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History of The Open

World Number 1's


How they have fared at The Open


The weekly battle for golf's world number one position has become one of the talking points of the sport. Dustin, Justin, Justin and Brooks - it’s been 12 months of all change on the rankings list.

It’s over three decades years since the world rankings were introduced and in that time 23 golfers have been able to call themselves officially the best in the business.

It’s an exclusive club and there are more Champion Golfers represented than any other major - ten in total, compared to nine winners of the green jacket, eight US Open champions and eight PGA Championship winners.

Endorsed by the four majors and six leading professional tours, the Championship Committee of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews were a major driving force behind the new system.

They found their practice of issuing invitations to The Open was omitting top players, especially as they increasingly divided their time between tours, and top sports agent Mark McCormack became the first chairman of the International Advisory Committee, which oversees the system and its formula.

The first ranking list was published prior to the 1986 Masters, with Germany’s Bernhard Langer taking top spot for the first two weeks.


However, it was Seve Ballesteros who arrived at that year’s Open at Turnberry as world number one and his fifth-place finish was enough to keep him there, even if winner Greg Norman finally wrestled control of the top slot a few weeks later.

Norman remained the dominant force in the rankings for the next decade, spending a total of 331 weeks at the top in 11 spells - though it was Sir Nick Faldo who was world number one when Norman won his second Claret Jug at Royal St George’s in 1993.

Since the rankings began only two players have topped the list without a major title on their resume, England’s Lee Westwood and Luke Donald.

And there are plenty of Champion Golfers on the list. In addition to Ballesteros and Norman, Faldo spent 97 weeks heading the standings during a four-year period and became the first and only golfer to move to the top with a win at The Open, following his four-shot victory at Muirfield in 1992.


Nick Price didn’t take top slot when he finished one stroke ahead of Jesper Parnevik to win in 1994. But he did a few weeks later when he won the PGA title in Oklahoma, the first golfer to lift the Claret Jug and Wanamaker Trophy in the same season, a feat since repeated by Padraig Harrington, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy.

Woods spent 17 years dominating the top spot, spending 683 weeks at the summit, including record streaks of 264 and 281 weeks. And he is the only world number one to arrive at The Open and win, a feat he achieved in all three of his Claret Jug winning performances, at St Andrews (2000/2005) and Royal Liverpool in 2006.

Tom Lehman’s win at Royal Lytham, just a few weeks after he tied for second at the US Open, moved him to second in the world and he didn’t make it to the top until ten months later, spending just a week staring down the standings.

Ernie Els spent nine weeks as world number one during 1997 and 1998 but it was four years later when he won the first of his two Open titles, while David Duval had lost his world number one status when was crowned Champion Golfer at Royal Lytham and St Annes in 2001.


McIlroy’s two stroke win over Rickie Fowler and Sergio Garcia at Royal Liverpool in 2014 moved him within fractions of the world number one spot, which he seized for the fourth time in his career with his fourth major title at the PGA Championship a few weeks later.

Jordan Spieth is the tenth and final Champion Golfer to have topped the world rankings, though his most recent spell at the summit of his sport was more 15 months before his dramatic victory at Royal Birkdale in 2017.