| Bunker Men­tal­ity

Mike Wil­son re­flects on the ris­ers and fall­ers in the men’s global game and at­tempts to iden­tify the mod­ern-day greats.

HK Golfer - - Contents - By Mike Wil­son

A re­view of the mod­ern-day greats’ rise and fall in the men’s global game.

Over the years golfers come and go, some even come back again for a sec­ond shot at star­dom, whilst other dis­ap­pear al­most as mys­te­ri­ously as they orig­i­nally ap­peared, which is why great­ness in golf needs to be mea­sured if not in gen­er­a­tions, then cer­tainly in decades.

It’s hardly the break­ing news to an­nounce that, 10 years ago, one Tiger Woods was lead­ing the Of­fi­cial World Golf Rank­ing (OWGR). Per­haps slightly more noteworthy is that Spa­niard Ser­gio Gar­cía was on his coat-tails in sec­ond place way back then, fol­lowed by Tiger’s great ri­val Phil Mick­el­son, Ir­ish­man Pádraig Harrington in fourth, with Fi­jian Vijay Singh com­pet­ing for the top five.

Five years on, in De­cem­ber 2013, it is ar­guably more news­wor­thy that Tiger re­mained as golf’s Al­pha Male, con­sid­er­ing his me­te­oric and cat­a­strophic fall from grace when col­lid­ing with a tree and fire hy­drant out­side his Florida home in Novem­ber 2009.

By then, Spa­niard Gar­cía had col­lapsed, back in 20th place, fallen out of love with the game as he fought - and con­sis­tently failed - to win a Ma­jor ti­tle he craved, and, in truth, his ta­lent de­served.

Big Phil, courtesy of a maiden Open Cham­pi­onship win at Muir­field was still up there in fourth, the ‘Ice Man’ cometh, Hen­rik Sten­son, inside the top-10 five years ear­lier. One no­table en­trant into the top-50, in 49th place, Rory McIl­roy, the new kid on the block, the heir ap­par­ent to Tiger’s crown as the best - and at his best - un­beat­able ex­po­nent of men’s pro­fes­sional golf.

Up to the ar­rival on the scene in 1997 of the ut­terly dom­i­nant force that was Tiger Woods, #1 in the OWGR al­ter­nated, on merit, between Bern­hard Langer, the world’s first world #1. Fol­lowed by, at var­i­ous times, Seve and Greg Nor­man, who traded blows like a pair of heavy­weight prize-fighters, top spot chang­ing hands between the pair on no fewer than 10 oc­ca­sions.

Nor­man, a cred­i­ble can­di­date for the best golfer of all time - he was com­pet­ing and winning in an era of un­prece­dented ta­lent at the top - went on to top the OWGR six more times, 11 in to­tal. Faldo, Woos­nam, Cou­ples, Els and Woods all dared to take the Great White Shark down a peg or two, hold­ing ar­guably the most highly-prized ac­co­lade in the game for the last time in De­cem­ber 1998.

En­ter Tiger Woods.

Oth­ers came and went. Ernie Els, David Du­val, Vijay Singh, who was the last man to top the rank­ings in March 2005 be­fore Woods went on a quite ex­tra­or­di­nary run of winning golf, stay­ing at #1 un­til Lee West­wood briefly

in­her­ited the crown for an un­bro­ken run of 281 suc­ces­sive weeks at the sum­mit.

Still more heirs ap­par­ent, from Ger­man wun­derkind Martin Kaymer, who man­aged eight weeks on top. Luke Don­ald (56), Rory McIl­roy, 95 weeks across seven spells at #1, a dis­ap­point­ing re­turn for a young man ex­pected to sweep all be­fore him. Adam Scott was mak­ing a fleet­ing ap­pear­ance at the top in 2014, on the back of his 2013 Masters vic­tory.

Since then, Jor­dan Spi­eth and Ja­son Day per­formed a light­weight ver­sion of the ‘Seve and the Shark show’. The Amer­i­can hold­ing top spot four times to the Aus­tralian’s three, be­fore Dustin John­son, his en­fant ter­ri­ble days seem­ingly be­hind him be­com­ing Numero Uno in Fe­bru­ary last year, a po­si­tion he is yet to re­lin­quish.

And, whilst those who reached the sum­mit but were un­able to set-up camp there could rightly claim to have been, on a given week in a par­tic­u­lar year to have been the best player on the planet. Oth­ers, most no­tably Justin Rose, Phil Mick­el­son - along­side Gar­cía, surely the best play­ers never to have been OWGR #1 - Hen­rik Sten­son and Harrington have, like Mick­el­son and Gar­cía, made their mark by way of longevity.

To date, only 20 men in the world of pro­fes­sional golf since the-then IMG boss Mark H McCor­mack in­tro­duced the re­sult of a se­ries of Byzan­tine, com­pli­cated math­e­mat­i­cal cal­cu­la­tion (now we know what he did dur­ing those in­ter­minable hours spent in the air) have been able to call them­selves, ‘World num­ber-one.’

Who’s next in line to halt the in­ex­orable march of power-golfer Dustin John­son at the top of the world and be­come the 21st holder of the cov­eted crown?

Of the run­ners and rid­ers on en­durance and dura­bil­ity, it would have to be Ser­gio Gar­cía, a decade close to the sum­mit. In prac­tice, more prob­a­bly rel­a­tive new­com­ers, Justin Thomas or Gar­cía’s com­pa­triot John Rahm or Ja­panese young­ster Hideki Mat­suyama, who would, if suc­cess­ful, be­come the first Asian player in the 32-year his­tory of the OWGR. Quite a feat if he can achieve that.

But, Greg Nor­man, #1 on the OWGR for 331 weeks over 11 spells in the midst of the most in-depth com­pet­i­tive­ness in world golf; or Tiger Woods, 623 weeks across 10 spells cov­er­ing 13 years, which of the two is – at least in terms of the OWGR – first amongst equals?

Prob­a­bly Nor­man, based mainly on who else was around and in­ter­rupt­ing his in­ex­orable march to the top. But, let there be no doubt. If Woods, back now in the top-1,000 were to claw his way back to the sum­mit of the sport, now that would be the great­est achieve­ment not only in golf but in mod­ern-day sport.

Tiger Woods cel­e­brates af­ter winning his maiden Ma­jor at the Masters in 1997

Greg Nor­man, #1 on the OWGR for 331 weeks over 11 spells in the midst of the most in­depth com­pet­i­tive­ness in world golf

Dustin John­son be­came the world num­ber one golfer since Fe­bru­ary 2017, a po­si­tion he is yet to re­lin­quish

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