Who could be golf’s next new No. 1 player?

Viktor Hovland watches his ball from the eighth tee during the third round of the St. Jude Championship golf tournament Saturday, Aug. 12, 2023, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

Viktor Hovland has reached as high as No. 3 on the World Golf Rankings. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

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Golf doesn’t confer the same status on its No. 1 player as, say, college football does on its No. 1 team. The formula to reach the top spot in the Official World Golf Rankings is ridiculously complex. Ever since Tiger Woods, who spent a total of 683 weeks at No. 1, fell from the peak, a few good weeks can vault a strong player to the top. Woods last ranked No. 1 in 2014, and since then, 10 different players have passed the ranking back and forth. Who will be the next to join them? Here are 10 strong choices.

Viktor Hovland: He’s reached as high as 3rd in the OWGR, and were it not for Jon Rahm and Scottie Scheffler trading the top spot back and forth, he might have reached No. 1 already. The OWGR tracks a player’s best performances over the last two years, and in that time, Hovland has eight victories to his credit. He also finished tied for second in this year’s PGA Championship, which helped him points-wise more than all but two of his wins. He’s very close.

Cam Smith: Would have almost certainly reached No. 1 already were it not for the fact that he jumped to LIV Golf, and no longer gets ranking points despite the fact that he’s winning tournaments over there. His victories at the 2022 Open Championship and Players Championship keep him high in the rankings still, for now. And if LIV ever manages to get rankings points — or if Smith returns to the PGA Tour — he’ll be on a rocket to No. 1.

Patrick Cantlay: His five best ranking-points performances are all victories, but many of those have come in tournaments that are now more than two years in the past. He’ll need to start coming through in majors to fight his way through Rahm and Scheffler.

Xander Schauffele: Like Cantlay, Schauffele has a habit of winning big in smaller tournaments but not coming through in the majors. Schauffele won gold at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics; he’ll need to win some more significant tournaments to get ranking points and reach that top spot.

Max Homa: A stratospheric rise has seen Homa go from 843rd in the world at the end of 2018 to as high as fifth this year. Five wins in the last three years have helped his cause immensely, but he’ll need another large push to break into the upper echelons of the world rankings.

Brian Harman and Wyndham Clark: These two are paired together because they each picked a great week to have a great week. In recent weeks, Harman won the Open Championship, and Clark the U.S. Open, giving both of them their most significant career victories by a wide margin. Of the two, Clark is on more of an upward trajectory, but it will be up to both players to put more big wins on the board in order to move up in the world rankings. And even if they don’t, a major trophy isn’t a bad consolation prize.

Matthew Fitzpatrick: Winner of the 2022 U.S. Open and one of the stars of the Netflix golf series “Full Swing,” Fitzpatrick needs to stack some more wins before he’ll move up to the small numbers. But the determination and nerve he showed in winning that U.S. Open ought to carry him much higher up the rankings list.

Tom Kim: One of golf’s fastest-rising stars in 2022, he notched two wins that season and followed it up with a T2 at this year’s Open Championship. He’ll need to flesh out his resume with some more wins to get that ranking up, but if he can do it over the next year, he’ll zoom upward.

Tommy Fleetwood: He’s been the Next Great Golfer for so long that many others have passed right on by him to greatness. Fleetwood, a Ryder Cup hero, still hasn’t managed to win a PGA Tour event, and until he can get over that, he’ll be on the outside of the Top 5 looking in.

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