A look back at the history of World No. 1

Lee Westwood of England during the first round of the Commercialbank Qatar Masters.

Lee Westwood of England during the first round of the Commercialbank Qatar Masters.

For the 47th time, the World No. 1 ranking has changed hands.

Lee Westwood, who won the Asian Tour’s Indonesian Open on Sunday, regained the top spot in the Official World Golf Ranking when Luke Donald lost in a playoff to Brandt Snedeker at the PGA Tour’s Heritage Classic.

Just eight weeks ago, Westwood had lost the top ranking to Germany’s Martin Kaymer.

And with a 1.3-point lead over Kaymer and 2.8 points over Donald, Westwood’s return to the top could be brief.

The recent struggles of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, who have only two victories between them in the past year-and-a-half, doesn’t begin to explain the movement at the top.

In the 25-year history of the OWGR, volatility has been the norm and not the exception.

In April of 1986, Bernhard Langer was the first No. 1-ranked player when the OWGR debuted during the week of the Masters. He spent only three weeks at the top. During the next three-plus years, Seve Ballesteros and Greg Norman exchanged the top spot 10 times, sometimes holding No. 1 for just a week.

In 25 of the 47 changes at the top, the new No. 1 lasted for 10 weeks or less. In 12 of those changes at the top, the reign was only one week.

Woods’ 264 weeks (August 1999 to August 2004) and 281 weeks (June 2005 to October 2010) are the only times when a player has held the top spot for more than 100 consecutive weeks.

Only two other players have held the No. 1 ranking for more than a year: Norman, for 62 weeks in 1986-87; Norman again, for 54 weeks in 1989-90; Nick Faldo, for 81 weeks in 1992-94; and Norman again, for 96 weeks in 1995-97.

After Norman lost the top spot in April 1997, it wouldn’t be until June 1998 before any player would hold the top spot for more than 20 consecutive weeks. During that period, 11 times the top spot changed hands, starting with Tom Lehman (one week), Norman (7), Woods (1), Ernie Els (1), Norman (1), Woods (9), Norman (18), Woods (13), Els (4), Woods (1) and Els (4). Then, Woods took the spot for the next 41 weeks.

Westwood is only the eighth former No. 1 to return to the top spot.

According to agent Chubby Chandler, who responded to a text message seeking comment, Westwood is happy to be back atop the OWGR but realizes that if history is any guide, it could be a temporary reign.


History of World No. 1

  Player   Date Started   Date Ended   Total Weeks
  Bernhard Langer   4/6/86   4/20/86   3
  Seve Ballesteros   4/27/86   9/7/86   20
  Greg Norman   9/14/86   11/15/87   62
  Seve Ballesteros   11/22/87   11/29/87   1
  Greg Norman   11/29/87   10/23/88   48
  Seve Ballesteros   10/30/88   11/6/88   1
  Greg Norman   11/6/88   11/13/88   1
  Seve Ballesteros   11/13/88   3/19/09   19
  Greg Norman   3/26/89   4/2/89   1
  Seve Ballesteros   4/2/89   8/13/89   20
  Greg Norman   8/20/89   8/26/90   54
  Nick Faldo   9/2/90   10/7/90   6
  Greg Norman   10/14/90   1/27/91   16
  Nick Faldo   2/3/91   3/31/91   9
  Ian Woosnam   4/7/91   3/15/92   50
  Fred Couples   3/22/92   3/29/92   1
  Nick Faldo   3/29/92   4/5/92   1
  Fred Couples   4/5/92   7/12/92   15
  Nick Faldo   7/19/92   1/30/94   81
  Greg Norman   2/6/94   8/7/94   27
  Nick Price   8/14/94   6/11/95   44
  Greg Norman   6/18/95   4/13/97   96
  Tom Lehman   4/20/97   4/27/97   1
  Greg Norman   4/27/97   6/8/97   7
  Tiger Woods   6/15/97   6/22/97   1
  Ernie Els   6/22/97   6/29/97   1
  Greg Norman   6/29/97   7/6/97   1
  Tiger Woods   7/6/97   8/31/97   9
  Greg Norman   9/7/97   1/4/98   18
  Tiger Woods   1/11/98   4/5/98   13
  Ernie Els   4/12/98   5/3/98   4
  Tiger Woods   5/10/98   5/17/98   1
  Ernie Els   5/17/98   6/7/98   4
  Tiger Woods   6/14/98   3/21/99   41
  David Duval   3/28/99   6/27/99   14
  Tiger Woods   7/4/99   8/1/99   5
  David Duval   8/8/99   8/15/99   1
  Tiger Woods   8/15/99   8/29/04   264
  Vijay Singh   9/6/04   2/27/05   26
  Tiger Woods   3/6/05   3/13/05   2
  Vijay Singh   3/20/05   4/3/05   3
  Tiger Woods   4/10/05   5/15/05   6
  Vijay Singh   5/22/05   6/5/05   3
  Tiger Woods   6/12/05   10/24/10   281
  Lee Westwood   10/31/10   2/20/11   17
  Martin Kaymer   2/27/11   4/17/11   8
  Lee Westwood   4/24/11   N/A   N/A
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