For the first time in several years, the No. 1 team in the world rankings, no matter what you use for a measuring stick, is not Kevin Martin's or Glenn Howard's.
With his victory last week at the World Curling Tour's Cactus Pheasant Classic, Mike McEwen of Winnipeg has taken over top spot on both the Order of Merit
and the money list
The Order of Merit top spot had been occupied for the past several years by the most consistently successful teams on tour because the ranking is cumulative, taking into account the past two years. You don't reach No. 1 on that list by accident.
In addition to this success, McEwen is also the defending champion
at the opening Grand Slam
event of the season, this week's GP Car & Home World Cup of Curling
, being in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.
McEwen has had a stellar start to the season, reaching the final in all four events he's entered on tour and winning three of those finals against Martin, Kevin Koe and Randy Ferbey.
McEwen is, in my opinion, the favourite to win the World Cup tournament. But as the first major gets underway, the question is can he continue to prove that he's the No. 1 skip in the world? We'll begin to find out when he takes the ice Wednesday night against fellow Winnipegger Rob Fowler.
Here's what to watch for from the rest of the field:Ferbey returns
One of the biggest stories this year is the re-emergence of Team Ferbey. After his ill-fated experiment with Brad Gushue last year, Randy has David Nedohin once again throwing last rock for him. David was the greatest clutch shot maker in the world for their team's incredible stretch of success from 2000 through 2006, and they continued together as teammates through the Olympic trials in Edmonton in 2009. After a year off, David and Randy have reunited and rank seventh on the money list this year, and have moved up to 12th on the Order of Merit. Interestingly, the only team with more Order of Merit points this season is Mike McEwen's.Martin refocuses
We can't preview a Grand Slam event without mentioning Kevin Martin. The 2010 Olympic champion has returned with a new focus and energy after a self described "off year" in which he still was the leading money winner on tour and finished the season ranked No. 1 on the Order of Merit. Kevin and his team have won one event so far, defeating McEwen in the West Coast Curling Classic in Vancouver, but have only played three events. Kevin always seems to bring his best to the Grand Slams, so I expect him to be a factor this weekend. He currently sits third on the money list and second on the Order of Merit.Stoughton, Gushue in the mix
Other skips to follow include Jeff Stoughton, who is coming off his world championship win
last April. Stoughton has had a relatively slow start with two quarter-final appearances and a semi in three events so far this year. Stoughton is ranked third on the Order of Merit but sits way down in 16th spot on the money list.
Brad Gushue has had a decent start to the season, although sporadic. His team won the Swiss Cup in Basel earlier this season, but have also failed to qualify in one event and have lost in the quarter-finals in their other two. They currently sit fifth on the money list, but have slipped down to 15th on the Order of Merit.
The two other skips in the top five on the Order of Merit have similar stories. Glenn Howard, ranked fourth, and Kevin Koe, ranked fifth, are both coming into the season with new thirds who bring a ton of experience with them on the World Curling Tour.
Howard, Koe add big-name thirds
Wayne Middaugh, who in his own right has been the best second and the best skip in the world at one time or another, will try to transfer his skills to playing third
for Howard. I see no reason why this team will have any growing pains at all, as they have already had success. Last year, they won the Canada Cup when Middaugh spared for longtime Howard third Richard Hart. Success this season has been fleeting, however. This team sits 18th on the money list, with only one semifinal appearance and three quarter-final appearances in four events.
Pat Simmons, who has skipped Saskatchewan at five Briers, including last year's, has made the move west to join Kevin Koe after the retirement of Blake McDonald. This team is beginning to find its stride with a quarter-final, semifinal, and final appearance in their past three events. In all three events, Mike McEwen was the skip to knock them out of the bonspiel.
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