The 10 Best Golfers Who Have Been World Number One
The Official World Golf Rankings have been much in the news lately as a result of the people behind them refusing to award points to the men who ply their trade with LIV Golf.
The rankings were first launched in 1986 and a total of just 24 golfers have occupied that lofty position of number one. It means the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Lee Trevino and Johnny Miller were never actually given a world ranking under the modern system.
The first man to be ranked as the world’s best golfer was Bernhard Langer, who was top dog for three weeks in April 1986. Over the next few years Greg Norman and Seve Ballesteros regularly swapped places until Nick Faldo reached the top for the first time in September 1990.
Some of the men who have been crowned as the world’s best golfers will surprise you. Having taken a long look at the list, I thought that the time had come to rank the top 10.
So, here we go…
1. Tiger Woods
It will surprise nobody that Woods tops my list. He spent an incredible 281 consecutive weeks as world number one and a total of 683 weeks at the summit. To put that in perspective, it equates to him spending more than 13 YEARS as the world’s best golfer. He got there for the first time in June, 1997 and traded places with Ernie Els, Greg Norman, David Duval and Vijay Singh.
2. Seve Ballesteros
The legendary Spaniard spent a total of 61 weeks as world number one between 1986 and 1989. Ballesteros is the most naturally gifted golfer I have ever seen - bar none. What made his achievements all the more remarkable was his struggles with the driver. He was one of the longest hitters in the game but he played most of his golf from the rough. His iron play, his touch around the greens and his putting were all from a different world to the one more ordinary mortals inhabit.
3. Nick Faldo
Faldo first became world number one in September 1990 and spent a total of 97 weeks at the top between then and February 1994. During that time he traded places with Norman, Ian Woosnam and Fred Couples. Faldo figures to high on my list because he made the very most of his talent, rebuilt his swing and came back with a game that was good enough to win him six majors - and become Norman’s nemesis.
4. Rory McIlroy
McIlroy first became world number one in March 2012 and has so far spent a total of 122 weeks at the top of the rankings. His longest spell at the summit began in August 2014 and ended 54 weeks later. With all the natural talent he possess, the Northern Irishman should have won more than four majors and really should have spent longer at the top of the game. But he still has time on his side.
5. Brooks Koepka
How can you possibly ignore a man who has won five majors in six years? And yet he has only spent a total of 47 weeks at the top of the rankings. And with LIV Golf events not being awarded ranking points, there is no chance of Koepka reclaiming his spot anytime soon, even though he is the reigning US PGA champion, and also finished joint second at The Masters in 2023.
6. Greg Norman
Norman was world number one for an incredible 331 weeks. His last spell was in 1997, after which he was knocked off his perch by Woods. On the basis of the time he spent on top of the rankings many will believe that Norman should be higher on this list but he only won two majors in his entire career - a poor return for a man of his undoubted gifts.
7. Jon Rahm
The Spaniard is, of course, a work in progress but has already spent 52 weeks at the top of the rankings. He was also the world’s top-ranked amateur for 60 weeks. He has won two majors and by the time he has finished he will surely have added plenty to that list. Rahm is enjoying a sensational 2023. Won his first PGA Tour title in 2017 and has since gone on to claim a total of 11.
8. Scottie Scheffler
Scheffler and Rahm seem sure to be battling for the top spot for the foreseeable future. Scheffler’s rise has been meteoric. At the start of 2022 he was still looking for his first victory but boy has he made up for that since then, winning six times, including his first major. And he seems to contend just about every time he tees it up. To date, he has been top of the pile for a total of 37 weeks.
9. Dustin Johnson
It might surprise you to learn that only Woods and Norman have spent longer as the world’s top-ranked golfer than Johnson. He was world number one for 135 weeks, during which time he won the US Open and The Masters. DJ has won 24 times on the PGA Tour, with at least one victory every year from 2008 until 2021. His run only came to an end because he joined LIV Golf, which also scuppers any hopes he may have of returning to the summit.
10. Vijay Singh
Singh was world number one for a total of 32 weeks and makes this list because he achieved it when Tiger Woods was in his prime. The Fijian won 34 times on the PGA Tour, including three majors - The Masters (2000) and the US PGA Championship (1998, 2004). The longevity of his career was remarkable, winning 22 times after turning 40, including the second of his PGA successes.
For the record, nine Americans have topped the rankings, four Englishmen, three Australians, two Spaniards, two Germans and one each from Northern Ireland, Wales, Zimbabwe, Fiji and South Africa.
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