As of Monday, Jason Day will have held the No. 1 ranking in the world for nine straight weeks, nearly one-half the 20 straight that Jordan Spieth put in at the top spot between last November and this March.
Overall, the pair have traded the top spot back and forth six times since Day first took it from Rory McIlroy in September of 2015 right after winning the PGA Championship.
The pair have separated themselves from the rest of the world, and Day is in the process of separating himself substantially from Spieth, now at 13.3768 average points per tournament to Spieth’s 10.9036.
The back-and-forth of the No. 1 spot is nothing new in recent golf history. Since the Official World Golf Rankings first became a thing in 1986, three other pairs of golfers have handed the No. 1 ranking back and forth six or more times.
Here’s a closer look at those rivalries.
Greg Norman & Seve Ballesteros: 9 times (1986-1990) – Had it not been for Bernard Langer’s footnote, Seve Ballesteros would have been the first No. 1 in OWGR history. As it was, he spent 20 straight weeks there between April and September of 1986, taking it at first that April when he put together a stretch of a fourth-place finish at the Masters, back-to-back runner-ups at Suze and Madrid, fourth in the Italian Open, third in the Spanish Open, then won the British Masters, Irish Open, Open de France, and Dutch Open all over the remarkable course of a single summer.
Norman took it away from him by winning the British open and taking second at the PGA Championship, part of a nine-tournament stretch in which he won three events, finished in the top five of seven of them and the top 10 of eight of them.
Norman would hold the top spot for 62 straight weeks and the two would trade it back and fourth over the next four years. Norman clearly got the best of it, racking up 166 weeks at the top of the charts, winning five times on the PGA Tour and once on the European Tour after his dominant summer of 1986. Ballesteros added a win at the 1988 Open Championship among several smaller European titles.
Rory McIlroy & Luke Donald, 7 times (2011-2012): When Tiger Woods’ 281-week stretch at No. 1 ended late in the 2010 season after his public image unraveling, a void was created atop the OWGR. It was first filled by Lee Westwood (22 weeks) then Martin Kaymer (eight weeks) before Luke Donald came into the picture. Donald started 2011 on an absolute rampage, winning the WGC-Accenture Match Play, taking sixth at the WGC-Cadillac Championship, tying for fourth at The Masters, second at the Volvo World Match Play Championship, and winning both the BMW PGA Championship and the Barclays. He wound up holding the top spot for 40 straight weeks as a result, but McIlroy took over in the spring of 2012 after winning the PGA Championship and Deutsche Bank the previous fall, then the Honda Classic. Over the next three months, neither man held the top spot for more than four weeks until Donald defended his title at the BMW PGA Championship in late May, thus securing the No. 1 spot for the next 11 weeks until McIlroy took the PGA Championship. McIlroy held it for the next 32 weeks before Tiger Woods took it back, but McIlroy has been No. 1 for three different intervals since, including 54 straight weeks in 2014-2015, the seventh-longest streak in history.
Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh, 6 times: Tiger Woods had held the No. 1 spot so long that kids who were born the year he started it were in kindergarten when he finally lost it. Woods gripped the top sot for 264 straight weeks between August of 1999 and September of 2004. Singh finally got Woods in his sights in 2004 as he won nine tournaments – Pebble Beach, the Shell Houston Open, the HP Classic, the Buick Open, the PGA Championship, the Deutsche Bank Championship, the Bell Canadian Open, the 84 Lumber Classic, and the Chrysler Championship.
Even with all that firepower it wasn’t until he took Deutsche Bank in September that he finally knocked Woods from the top spot. He kept it for 40 straight weeks, but Woods was never far behind, especially once the calendar turned. He won twice in the early stages of 2005 to take back No. 1 for two weeks, then putting on the command performance of winning the Masters in April and the Open Championship in July. Singh countered with the Sony Open in January, Houston again in April, Wachovia in May, and the Buick Open again in July.
During the spring of 2005, they traded No. 1 back and forth four times, never more than six weeks, until Woods won the Open and went on another tear, 281 weeks that finally ended in 2010.