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Golf Tidbits: The No. 1 ranking in the Tiger era

Kevin Currie, Golf Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - It has been nearly 14 years since Tiger Woods said, "Hello World."

That announcement was made in August 1996, and within a year he had moved to the top of the official world golf rankings, albeit briefly. Woods' first stop atop the rankings actually lasted all of one week.

But looking at the history of the rankings 14 years later, Woods has dominated the top spot due to his domination on the course. Since Woods became a professional golfer, only five other players have held the No. 1 spot in the rankings.

At the start of Woods' career, Greg Norman was in the midst of a 96-week run atop the rankings. Tom Lehman started the 1997 season with five top-seven finishes in nine starts to supplant Norman.

Lehman's reign lasted one entire week before Norman regained the top spot. That is when the No. 1 spot in the rankings started bouncing from player to player.

After Norman's seven-week stretch atop the rankings, Woods grabbed the No. 1 position for a week, and he was followed by Ernie Els, for a week, then Norman for seven days.

Woods grabbed hold of the top spot for nine weeks before Norman returned for 18. That stretch ended at the start of the 1998 season, and Norman did not return to the No. 1 spot thereafter.

From the start of the '98 campaign through to August of 1999, three players were atop the rankings: Woods, Els and David Duval.

Woods out-dueled Sergio Garcia for the title at the 1999 PGA Championship. That win was Woods' fourth of the '99 season and kicked off a record run of 264 consecutive weeks as the top-ranked player in the world.

Vijay Singh made it his goal to dethrone Woods and that happened in September 2004, when Singh won the Deutsche Bank Championship by three strokes over Woods and Adam Scott. Coincidentally, Woods' foundation in the main beneficiary of that event.

Singh became the fifth player, other than Tiger, to hold the No. 1 ranking since Woods' pro debut in 1996. Singh was No. 1 for 26 weeks, then off an on for six more before Woods regained a stranglehold on the rankings in June 2005.

All of those facts lead us to where we are now, with Woods having closed within eight weeks of matching his previous record of 264 straight weeks as the top-ranked player.

Woods has been No. 1 for 256 straight weeks entering this weekend's Players Championship, but Phil Mickelson could end that streak this week. He would need to win at the TPC Sawgrass and have Tiger finish outside the top five to overtake Woods in the rankings.

Explaining exactly how the rankings work would take up an entire column in and of itself. But briefly, players are awarded points based on their finish positions, and the number of points is determined by the strength of the field, which is measured by the rankings of players in a given field.

Major championships are worth the most points because they generally have the best fields. The Players Championship, which is referred to by some as the fifth major, has a similarly strong field, meaning a win this week would give the victor more points than, say, Jason Bohn earned for winning the Zurich Classic of New Orleans two weeks ago.

Many golfers claim their goal is to be the best golfer. In the Tiger Woods era, that isn't as easy as it seems. Woods has been ranked No. 1 for a record 598 weeks overall.

The other five players that have reached the top spot since Woods turned pro have been ranked No. 1 for a total of 117 weeks.

Given the health issues surrounding his wife and mother, for Mickelson to reach to the top spot in the ranking at this stage might be the most significant accomplishment of his career. Mickelson, obviously, would like to be No. 1, but knows there is still plenty of work to do to reach that goal.

"It's every player's goal and intent to strive to be recognized as the No. 1 player in the world relative to the rankings," Mickelson said in his Tuesday press conference at the Players Championship. "It's certainly something that I have been striving for, but have not achieved yet. It would mean a lot to me.

"But I can't focus on that. I've got to go out and get ready to play this golf course because it's not an easy challenge, and for me to have a chance to achieve No. 1, I've got to win. So I've got a lot of work ahead."

INJURIES BECOMING A FACTOR

Players compete through pain and injury all the time. However, as we head into an important seven-week stretch on the PGA Tour, two of the top players in the game are questionable to play any of those seven events.

Steve Stricker, the third-ranked golfer in the world, and Anthony Kim, ranked No. 11, are both battling injuries.

Stricker injured his right shoulder in New Orleans and hasn't played since. An examination of the shoulder found inflammation in the joint where the clavicle meets the sternum.

The Wisconsin native hopes to return by the end of May so he can defend his title at the Colonial.

Meanwhile, it was announced Thursday that Kim had undergone surgery in his left thumb on Wednesday. He is expected to be out of action for 10-12 weeks. Kim most certainly will miss the U.S. Open, which is in seven weeks, and could miss the British Open, which is in 10 weeks.

Kim previously stated that his goal for the season was to make the U.S. Ryder Cup team in October, and that's a plateau that would seem to remain within reach.

MINI-TIDBITS

- Few golfers have made the big time after playing college golf at the NAIA level. However, one amateur player showed major-league class recently at a conference championship event.

With his team having already qualified for the NAIA National Championship, University of St. Francis (IL) sophomore Grant Whybark entered a playoff for the individual title of the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference championship with Seth Doran of Olivet Nazarene University.

Though his team had been eliminated from NAIA contention, the senior Doran still had a chance to make nationals, for what would be the first time, as an individual.

Knowing this, and after informing his teammates what he planned to do, Whybark intentionally bombed his drive out of bounds to give Doran the advantage. That drive led to a double bogey, while Doran made par to win the playoff and earn his way into the National Championship. Kudos to Whybark for a class move.

- Youth was served throughout the golf world last weekend. Among these five tours - Japan PGA, U.S. PGA, LPGA, European and Nationwide - Alvaro Quiros, the European Tour winner, was the oldest of the group at the age of 27.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Kevin Currie at kcurrie@sportsnetwork.com.

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