Tiger Woods is no longer king of the course.
After a record 281 straight weeks as the world's No. 1-ranked golfer, Woods was officially overtaken Sunday by England's Lee Westwood. Westwood is the fifth player to displace Woods as No. 1 since he first earned the spot in 1998. The last was Vijay Singh in June 2005.
Westwood, 37, joins Nick Faldo as the only Englishmen to be ranked No. 1 in the 24-year history of the Official World Golf Ranking.
"Whenever you can sit down and say, 'I'm the best in the world right now,' it's a dream that everybody holds," Westwood said, calling it the most satisfying achievement of his career.
It seems strange to see a player ranked higher than Woods. But a changing of the guard was inevitable.
How it works
The rankings points are based on a two-year rolling period. Points are accumulated on all six international tours (PGA, European, PGA Tour Australasia, Sunshine Tour, Asian Tour and Japan Golf Tour). An emphasis is placed on strength of field and points are awarded for certain finishes. More points are awarded for major championships; for example, 100 for major winners, 80 for the Players Championship, and 24 for regular PGA Tour event wins.
The rankings also place more emphasis on recent results, with points gradually diminishing in value from 13 weeks after they have first been earned. The total points are then divided by the number of tournaments played over a two-year period (minimum 40, maximum 60). That number is used to rank players.
With Woods playing sparingly, coupled with his subpar 2010, somebody was going to leap past him. Before Sunday, Woods had an average of 8.31 points, .06 ahead of Westwood.
Despite a calf injury that kept him out for two months, Westwood has gained 279.11 points in the past year. He was runnerup at the Masters and at the British Open, the majors that offer the most points, and he won the St. Jude Classic in Memphis. Those results are added to his stellar 2009 season, when he won the Dubai World Championship.
It could be a short stay at the top for Westwood if Woods, No. 3 Martin Kaymer or No. 4 Phil Mickelson wins this week's HSBC Championship in Shanghai, China. But for now, Woods said he has rationalized his fall from the top.
"I am more at peace now," Woods, 34, said at a news conference last week to promote the Dec. 1-5 Chevron World Challenge in California. "All in all it was a long, frustrating year, but in the end it turned out that everything's headed in a positive direction now."
Quite a run
During his professional career, which started in 1996, Woods has spent 623 weeks as the world's best golfer. Greg Norman is the next closest with 331 weeks as world No. 1.
Since June 2005, Woods has won 28 times, including six majors. He won eight straight tournaments in 2006-07. Even in 2008, when he won the U.S. Open in June but missed the rest of the season with a knee injury, he won four of six tournaments and was second at the Masters.
His descent started in November 2009, when he wrecked his car in front of his Isleworth home near Orlando. Allegations and admissions of infidelity emerged, and Woods and his wife, Elin Nordegren, divorced. His family turmoil kept him away from the game until the Masters in April, where he tied for fourth. He also tied for fourth at the U.S. Open, but those have been his only top 10 finishes.
What lies ahead?
This is an interesting crossroads for Woods. Will Sunday be a blip on the golf radar, or will it be remembered as the day Woods lost his spot at the top for good?
History says not to count him out. And after his solid play in the Ryder Cup, in which he soundly defeated Francesco Molinari 4 and 3 in singles, he could be rounding back into shape.
"I just felt that when I was playing well, I was always going to be tough to beat,'' Woods said. "I just haven't gotten to that level in a while now. I had a good year last year and won a few times. This year wasn't exactly the same success. But I like where my game is headed. I like the pieces of it and how they're falling into place. In particular at the Ryder Cup, and especially in the singles how I played, and that's the way I know I can play the game of golf. So I'm looking forward to that.''