Editorial: Weight of Norman, Woods Can’t Be Overlooked

Jordan Spieth celebrated his 11th week as the No. 1 golfer in the world on Monday.

Eleven weeks. That’s a little less than three months, although most of the world agreed he’s been the best since winning the Masters and US Open last spring and early summer.

I’m coming up on my third anniversary writing for GolfBlogger, and one of the ways I educated myself on professional golf in those early days was to get on board with the record books, to better understand what makes a good golfer great and a great golfer a legend.

Nineteen men have been ranked No. 1 in the world since the Official World Golf Rankings took flight in the 1980s. They are imperfect rankings because they weren’t around for the days of Snead and Palmer and Nicklaus, but they quantify that which we so forcefully pursue ourselves, who is the best?

At 11 weeks at No. 1, Spieth has already held the position for a longer time than Martin Kaymer or Ernie Els ever did. He’s tied with Adam Scott, and should he hold it even another six weeks, will surpass the reigns of David Duval and Fred Couples.

He’s more than likely to lose the No. 1 ranking at some point in 2016, unless he repeats the Masters, the US Open, or both, or simply goes on a winning streak to match last year’s.

Much like tennis, golf’s rankings look back 52 weeks at a time and snapshot your productivity. If Spieth can’t match the wins he picked up early in 2015, he’ll slip back beyond hard-charging Jason Day or Rory McIlroy or both.

That kind of competitiveness at the top is fantastic for golf; multiple guys claiming to be No. 1 only drives up TV ratings and attendance figures.

At the same time it reminds of just how amazing the runs of Greg Norman and Tiger Woods were. Norman, most notably known for losing leads in Majors, and Woods, whose 14 Majors are now overshadowed by his martial difficulties and failure to return to form, combined to spend more than 1,000 weeks at No. 1.

One thousand and 14 to be exact, the equivalent of 19.5 years. Norman was 29 when he first took the mantle, holding it for 62 weeks, at the time the longest consecutive streak in history.

He would battle his own big three for the next several years, swapping spots with Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Ian Woosnam, and Couples times and again during the next five years.

Norman’s durability is perhaps his most remarkable component. He was 42 the last time he became No. 1, and even then held it for 18 weeks before Woods, then 22, took it away.

Woods’ run at the top defies any and all logic. His two longest runs atop the No. 1 spot – 281 weeks and 264 weeks – are more than any man beside Norman spent there overall.

His 683 overall weeks is more than every other golfer – minus Norman – combined to hold the spot. The other 16 men have held it for a combined 537 weeks.

The numbers are fantastic, but what they mean is the real point here. Spieth, Jason Day, and Rory McIlroy are all amazing young players who will more likely than not all be ranked No. 1 at some point in 2016.

But as great as McIlroy’s 2014 was, or as amazing as Spieth was in the Majors last year, all three are a long way behind the all-time greats.

Before crowning them as such, let’s just enjoy the ride they take to get there.

 

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