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The World Number One Golfers Who Fell Away

By: | Thu 21 Apr 2022 | Comments


REACHING the top of the world rankings is hard enough. Even more difficult is staying there. And trickier still is keeping the ship upright when things start to go wrong.

Here, we look at some former world number ones who have tumbled down the rankings. Some have managed to keep things afloat - others appear to be in freefall.

David Duval

Current Ranking: 1,712

Duval first hit the top spot in March 1999 and spent 14 weeks at the summit before briefly recapturing it August of the same year. He won The Open at Royal Lytham in 2001 and seemed to have the world at his feet. Duval won 13 times on the PGA Tour, winning four times in both 1998 and 1999. His nadir came at the US Open in 2004, where he missed the cut after finishing 25 over par. He suffered with a series of injuries, as well as vertigo, and simply fell out of love with the sport.

Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods

Current Ranking: 757

Woods has spent longer as world number one than any other golfer. In total, he has spent 683 weeks on top of the world. He won 14 majors between 1997 and 2008 and suffered huge problems with injuries and in his personal life before his remarkable comeback victory at The Masters in 2019. He then suffered horrendous leg injuries in a car crash in 2021 before returning to action at The Masters in 2022, where he defied the odds by making the cut.

Lee Westwood

Current Ranking: 65

On October 31, 2010, Westwood replaced Tiger Woods at the head of the rankings. He was world number one for a total of 22 weeks in two spells. Like Luke Donald, Westwood has never won a major. But he has won 25 times on the DP World Tour and twice on the PGA Tour. He also has 19 top-10 finishes in the majors to his credit and is still competitive. 

Luke Donald

Luke Donald

Current Ranking: 513

Donald spent a total of 56 as the world’s top-ranked golfer before being replaced by Rory McIlroy in 2012. He is one of only two golfers to reach the top without ever winning a major - the other is fellow Englishman Lee Westwood. In truth, his record in the majors was pretty unimpressive, but he was a money-making machine on the PGA Tour, earning almost $37m in prize money alone. It all started to go wrong for him when he decided to change his swing in search of more distance.

Jason Day

Current Ranking: 124

In March 2016, Day became world number one for the third time and held on for 51 weeks. At his best, he was a brilliant ball striker and a sensational putter. He won the US PGA Championship in 2015 and has enjoyed nine top-five finishes in the majors. He has also won 12 times on the PGA Tour, but the most recent of those came in 2018. The Australian has suffered a sequence of serious injuries.

Martin Kaymer

Current Ranking: 176

In February 2011, Kaymer knocked Westwood off the summit and he remained there for eight weeks. The German won the 2010 US PGA Championship and the 2014 US Open by eight strokes. He was also a key member of the European team that won the Ryder Cup at Medinah in 2012. That US Open success was his last victory. In 2015 he led the Abu Dhabi Championship by 10 shots with 13 holes to play but then collapsed and finished third. He has never really recovered.

Adam Scott

Adam Scott

Current Ranking: 37

Scott’s reign lasted for 11 weeks, starting in May 2014. He led The Open in 2012 by four shots with three holes to play but fell apart and lost to Ernie Els. But he bounced back by claiming The Masters the following year. He has won 14 times on the PGA Tour and 11 times on the DP World Tour but has suffered on the greens.

Jordan Spieth

Current Ranking: 10

Spieth was world number one in three spells between 2015 and 2016 over a period of 26 weeks. And when he won The Open Championship at Royal Birkdale in 2017 he was knocking on the door again. But then his game fell off a cliff. By the end of 2020 his ranking had fallen to 82nd but he has since rediscovered his best form, winning the Texas Open in 2021 and the RBC Heritage in 2022.

Justin Rose

Current Ranking: 60

Rose has had five separate spells as world number one, first achieving the feat in September 2018. With 10 wins on the PGA Tour, he is the most successful English golfer ever to compete in America. He also has 11 DP World Tour wins to his name and won the US Open in 2013. But swing and equipment changes have taken their toll.


Image Credit: Kevin Diss Photography


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