Who has been the best player on the PGA Tour so far in 2018-19? There are many ways to answer this, of course. Matt Kuchar and Xander Schauffele both have two wins. Dustin Johnson has a win against the best field. Gary Woodland has six top 10s while Justin Thomas and Jon Rahm both have five.

All of those golfers could potentially lay claim to the title, but they've all been bested by Rory McIlroy when it comes to strokes gained. As your monthly PSA (and reminder): Strokes gained is essentially just how well you performed compared to the fields you were up against. It's -- and perhaps this isn't an apples-to-apples comparison, but I think it's a good way to think about it -- analogous to the NBA's Player Efficiency Rating.

Anyway, McIlroy is first and one of just five golfers currently gaining over two strokes per round on fields he's up against. Here's a look at those five (Tiger Woods, by the way, is sixth at 1.92).

  1. Rory McIlroy: 2.65
  2. Justin Rose: 2.64
  3. Justin Thomas: 2.57
  4. Dustin Johnson: 2.54
  5. Xander Schauffele: 2.20

These are outrageous numbers, by the way. Anything over two is laugh-out-loud good, and we have four guys over 2.5!

Given that McIlroy has played four events thus far, it's actually pretty crazy the he hasn't won. In fact, two of the top three here between Thomas and McIlroy have zero wins. But they also have nine (!) top 10s in 11 starts between them with four of those coming from McIlroy in his only four starts.

Statistically speaking, McIlroy's best chance to win was last week in Mexico when he gained 3.86 strokes on the field. That would have been good enough to win each of the other two WGCs in Mexico and the three WGCs at Doral before it. Unfortunately for him, Johnson gained 5.11 (!) strokes on the field per round (third place gained 2.6 strokes).

It's become a common theme for McIlroy this season. While some of his other performances haven't warranted wins like this one maybe did, he's been lapped by unbelievable performances at the very top. That means one of three things: 1) He lacks a gear he once had or 2) He's gotten unlucky or 3) He's the most consistently great golfer in the world right now, and at some point soon a tournament is going to break his way.

"No, I'm not frustrated, because it seems like I can only do what I can do and I can only control me," said McIlroy after the WGC-Mexico Championship. "I've played well. Xander [Schauffele] went out and shot 61 in Hawaii and beat us all. [Justin Rose] and Adam [Scott] sort of separated themselves from the field at Torrey. I maybe had a little bit of a chance last Sunday in L.A. because it was so difficult. And then this week. I've played well. I've done what I've wanted to do and needed to do. 

"I think I'm 56 under par for my first four events of the year. So the game's good. It's just about staying patient, and hopefully one of these weeks it will fall my way."

It's a good (and the right) posture to have, and it seems like McIlroy's focus on the PGA Tour -- a source of much consternation at the start of 2019! -- is paying some dividends. It took him until the BMW Championship in September 2018 to notch his fourth top-five finish on the PGA Tour last season. He's done it seven months earlier this time around.

But what does it all mean, if anything? Trying to figure out McIlroy's game, trends and trajectory is maybe my favorite riddle in all of golf. He is the most interesting person wrapped around the most breathtaking skillset. His tee-to-green work this year has been astonishing. He's gaining more strokes from tee to green than all but three golfers are gaining total (even without putting included).

And yet, he's lacked a little punch when it's mattered most this year. With the door open at Riviera late, he finished 5-5 when 4-4 was within reach and would have set the clubhouse lead. When Johnson went out in even-par 35 in Mexico on Sunday, McIlroy went out in 36. He's not leading well from out in front, and he's not chasing like we've seen him do in the past. He just sort of -- and I realize how ridiculous this sounds for somebody who has four straight top fives -- exists in the top 10. Always on the front page but not truly a threat. I haven't watched a tournament so far this season and thought, "There is no chance anybody but Rory is winning this tournament."

That doesn't mean he won't win. That doesn't mean he won't win three of the next 11 or two straight majors or anything. It doesn't mean anything other than that, at least to this point, I've seen sparks but I don't think I've seen fire. Some of this is circumstantial. Some of it is just golf. But I also think some sliver of it is in his head. That's me sitting in my writing shed from 2,000 miles away trying to climb into the psyche of one of the best golfers of the last 50 years, I realize.

But as I watch him think and play and talk his way west across the country, I can't help but believe that the best thing that could happen to McIlroy right now is one of the first things that happened to him on the PGA Tour: Winning an event by eight strokes. Routing a field. Scorched earth. It would be a reminder to him of just how generationally great he really is.

Rory's greatest fight over the course of his career is not with his putter or his wedges. His greatest fight is with himself. His self-awareness and social and athletic contextualization are things that I admire as a person, but they seem to work against him on the course. The irony here is that lesser players that he's twice as good as often beat him because his brain seems to push back against the idea that he's truly the guy. This is a separate discussion from D.J. beating him last week, but the two are also linked.

The query, "Who's best is THE best" is a ridiculous (but fun!) question devoid of a true, legitimate answer. The reality is that the answer to that question we like to trot out for talk shows and Twitter commentary is 10 different players all at the same time, McIlroy among them.

And so the thing I thought as D.J. lapped Mexico City on Sunday is a thing I'm sure many other people were thinking as well (or have thought in the last year or two). It's easy to watch the two walk and talk and opine about golf in interviews and press conferences and think this very thing. It's easy to watch McIlroy talk about psychological warfare and watch D.J. talk about ... fading a fade and think it. 

Here was my thought as I watched them hurtling for a worst ball 30 on the back nine of the best field of the year, one five clear of the field, the other five clear of him: Rory is as good as DJ, I'm just not positive he believes it.