281 Weeks Later: Tiger Woods No Longer Golf’s Number One Player

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Woods lost his No. 1 ranking to England's Lee Westwood this week.

Even Tiger wasn’t surprised about it. But what’s fascinating is what’s next for professional golf.

For most people, it seemed inevitable that Tiger Woods would eventually lose his No. 1 world ranking, what with his knee beginning to cause him problems in 2008 and, oh yes, the car crash that led to an endless string of claims of infidelity that led to a divorce.

Until then, Woods had held the No. 1 ranking for 281 straight weeks and 623 weeks overall, utterly obliterating the previous record, which was Greg Norman’s 331 weeks at No. 1. (The Official World Golf Ranking has only been around for 24 years, so Jack Nicklaus or Arnold Palmer were never included.)

What is surprising is that most would’ve put money on Phil Mickelson being Tiger’s likely successor, especially after his inspiring victory this year at the Masters. But Phil faltered soon after that, failing to win another tournament for the rest of 2010.

So for this week at least, the No. 1 ranking falls to England’s Lee Westwood, a perennial contender in the majors even if he’s never won one. But it could potentially be his only week as No. 1. This week’s HSBC Champions tournament in Shanghai, China, will include Westwood, Mickelson, Woods and 25-year-old German upstart Martin Kaymer, who won the PGA Championship this year. It’s so closely ranked at the top that either one could take over the No. 1 spot with a win.

The professional golf world appears to be entering an era it hasn’t seen since the pre-Tiger days. With Woods still struggling to revive his former self, there is no clear-cut favorite on the PGA Tour, only a handful of exciting young players and pros from across the pond. While awaiting Tiger’s inevitable resurgence may not be good for PGA Tour ratings, it will certainly make for a fascinating, topsy-turvy professional game for the foreseeable future.