Who is the ultimate No. 1? Ranking golf's short list of top dogs

Sunday April 30th, 2017
1:25 | The Knockdown
Alan Shipnuck glides over Torrey Pines

Dustin Johnson's ascension to the top of the Official World Golf Ranking in February means that 20 men have now reached that lofty perch since the list was birthed in 1986. It's too early to say what kind of reign DJ will enjoy (although his win at the WGC-Mexico City in his first start as No. 1 portends nicely). But here's my highly subjective countdown of the game's other 19 top dogs. Note that this is only a ranking of their tenure at No. 1, not their complete careers.

19. TOM LEHMAN (TOTAL WEEKS AT NO. 1: 1)

Is it better to have reached the summit for one brief moment or to have never peaked at all? That's for philosophers, not sportswriters, to decide. Lehman's 1997 cameo is a metaphor for the parity of the post-Faldo, pre-Tiger years.

18. BERNHARD LANGER (TOTAL WEEKS AT NO. 1: 3)

Langer enjoys the distinction of being the first No. 1 when the ranking debuted, but he never made it back to the top despite a long, consistent career.

17. MARTIN KAYMER (TOTAL WEEKS AT NO. 1: 8)

Interestingly, Kaymer's brief stay at the top came more than three years before his runaway win at Pinehurst, in the 2014 U.S. Open.

16. LEE WESTWOOD (TOTAL WEEKS AT NO. 1: 22)

Westwood is one of only two No. 1s to have never won a major. His rather forgettable tenure at the top is fitting for a player who has been very good—but never quite great.

15. ERNIE ELS (TOTAL WEEKS AT NO. 1: 9)

Hard to believe that this Hall of Famer with four major championship wins was No. 1 for only nine weeks. Then again, Phil Mickelson has never once topped the charts.

14. ADAM SCOTT (TOTAL WEEKS AT NO. 1: 11)

Bonus points for Scott, because he won his first start (the 2014 Colonial) after becoming the game's biggest gun.

13. FRED COUPLES (TOTAL WEEKS AT NO. 1: 16)

Freddie didn't exactly enjoy the attention that came with being No. 1, but for a brief moment in 1992 his game was so sublime he couldn't help but get there anyway.

12. DAVID DUVAL (TOTAL WEEKS AT NO. 1: 15)

His rapid decline after winning the 2001 British Open has led many to forget how great Duval was at his best. In 1999, he spent the spring at No. 1 and became only the third player to win four times before the Masters, including a victory at the Players when the baked-out course was a monster challenge.

11. LUKE DONALD (TOTAL WEEKS AT NO. 1: 56)

Donald never managed to snag a major, but spending more than a year at the top was a monument to his tenacity, precision and superb short game.

10. JORDAN SPIETH (TOTAL WEEKS AT NO. 1: 26)

The boy king's two major championships in 2015 propelled him to the peak.

After winning two majors in 2015, Jordan Spieth was expected to have a lengthy stay as the world's top-ranked player.
Sean McCabe illustration

9. JASON DAY (TOTAL WEEKS AT NO. 1: 51)

Despite coping with assorted dings and illnesses, Day was atop the rankings for nearly all of 2016, a testament to his firepower and one of the great putting seasons in history.

8. IAN WOOSNAM (TOTAL WEEKS AT NO. 1: 50)

The wee Welshman summited the list a week before the 1991 Masters, then backed it up by taking the green jacket. Macho.

7. NICK PRICE (TOTAL WEEKS AT NO. 1: 44)

Price's double-dip wins at the 1994 British Open and PGA earned him his deserved run as golf's headliner.

6. SEVE BALLESTEROS (TOTAL WEEKS AT NO. 1: 61)

The great Spaniard enjoyed four different residencies at numero uno.

5. VIJAY SINGH (TOTAL WEEKS AT NO. 1: 32)

Bonus points to the Fijian for ending Tiger's five-year reign in an '04 showdown at the Deutsche Bank, an end to an epic year for Veej.

4. RORY MCILROY (TOTAL WEEKS AT NO. 1: 95)

Rors turns only 28 in May, but he's already been to the mountaintop on seven occasions, including 54 straight weeks beginning in August 2014.

3. NICK FALDO (TOTAL WEEKS AT NO. 1: 97)

Crumbs! Only two men have bettered his 81-week jag as the big cheese, from mid-1992 into '94.

2. GREG NORMAN (TOTAL WEEKS AT NO. 1: 331)

We so often focus on the ones that got away, but the sheer breadth of the Shark's stay at No. 1 reminds us how good he was and for how long. He made 11 different trips to the top, the first in 1986 and the last in '98.

1. TIGER WOODS (TOTAL WEEKS AT NO. 1: 683)

Just another way to quantify the most dominant golfer ever. (Jack Nicklaus deserves to be called the greatest golfer ever, which is a different distinction.) That five-year stint that Singh snapped? It wasn't even Tiger's longest—he went a record 281 weeks at No. 1 from June 2005 to October 2010. An underrated feat of Woods's career was his post-scandal return to the top for 60 weeks. That last run began in March 2013, though his body was breaking down and his personal life had been torn asunder. Oh, what might have been.

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