very worthy winner.''
Golf likely will be best served if Spieth, 22, and McIlroy, 26, both play like No. 1s and are both grappling for the Wanamaker Trophy late Sunday. This week could further tell the story that the era of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson is continuing to fade. McIlroy and Spieth have won four of the past five majors.
"We live in such a world that everything is so reactionary and everything happens so quickly that a year ago, after I won this tournament, it was The Rory Era, and then Jordan wins the Masters and it's The Jordan Era,'' McIlroy said. "Eras last about six months these days instead of 20 years. It's just the way the world is.''
Word got around that world quickly about McIlroy's injury and recovery, the latter quicker than expected, under the supervision of Steve McGregor, who also works for the Knicks. Soccer is so much a part of McIlroy's world that he refuses to consider stop playing. His one concession is that he might wear ankle braces.
He did not miss golf as much as he thought he would. Watching the action from St Andrews, his favorite venue, "gave me a huge sense of perspective.
"Sometimes you forget there's a bigger, wider world out there. No matter whether you win a tournament or not, people are going to get up on Monday morning and go to work and do their daily things,'' the world's official No. 1 player said. "And honestly, not a lot of people care.''
Still, he and Spieth might give them something to talk about, or debate.