With his playoff win at the Transitions, Luke Donald has wrestled the No. 1 ranking in the world from Rory McIlroy, who held it for a mere two weeks. We knew that with the rankings being so tightly bunched that something like this was bound to happen, but so soon after the anointing of McIlroy as the heir apparent to Tiger Woods?
Even if we knew deep down that McIlroy wasn't capable of truly separating himself from the rest of the world's best players, many us do see him as perennial figure at the top of the world ranking.
He's definitely still there but so is Donald, who at 34 years old has a lot of golf left in him. So for now we should put off any grand proclamations about who is truly the best golfer in the world. Had McIlroy played this week he might have won and stayed on top of the heap, but he's not playing again until the Masters.
This was Donald's last chance before he goes on a two week break before Augusta to shore up his confidence for a concerted effort in 2012 to win his first major. The Transitions was his fifth PGA Tour win, but it must have also been a big morale booster after he had been seemingly cast aside for the more youthful exuberance of the 22-year-old from Holywood, Northern Ireland.
McIlroy's stay at No. 1 was only for two weeks, but enough for Donald to be reminded of the fleeting judgments and short attention spans of golf fans and the media.
In the end, Donald's win at the Transitions was a game changer for sure, but it was mostly a reminder that No. 1 in the world isn't what it used to be and that 2012 promises to continue to deliver exciting and dramatic surprises on a weekly basis.
In the final round at the Transitions Championship, Ernie Els missed a 4-foot putt at the 18th hole that would have gotten him into a playoff. A win would have earned him an invitation to the Masters. The 42-year-old South African hasn't missed a Masters since Bernhard Langer won his second Green Jacket there in 1993.
Through 70 holes it looked as if Els would earn his 19th trip to the hallowed grounds of Augusta National, but he made bogey on the 17th hole after hitting a block-slice 4-iron off the tee into the woods. Suddenly Els' bogey gave five other players a share of the lead at 13 under par. Then Els' short miss at the 72nd hole would seal his fate, leaving the door open for Luke Donald to win in a four-way playoff.
Els says he will play the next two weeks at Bay Hill and Houston to try to get into the Masters. But should he have to work this hard to make the field at Augusta?
The Masters has the smallest field of all the majors. Last year's 99 players was the largest field at the tournament since 1996 and the fourth biggest in the 75-year history of the event. But the Augusta National leadership didn't see it as a sign of progress. To them a small field is in keeping with the spirit of Bobby Jones' vision of the tournament as a very intimate gathering of the best players in the world.
Billy Payne, the club's chairman, called the number "borderline" and dangerously close to unmanageable.
"We have an issue with daylight obviously right now," said Fred Ridley, the chairman of the tournament's competition committee. "Our pace of play is 4 hours and 38 minutes, but we all know from past observations that it's longer than that.
"So we don't have a lot of daylight after that last group finishes. We are pretty close to the maximum."
So Els, one of the best players of his generation, doesn't get into the biggest tournament in the world because the organizers don't want to start play on both the 1st and 10th tee, which is common at most PGA Tour events for the first two rounds.
Over the years, the Masters has tinkered with many of its time-honored rituals. In the early 1980s, it lifted the ban on non-Augusta National caddies. Before the boom in golf interests with the emergence of Tiger Woods in the late '90s, there was very little TV coverage of the course's front nine. Heck, up until 1975 no African-American had ever been invited to play in the tournament.
The tournament's mystique doesn't rest on its exclusivity or some of its antiquated rules. None of the changes that have been made through the years have lessened interests in the tournament.
Changes through the years in the major league baseball playoff system and the NCAA basketball tournament have only increased interests in those sports.
The Masters deserves a full field of the top 140 players in the world. Ninety-nine or 100 players will never be enough to fully serve this grand of a stage. Els might win in the next couple of weeks or get inside the top 50 in the world before the deadline of March 25. That would be good for the tournament.
In the end it's just another useful reminder of just how hard it is to get into the Masters and why a change is needed.
Before his quarterfinal match against Rory McIlory at the WGC-Accenture Match Play, most people didn't know much about Sang-Moon Bae, a 25-year-old South Korean with 11 international wins. McIlroy knew who he was because Bae had beaten him to win the 2009 Korea Open.
