Tiger Woods is setting his sights on reaching the pinnacle of the men’s game once again.
Woods was No. 1 in the world for a total of 623 weeks, off and on, from 1998 to 2010 (mostly on). A total of 623 weeks is an astonishing length of time, longer than some PGA Tour careers.
And this week, he has a chance to get back to the top.
As Tiger said today at Bay Hill,
To get back to No. 1, I’ve got to win his week. As far as getting back to No.1 and all that entails, it’s not easy to get there in the first place. I don’t think people really realize how hard it is to become No. 1 in the word. But then to sustain it for a number of years is not easy as well.
Woods became No. 1 the first week of July in 1997. He took over from Nick Faldo and then lost it to Greg Norman on Sept. 7 of that same season. Norman finished out the year as world No. 1, but the first week of 1998, Tiger Woods reclaimed the top spot. He held it until after the Masters, when the mantle passed to Ernie Els.
LPGA former-No. 1 Yani Tseng recently said it’s tough and lonely to be No. 1. Yet it’s a coveted spot, “You feel, I wouldn't say lonely is the word, but you're exposed.”
Ernie Els said about his time at the top, “People look at you and you're kind of the leader of the pack. In a way, you have to act accordingly. You have to show that you're No. 1 in your game. You've got to perform.”
After Woods lost his No. 1 ranking the first time, he got it back after the British Open in 1998.
The next person to knock him off was David Duval. That happened after Duval won The Players in 1999.
“It is nice to be now ranked No. 1, but it is not—I guess I can—you all may believe me now, now that I have gotten there, I can tell you this: It is not a concern of mine,” Duval insisted.
Anyone who has had any dealings with Duval will affirm what he said is the truth.
The world ranking was, however, a concern of Vijay Singh’s.
Singh had a 2004 for the record books with nine victories in that season. He finally knocked Woods off the top perch on Sept. 12. For a change, Singh had a lot to say about being No. 1, particularly when he was at Augusta the next spring.
Once I reached No. 1 last year, I thought, wow, this is it. But a week later, two weeks later, I won. The good thing about that all was I won straight away two other tournaments. It changed the whole outlook. You know, I kind of increased my lead and I said, well, let's see how long I can keep this.
After having the top spot for a while, his thinking shifted.
The focus started to be different, you know. When you want to go out and play a golf tournament, you always start thinking, hey, if I play badly I'm going to lose my No. 1 spot. “That kind of took away the focus of what my principle was to go out there and win golf tournaments.
Once Woods reacquired the No. 1 status from Singh in April of 2005, it seemed he was cemented to it. He held it in his grasp for five-and-a half-years until Lee Westwood took advantage of the combination of Woods’ injury and absences from play.
Westwood’s consistency pushed him to the top. Westwood explained after having the title on his shoulders for a while,
Obviously with being No. 1 there is a lot more responsibility. You have a lot more things to do, media commitments and things like that. People want a lot more of your time it becomes a bit difficult to cram everything in and leave time for practicing golf and doing what got to you where you are. That's the toughest part of it.
After winning the PGA and the Match Play, Martin Kaymer took a turn at No. 1 for an eight-week stretch in the winter of 2010. Kaymer said,
To be become No. 1 in the world, if you are an American player or English player, or Spanish, wherever you are from, it's probably a little bit easier than being a German, because we had only Bernhard Langer who was one of the best players in the world.
Kaymer said he was unaccustomed to the demands and pressure of the top spot, even though he was already a major champion.
I got invited to a lot of events, and some it's nice to do, but some you don't want to do, because it's overwhelming a little bit. After a few months, you realize, there is a reason why you became No. 1 in the world, not because you were sitting in the studios talking about how good you are and those things. There was a reason, because you were on the driving range.”
He said he, like other No. 1's, had to learn how to say no.
“If I become No. 1 in the world again one day, then I know what's going on, and I know how to approach it.”
Kaymer returned the title to Westwood.
Westwood was at the throttle until Luke Donald beat him in a playoff at the BMW PGA in May of 2011.
Donald ascended to No. 1.
When I won the Match Play in 2011, I suddenly jumped from 7 or 8 to 3 in the world. At that point, then you start thinking, wow, I've only got a couple of spots to go, I can get there, and then it became a focus. It made me have a different goal to attain. It was something that I probably had not thought about before.”
Donald had opportunities to catch Westwood sooner than Maybut tired and fell back. Donald recalled,
I lost to Brandt (Snedeker) in a playoff at Hilton Head which would have got me to No. 1, and there was another situation where I just narrowly missed out. But I finally did it by winning at Wentworth in the BMW, beating Lee Westwood in a playoff, and, you know, no greater feeling than knowing that your best golf is good enough to get to No. 1 in the sport. To say you're No. 1 in the world is a pretty amazing feeling, and I enjoyed being there.
Rory McIlroy, currently No. 1, and Donald enjoyed a couple of weeks tugging back and forth at No 1, until it was finally ceded to McIlroy.
With McIlroy out of action this week, the question everyone is asking is are Tiger Woods’ batteries recharged after winning the WGC at Doral to take the Arnold Palmer Invitational title and the World Ranking away from Rory McIlroy?
Els said about getting and being No. 1,
There's a lot of guys out there that want to be wherever you are. You have to out‑work them, you have to out‑play them. I think that you've got to be the No. 1 player. With that, you know, there comes a lot of work and with that is a lot of stress put on your shoulders. So you're a guy walking around with a lot more pressure than the guy that's 50th in the world, I can promise you.
Tiger Woods knows just what he means.
“I fell to 50+ there for a while,” he said. “To gradually work my way back, that’s something I’m proud of. I’ve got five wins in the last couple of years, and that’s something as I said, I’m very proud of.”
Woods faces a tough golf course this week and a strong field that includes 21 of the top 30 players in the world. For certain, the Tiger Woods who held the world’s top golfer spot for 623 weeks knows what’s required.
“I’ve always known how hard it is to spend the time out there,” Woods said about the effort. “To work, to lift all the weights, and do all the training and spend the time and devotion that it takes to get there. It’s not easy.”
Woods, the person, already knows what it means to wear the heavy mantle of world No. 1. By the end of the week, we will all know whether Wood’s golf game is ready for it. He may play brilliantly. He may make big mistakes, but for certain, there’s no chance Woods is backing down from the challenge.
Who Has Held No. 1 Ranking?
Rory McIlroy is now in his 32nd week of a fourth spell and his 39th week in total, as World No. 1. The other players who have had official World No. 1 status in the 24-year history of the ranking are Bernard Langer (three weeks), Seve Ballesteros (61 weeks), Greg Norman (331 weeks), Nick Faldo (97 weeks), Ian Woosnam (50 weeks), Fred Couples (16 weeks), Nick Price (44 weeks), Tom Lehman (one week), Ernie Els (nine weeks), David Duval (15 weeks), Vijay Singh (32 weeks), Tiger Woods (623 weeks), Martin Kaymer (eight weeks), Lee Westwood (22 weeks), Luke Donald (56 weeks). Source: Official World Golf Rankings
Kathy Bissell is a golf writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand or from official interview materials from the USGA, PGA Tour or PGA of America.