Rory McIlroy: Ranking the Top 5 Players Who Could Derail His Reign Atop Golf

Steve Silverman@@profootballboyFeatured ColumnistNovember 23, 2012

Rory McIlroy: Ranking the Top 5 Players Who Could Derail His Reign Atop Golf

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    Rory McIlroy is coming off a stellar season.

    He dominated the PGA tour and not only earned the most money, but also he sits atop the world golf rankings.

    McIlroy, 23, is only getting better. He's still getting stronger and with each year of experience he becomes a tougher competitor.

    However, he is a man and not a machine. While it is quite likely that he will remain in the No. 1 position for the foreseeable future, nothing is guaranteed.

    With just a slight slump, McIlroy may find himself within range of several golfers.

    Here are five golfers who have a chance to derail McIlroy if he leaves a slight opening.

Bubba Watson

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    A player who is going to be good enough to challenge McIlroy and possibly overtake him has to have swagger.

    Bubba Watson has plenty of that.

    Watson never took a golf lesson in his life. He is a grip-it-and-rip-it type, and he can hit a ball as far as anyone on tour.

    While he may be a free spirit with a pink driver, Watson can also play the game like few others.

    He had a memorable 2012 season that included a victory in the Masters. He also had two second-place finishes, seven top-10 finishes and finished in the top 25 in all 16 events which he made the cut.

    Watson won more than $4.6 million last year and he shows no signs of slowing down.

    While he does not appear to have McIlroy's consistency, Watson could get on a roll and head towards the top spot in the rankings.

Jason Dufner

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    Jason Dufner does not cut the kind of swath that McIlroy, Watson or Tiger Woods does on the tour.

    Your eyes are not drawn to him when he takes the club back. Your eyes are drawn to the number he puts on the scorecard.

    He is one of the most consistent players on the tour. He made 21 consecutive cuts in 2012, leading the tour in that category.

    Dufner had a a sensational season. He was the fourth-leading money winner with earnings of nearly $4.9 million.

    Dufner had two wins, a second-place finish and eight top-10 finishes in 2012. His victories came within three weeks of each other at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans and the Byron Nelson Classic in late-April and May.

    His confidence is growing and the competition knows that he is a formidable player.

Brandt Snedeker

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    Golf fans know that McIlroy and Woods were the top two money winners on the tour last year.

    Even casual observers of the sport probably know that statistic.

    However, the rise of Brandt Snedeker to the No. 3 position on the money-winners lists is somewhat surprising.

    Snedeker does not carry the high profile of many first-rank golfers, but like Dufner, he just goes out and plays consistently.

    Snedeker won just under $5 million on the tour last year. He won two tournaments, finished second once, third once and had seven other top-10 finishes.

    He served notice to the golf world that he was ready to join the elite when he won the TOUR Championship in the FedEx Cup playoffs by shooting a 10-under par 270.

    Snedeker had a remarkable season with his putter, ranking first on the tour in strokes gained while putting.

Luke Donald

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    Luke Donald has a chance to derail McIlroy because he has been on top before.

    Donald had a stellar 2011 season, and he was ranked as the No. 1 golfer in the world until McIlroy took that spot away from him this year.

    Donald is one of the game's best shotmakers. He is not the longest hitter on the tour, but he is so accurate that he has a chance to beat the game's best players.

    Donald won just under $6.7 million in 2011 and he followed that up with $3.5 million in earnings last year. He has won three tournaments in the past two years and he also has two second-place finishes, four third-place finishes and an eye-catching 22 top-10 finishes over that span.

    He is one of the top putters on the tour and he ranked first on the tour in successful scrambles from the rough. Donald knows how to turn a poor position around quickly, and he knows how to keep a cool head when facing trouble.

Tiger Woods

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    Tiger Woods has had more than his share of problems since he last won a major in 2008.

    He has been attempting to rebuild both his golf game and his personal life since then, and he is quite close to getting his golf game on track.

    However, close is not good enough for Woods. He finished second on the tour in money earned to McIlroy, and he won three tournaments during the 2012 season.

    However, he did not play consistently in any of the majors and had his biggest problems in the third and fourth rounds of those tournaments.

    Woods is not satisfied with winning more than $6.1 million on the tour. He wants to get back to the No. 1 spot, and he wants to pick up his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus for the most major titles.

    Woods has been stuck on 14 for four seasons, and while it once looked inevitable that he would top Nicklaus, it will take some doing to get there.

    It will also take a lot of work to get past McIlroy. While Woods' game may lack McIlroy's consistency right now, Woods is just as hungry as ever, and he will work hard to get back to the top spot he had for so many years.