Bae had only recently gotten his PGA Tour card in December at Q-school, and now he was facing down McIlroy as the Northern Irishman tried to get to No. 1 in the world. Bae would lose 3 and 2 to McIlroy, but it gave most of us our first real look at his game.
On Sunday at the Transitions Championship, Bae made it into the playoff with Luke Donald, Robert Garrigus and Jim Furyk. Bae had started the final round one shot back of the overnight leader, Furyk, and on a day when the leaders couldn't run off with the tournament, a 3-under par 69 was good enough to get him into playoff.
Donald might have won the tournament, but Bae might have been the biggest surprise to emerge out of the clutter at the top of the leaderboard. He made key par saves on the inward nine to stay in the chase. He's not simply destined to join K.J. Choi and Y.E. Yang as the best players from South Korea. His star will also shine alongside the top twenty-something players in the game.
Footing the bill
Not long ago I heard a good story about Miguel Angel Jimenez. He is on the treadmill in the Doral fitness center a few years ago during the WGC-Cadillac Championship. He goes through his workout and as soon as he steps off the treadmill he reaches down into his duffle bag for one of his big cigars, which he casually puts into his mouth before walking out the door.
With his long red hair in a ponytail, cigar and a swing all his own, the 48-year-old 18-time European Tour winner has always walked to the beat of his own drum. If his English were better, Americans might know more of his wit and charm and refined tastes in wine and food. Yet what we do know is that his elegant game continues to produce results uncommon for a man of his advanced years. In 2010, he won three times in playoffs on the European Tour.
Now we learn that Jimenez has been a savior for a tournament in his native Spain. As the tournament promoter of the Andalucía Open, the four-time Ryder Cupper has reportedly contributed $560,000 of his own money over the past three years to keep alive the struggling European Tour event in southern Spain. For the man nicknamed "The Mechanic" for his love of fast cars, pouring money into an event beaten by a bad economy hasn't been good business, but it makes sense to him on a broader level.
"To me, it is very important to give something back to golf because golf has given me everything in my life," the Malaga native said earlier this week. "So I want to ensure the golfers have somewhere to play and it's important for me they play here in Andalucía."
On Sunday, Jimenez had a lackluster 1-under-par 71 to finish in a tie for seventh in the sixth playing of the Andalucía Open at the Aloha Golf Course. He was trying to become the oldest European Tour winner.
But instead, Julian Quesne, a 31-year-old Frenchman, shot a final-round 64 to get his first tour win. Quesne earned roughly $220,000 of the $1.3 million purse, one of the smallest on the European Tour.
Still, Jimenez is a hero to his tour and to the Andalucía region. The late Seve Ballesteros, who Jimenez assisted when he was European Ryder Cup team captain in 1997 at Valderrama, would be proud of the work that his protégé has done in the game.
In a few weeks at Augusta, Jimenez will try to join Seve and Jose Maria Olazabal as the only Spaniards to win the Green Jacket. Augusta National might now be too long for him to contend for four days, but he won't back away from a challenge. It's that same resolve that will keep him fighting for the survival of the Andalucía Open long past any sponsor's recognition of its value.
Transitions Optical ended its four-year sponsorship of the Transitions Championship with Luke Donald's dramatic win on Sunday. The Copperheads, the organization that run the tournament at the Innisbrook Resort outside of Tampa, hosted potential title sponsors at the event this week.
Right now the Transitions is the only tournament on the PGA Tour schedule without a title sponsor for 2013. If the tournament can't find a sponsor, the PGA Tour could underwrite it in the near future or it could go away all together.
It would be a shame to lose such a popular event in this golf-rich part of southern Florida. The players will miss the demanding but fair Copperhead course, which has year after year produced quality winners and strong, bunched leaderboards.
The Snake Pit -- Copperhead's 16th, 17th and 18th -- are among the toughest trio of finishing holes on tour. Bogeys at one or more of the holes on Sunday kept Ken Duke and Ernie Els out of the playoff.
Hopefully, the Copperheads and the PGA Tour will soon be able to lure a new long-term sponsor, especially after the phenomenal success of this year's tournament.
Farrell Evans covers golf for ESPN and can be contacted at email@example.com.