• Where Are They Now?

The men who have toppled Woods

ESPN staff
August 4, 2010
Tiger Woods has cut a frustrated figure this season © Getty Images

ESPN.co.uk never wants to stand accused of making sensational statements, but this could be the weekend that Tiger Woods' vice-like grip on the world No. 1 spot is released.

Woods has stood alone at the top of the standings for the last 270 weeks and 612 weeks in total. Basically, Woods has been the top man in golf for over a decade. Only three men - Ernie Els, David Duval and Vijay Singh - have denied Woods total domination and with the possibility of a change at top following the Bridgestone Invitational, we have decided to take a look at the career paths of the trio since they spent time at the top of the sport.

Ernie Els
The South African spent nine weeks at No. 1 in 1997 and when "the Big Easy" burst onto the scene with his first major win at the US Open in 1994, many felt he would be the dominant force in golf. "I think I just played with the next god," was Curtis Strange's assessment of Els' win at Oakmont.

The problem Els faced was that Woods was making his way in the game at the same time. But it would be completely wrong to suggest Els' career has not been a success. Three major titles, US Opens in 1994 and 1997 and the Open in 2002, are the tip of the iceberg as he has 18 PGA Tour wins and 25 European Tour wins to his name.

Ernie Els is one of golf's leading lights © Getty Images

Els suffered a serious knee injury in 2005 and it took until the Honda Classic in March 2008 for him to snap a three-year winless run on the PGA Tour. He changed swing coaches in 2008 and after a tough time in 2009, claimed two wins early in 2010 to suggest that another major win could be on the horizon.

"Not too many people give you too many chances winning a Major after 40," Els said earlier this year. "But I feel good. I feel my game's there. I'd like to think I've got quite a few more left. If I have to stop playing golf now I've got to be pretty pleased with what I've done."

David Duval
Duval had a 15-week spell as world No. 1 in 1999 and looked to have the world at his feet, only to totally fall off the radar.

The Floridian came through the schooling ground of the Nationwide Tour, earning his PGA card in 1995. He quickly showcased his talent with victory in the 1997 Tour Championship. It proved to be the breakthrough event for Duval as between 1997 and his Open success in 2001, he racked up 13 PGA Tour wins and carded a 59 - one of only five players to achieve the feat - in the 1999 Bob Hope Chrysler Classic. He twice finished second in the Masters in 1998 and 2001, but his career went into decline after his Open win at Royal Lytham & St Annes.

He had slipped outside the world's top 200 by 2003 and opted to take a break from the game, with injuries and personal problems put forward as the reason for his troubles. It was not until the 2008 campaign, when Duval popped up on the leaderboard at the Open - eventually finishing 39th - that the green shoots of recovery were spotted and in the US Open of 2009 he went within a whisker of claiming victory before finishing second to Lucas Glover.

Duval is now surviving on sponsors' invitations and has shown glimpses of form this year, but is unlikely to rekindle the glory years from the turn of the millennium.

Tiger Woods succeeded Vijay Singh as Masters champion © Getty Images

Vijay Singh
The Fijian was the last man to knock Woods off his perch, spending 32 weeks at No. 1 in 2004 and 2005. The languid Singh was something of a late bloomer, as he enjoyed only fleeting success before a rapid ascent in 1998 - a year that saw him win his first major title at the US PGA Championship. Victory at the Sahalee Country Club proved to be a springboard towards greatness for Singh.

"It's a dream come true. What I did out there was unbelievable. I can't believe I'm sitting here having won my first major championship," Singh said and he went on to finish third at the 1999 US Open and triumphed at the Masters in 2000.

Although victory at Augusta meant a huge amount to Singh, 2004 proved to be the stellar year in his career. Nine tour victories came his way, the highlight being his second US PGA Championship triumph, and his win at the Deutsche Bank Championship was enough to take him above Woods in the world rankings.

Singh is regarded as one of the hardest workers on tour and it was apparent that the battle for No. 1 was a driving force in his game. "The competition [for No. 1] makes me play good golf," he said in 2004. "I like to work hard and play good golf. I don't want to show up and be a part of the pack."

Although he has failed to repeat his stunning efforts of 2004, Singh has continued to challenge at the highest level well into his 40s. He has struggled with injury in recent seasons and had a knee operation in 2009, but has still managed two top-ten finishes this year.

Phil Mickelson and Lee Westwood are on the verge of toppling Woods and you can follow all the action from the Bridgestone Invitational with our live leaderboard.

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