Why Golf Needs Tiger Woods at No. 1

Steve Silverman@@profootballboyFeatured ColumnistMarch 22, 2013

ORLANDO, FL - MARCH 22:  Tiger Woods of the United States plays his second shot at the par 4, 1st hole during the second round of the 2013 Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by Mastercard at Bay Hill Golf and Country Club on March 22, 2013 in Orlando, Florida.  (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)
David Cannon/Getty Images

Tiger Woods walks with the game's all-time great players.

He belongs in golf's all-time foursome. For my money, that means he plays his round with Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan and Jack Nicklaus.

Nothing against Sam Snead and Arnold Palmer, but Woods is in the all-time foursome, and he doesn't have to tee off last. Nicklaus has the honors, followed by the seething Hogan, followed by Woods and then Jones.

Woods has risen back to the No. 2 position in the Official World Golf Rankings behind Rory McIlroy, and he can reclaim the top spot if he can win at Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill Classic this weekend.

There's nothing wrong with a Woods-McIlroy rivalry. In fact, it's great for the game of golf.

McIlroy, 23, appears to have all the characteristics needed to be a legendary champion himself. Perhaps not in the first rank listed above but a solid Hall of Famer nevertheless.

But while McIlroy was the best golfer in the world in 2012 when he won his second major championship, he's not an all-time great yet.

He is off to a halting start in 2013, and that's what often happens to young golfers, even the phenoms.

So he may want to hunt down Woods, but he's not at a comparable point in his career. In his heart of hearts, McIlroy knows he's got a long way to go to chase down Woods in major championships and overall victories.

Woods was struggling with health and off-the-course problems for quite a while, but he came back to form in 2012 when he won three PGA tournaments. He has shown that last year's showing was no fluke by winning two tournaments early in the 2013 season.

You can see that Woods is all the way back by the way he is attacking with his driver, his accuracy with his irons and his putting skills. Woods has the kind of all-around game that most of his competition only wishes they had.

But more than the tangible skills, Woods has that swagger back again. Look at him march down the fairway. He wants the next shot. He doesn't care if he has a difficult lie or a challenging approach shot. He wants the shot that other golfers fear. Woods has supreme confidence.

Many of his critics will not say that Woods is back until he can win a major for the first time since the 2008 U.S. Open when he survived a playoff with Rocco Mediate, despite competing with a knee that would be under a surgeon's care within a matter of days.

Woods looked shaky in the major tournaments last year, failing to take success in the first two rounds and sustain it in the final two rounds. Playing well on Saturday and Sunday in the major championships is essential for those who want to be considered the best in the world, so Woods does have to assert himself once again.

If he can, he will truly be back, and he will have earned himself the top spot in golf. McIlroy will then be shooting for him and so will Luke Donald, Justin Rose, Bubba Watson, Phil Mickelson and Brandt Snedeker.

That's the best scenario for golf. Others may challenge from time to time, but it's best when Woods has the top ranking, and the rest of the golf world is shooting for him.