BELEK, Turkey – Bernhard Langer was the first player to top the Official World Golf Ranking when the ratings debuted in April 1986. He held the spot for three weeks, never to return to No. 1.
Curiously, Langer is one of only five players to reach the top of the world rankings and never return after being unseated. The others were fellow German Martin Kaymer, Wales’ Ian Woosnam, Australia’s Adam Scott and, more recently, England’s Justin Rose.
Now, American Brooks Koepka is No. 1 after having won the U.S. Open and PGA Championship this year. It’s his first stint at the top. He unseated Dustin Johnson, who spent a total of 81 weeks at No. 1 during three separate stints, starting in February 2017.
At the Turkish Airlines Open here this week, Rose, the defending champion, has a chance to reclaim the top spot with a victory.
In what seems like a game of musical chairs, Rose held the spot for two weeks in mid-September but lost it to Johnson, who reigned for four weeks later before relinquishing the top spot to Koepka.
“I said a while back that I wanted to get to world No. 1 by winning golf tournaments, and I got there by finishing second at the BMW a month or so ago,” Rose said during a pre-tournament news conference at Regnum Carya Golf and Spa (tee times). “This would be a great place to knock off two big goals of mine, which is to get back to world No. 1, obviously, because once you get a taste for it, it's quite nice, and secondly, to defend a title would be a special feeling, too. Yes, I'm keenly aware of the situation.”
The odds are in his favor that Rose will reclaim the spot at least once. With such deep competition among the game’s elite players, though, the length of a second tenure would be anyone’s guess.
Without a deep dive into the vagaries of the ranking system, which awards points for worldwide tournament results based on strength of field, four players – Koepka, Rose, Johnson and Justin Thomas, who rate Nos. 1-4, respectively, in the OWGR – have the best chance of being on top for the rest of 2018.
After that, it would take a Herculean effort by the next group of challengers – notably, Nos. 5-10: Rory McIlroy, Bryson DeChambeau, Francesco Molinari, Jon Rahm, Rickie Fowler, Jason Day and Tommy Fleetwood – to jump to the top spot.
“We are seeing the Tiger [Woods] effect come through now with your Jordan Spieths and Justin Thomases, etc., etc., coming through to the top of the game, having being influenced so much by Tiger,” Rose said. “The strength and depth now is pretty impressive, and there's a lot of guys earning a lot of points.”
The depth of talent among the world’s top players can lead to extraordinary stretches of golf, he said.
“To see someone have it for two, three years might be tricky, but I think certainly someone can win two or three times like that and build the lead for six months quite easily,” Rose said.
Since Woods held the top ranking for a record 281 weeks, from June 2005 through October 2010, no player has held the top spot longer than 64 weeks. Since Lee Westwood took the top spot from Woods in 2010, the top ranking has changed hands 28 times.
In that time, the average reign at No. 1 has been 14 weeks. Since Johnson’s 64-week run at the top, the average time at No. 1 has been just five weeks.
Rose never has defended a title successfully, and this week in Turkey represents a chance for him to erase that footnote as well as add his name to the list of OWGR No. 1 returnees.
“I very rarely set outcome goals – like, I want to win a major; I want to do this; I want to get to world No. 1. I really focus on my game,” Rose said. “I was No. 1 [in putting] 4-8 feet on Tour [in the 2017-18 season]. So, that's how I choose to set my goals, really: areas of my game rather than results. I feel like the results take care of themselves, from that point of view.”
As his putting improved, Rose found that his chances of returning to the top were better, as well.
“But as early as May this year, people started talking to me about world No. 1,” Rose said. “There was a mathematical chance at the Players Championship. I could have gotten to world No. 1. That surprised me. I didn't realize it was that close to me, really, and once it was on the cards, it became more of a goal.”
Now, Rose is on the cusp again of attaining the top spot.
“Once I achieved it, it was a milestone moment in my career and one that I'm proud of, for sure.”
Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: email@example.com; Twitter: @AlexMiceli