Being No. 1 not what it used to be

April, 17, 2012
04/17/12
7:42
AM ET
With Luke Donald's resounding 2-over-par thud at the RBC Heritage last week, the world's No. 1 ranking changed hands for the seventh time since Halloween 2010. Rory McIlroy reclaimed the spot, as he tweeted Sunday, "without picking up a club."

Before the world-No.-1 shuffle began about 17 months ago, one player had held the title for 281 consecutive weeks. In fact, Tiger Woods had the spot for 545 of 585 weeks (over 93 percent of the time) from August 1999 until Oct. 31, 2010. And in that span, the title changed hands a total of just six times -- with each of the tradeoffs happening between Woods and Vijay Singh in 2005.

The significance of the title "world's No. 1 player" is debatable, but at the least it has served as a good barometer for success since the OWGR's inception in 1986. During this recent stretch of constant change, though, he who held the title hasn't found an overwhelming amount of success on the course.

Trivia question

Kevin Na recorded a 16 in the first round of last year's Valero Texas Open. Who has the highest single-hole score in a PGA Tour round in the last 30 years? (Answer below)

The player wearing the crown of world No. 1 -- whomever it was at the time (Woods, Donald, McIlroy, Martin Kaymer or Lee Westwood) -- has made 49 starts on the PGA and European tours since the beginning of 2010. They have only won three events -- Donald at the Children's Miracle Network Classic and Barclays Scottish Open last year, and Lee Westwood at the 2011 Ballantine's Championship.

The majors haven't been kind to the world's No. 1 players in that span, either. Since Woods relinquished the spot last, there's been just one top-10 finish by No. 1 players in five major starts -- Donald finished tied for eighth last year at the PGA Championship.

This isn't to completely discredit their performances -- especially Donald, who rattled off nine top-10 finishes in 13 starts on the PGA Tour as the No. 1 player in the world from May 2011 until this year at the Honda Classic, when McIlroy took the position for the first time.

Maybe golf fans grew accustomed to an era of unbelievable dominance from "No. 1" for so long. Let's compare Woods' performance from 2007 to 2010 to the last three years of players in the top spot. Woods started 41 events (PGA and European tours) during that span, winning 18 of them. That's an amazing 43.9 percent of the time he teed it up.

In that same span, he finished in the top-10 in 34 of the 41 tournaments (82.9 percent), won two majors and finished T-2 in four more.

Compare that to our No. 1s since 2010. They have three wins in 49 starts, have finished in the top-10 40.8 percent of the time and have two top-five finishes in major championships. Oh, and by the way, those two top-5s were by Woods in 2010 at Augusta and Pebble Beach.

So what do you enjoy more as a fan: dominance or parity? Dominance gives the golf fan a player to follow who is chasing history, accomplishing things we might never see again on a golf course. Parity means the tournament is more wide open entering the week, and can create more drama coming down the stretch.

As close as it is at the top these days, more parity might be on the way for the rest of 2012.


We don't have the strongest field of the year this week at the Valero Texas Open, but there are certainly enough quality names to fill "Three on the Tee."

Matt Kuchar: He sat atop the Masters leaderboard for a few minutes two Sundays ago before finishing tied for third, his best career finish in a major championship. Kuchar makes his eighth career start at the Texas Open this week, still seeking his first PGA Tour victory since taking The Barclays in September 2010.

Trivia answer

Question: Kevin Na recorded a 16 in the first round of last year's Valero Texas Open. Who has the highest single-hole score in a PGA Tour round in the last 30 years?

Answer: John Daly, who carded an 18 on the sixth hole at the 1998 Bay Hill Invitational.

Kuchar made a hefty chunk of change the past two seasons on tour, thanks largely to his putter. Kuchar ranked eighth on tour in Strokes Gained -- Putting in 2010, and was a respectable 26th in 2011. This year, though, the flatstick has totally let him down. "Kooch" is 118th in SGP, 70th in total putting and tied for 88th on putts inside 10 feet.

Correspondingly, his par-5 scoring has been impacted. Kuchar was third on tour in par-5 scoring in 2010 -- he's tied for 36th this season.

Anthony Kim: Where have you gone, AK? Besides the doctor's office and physical trainer, of course. Injuries have impacted Kim's promising career over the past couple of seasons. He withdrew from the Houston Open in his last start after just one round, citing a shoulder injury.

Since finishing a surprising T-5 at last summer's British Open, Kim has made 14 PGA Tour starts. In that time, he's had more disqualifications (two) than top-10 finishes (zero). Yikes.

But here's to positive thinking regarding Kim this week. He currently lives in Dallas, and has had past success in his new home state; his last win on tour came at the Shell Houston Open two years ago. He finished tied for second at the Texas Open in 2006 in the first PGA Tour start of his career.

Jordan Spieth: The University of Texas freshman makes his fifth career PGA Tour start this week. Spieth has helped lead his Longhorns to an incredible year: seven victories in 10 team events. Spieth and senior teammate Dylan Frittelli are ranked 1-2 in Golfweek's individual collegiate player rankings, and Texas has held the country's top men's ranking for most of the year.

Two of Spieth's four previous PGA Tour starts came in his home state of Texas. He made the cut in each, at the Byron Nelson in 2010 and '11. In his other two starts -- at the '10 St. Jude and this year at Riviera -- he missed the cut.

Justin Ray is a senior researcher with ESPN Stats & Information. He has contributed to ESPN's golf coverage since joining the network out of college in 2008. He is based in Austin, Texas, with the Longhorn Network. Send comments and suggestions to Justin.Ray@espn.com.

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