Ranking the Most Lackluster World No. 1s in Golf History

Ben Alberstadt@benalberstadtFeatured ColumnistMay 21, 2014

Ranking the Most Lackluster World No. 1s in Golf History

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    There have been 17 No. 1s in the nearly 20-year history of the the Official World Golf Ranking. Not all of the 17 players have had the distinguished career of, say, Tiger Woods or Greg Norman, who have collectively occupied more than 1,000 weeks at the top of the OWGR.

    Adam Scott knocked Tiger Woods off his perch this week after his most recent 60-week stint as the top-ranked golfer in the world. 

    Who will Scott be hoping he fares better than? Read on to find out.

7. Fred Couples

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    World No. 1 Tenure:

    • March 22, 1992-March 28, 1992
    • April 5, 1992-July 18, 1992

    Career Notes: Fred Couples won the 1992 Masters and two additional times that year. In 1991, Boom Boom notched two wins and recorded a total of four top-10 finishes for the season. Couples won once in 1993 and once again in 1994. Over the 10 succeeding years, he won another four times. 

    In 608 starts on the PGA Tour, Fred Couples has made 489 cuts and recorded 162 top-10 finishes, including 15 wins. He's grossed more than $22 million on the golf course since turning pro in 1980.

    Why He's Here: One major victory and roughly three months on top of the Official World Golf Ranking earn Fred Couples his spot on this list behind a pair of non-major winners. His superior tour win total makes him vastly less lackluster as well.

6. Luke Donald

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    World No. 1 Tenure:

    • March 18, 2012-April 14, 2012
    • April 29, 2012-May 5, 2012
    • May 27, 2012-August 11, 2012

    Career Notes: Luke Donald spent a total of 56 weeks atop the Official World Golf Ranking during 2012. He won twice in 2011 and recorded an incredible 14 top-10s in 19 starts. His pace slowed a bit in 2012. Still, Donald won the Transitions Championship and recorded eight top-10 finishes in the year he lost his OWGR No. 1 spot. 

    The Englishman has won a total of five times on the tour. He's made 205 of 260 cuts with 73 top-10 finishes, earning more that $30 million in the process. 

    Why He's Here: Although Donald has never won a major, he's spent the fifth-longest amount of time at the top of the OWGR. This, paired with a solid career and penchant for top-10s (in nearly 30 percent of his starts), makes him our sixth-least lackluster entry.

5. Lee Westwood

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    World No. 1 Tenure:

    • October 31, 2010-February 26, 2011
    • April 24, 2011-May 28, 2011

    Career Notes: West Palm Beach, Florida, resident Lee Westwood spent a total of 22 weeks on top of the Official World Golf Ranking. Although he's never won a major, Westwood has been victorious twice on the PGA Tour in addition to winning 37 times around the world. 

    In 192 starts on the tour, Westwood has made 157 cuts and finished inside the top 10 42 times. Westy has grossed more than $16 million on the tour since first teeing it up in 1995. 

    Why He's Here: Westy is slightly more lackluster than Luke Donald both because he spent less time at No. 1 and because he has fewer victories on the tour (two compared to five).

4. David Duval

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    World No. 1 Tenure: 

    • March 28, 1999-July 3, 1999
    • August 8, 1999-August 14, 1999

    Career Notes: David Duval spent a total of 15 weeks as the top-ranked golfer in the world. He's won 13 times in his tour career, including the 2001 Open Championship. 

    Duval won three times in 1997 and four times in 1998, which primed him to interrupt Tiger Woods' streak as world No. 1. Double D has only won twice in the 15 years since relinquishing his top spot, however. In 405 starts on tour in his career, Duval has made 220 cuts. 

    Why He's Here: Duval, as a major winner, showed such incredible promise in the late '90s. Because of that promise and the way in which he's fallen off a cliff since the early 2000s, David Duval lands here.

3. Bernhard Langer

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    World No. 1 Tenure:

    • April 6, 1986-April 26, 1986

    Career Notes: The first world No. 1, Bernhard Langer occupied the top spot for three weeks prior to Seve Ballesteros deposing him. Langer only won three times on the PGA Tour, which isn't a great total. However, two of his three wins were majors: the 1985 and 1993 Masters tournaments. 

    The German has teed it up 310 times on the tour, making the cut 230 times and recording 63 top-10 finishes. He's won more than 58 times outside of the PGA Tour and 20 times on the Champions Tour.

    Why He's Here: Langer has won a great deal outside of the PGA Tour, but we don't really care about that (and neither does the OWGR). He's won two majors, yes, but he hasn't done much else in his 30-year career on the PGA Tour.

2. Martin Kaymer

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    World No. 1 Tenure:

    • February 27, 2011-April 23, 2011

    Career Notes: Martin Kaymer sat atop the Official World Golf Ranking for eight weeks in 2011. He assumed the perch following a second-place finish at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in 2011. Kaymer's win at the 2010 PGA Championship went a long way toward his bump in the ranking.

    Between 2009 and 2011, Kaymer won seven times internationally in addition to the major championship. He's won twice since that point, most notably at the Players Championship this year. 

    Why He's Here: Martin Kaymer was very good for roughly one quarter of his career. The rest of the time, however, he's been merely good. And merely good isn't synonymous with "world No. 1."

1. Tom Lehman

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    World No. 1 Tenure: 

    • April 20, 1997-April 26, 1997

    Career Notes: 1996 Open Championship winner Tom Lehman leaped to the top of the Official World Golf Ranking thanks to strong play in 1995 and 1996. During the two seasons, Lehman won three times and recorded a total of 18 top-10 finishes. The fly-fishing aficionado won more than $4 million between 1995 and 1997. 

    Lehman only won once on the PGA Tour after 1996, however. And between 1983 and 2013, he only won in three tour seasons. 

    Why He's Here: Although his 345 cuts in 484 career tour starts is respectablea total of five wins with one majorit's not the stuff that world No. 1s are made of. Lehman's week-long spell at the top of the heap was sandwiched between periods of Greg Norman's (near-six-month) dominance.

    It is only due to the vagaries of the OWGR that Lehman ever ascended to the top position: Norman never should have vacated the No. 1 slot. Further, it's somewhat silly that any golfer should spend just one week at top. 

    Thanks to his brief stint in peak position and his B-minus of a career, Lehman assumes the top spot in this list. 

    *All stats via PGATour.com and OWGR.com.