HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. (AP) — Former Gophers golfer Tom Lehman wishes he were at the top of his game instead of the rankings.
Lehman tied for fourth in the MCI Classic on Sunday, good enough to push him past Greg Norman for the top spot in the Official World Rankings, formerly known as the SONY ratings, that come out today.
“I think last year I was playing as well as anybody in the world,” Lehman said. “This year, there are a few guys who are definitely playing better. But No. 1 is No. 1, and I am pretty pumped about it.”
Lehman, the PGA Tour player of the year, had a dream 1996, winning the British Open and The Tour Championship and leading the money list with more than $1.7 million. He’s had four top-10 finishes this year, but has not been the constant weekly threat he was before.
The rankings measure a player’s performance over two years through a complex formula. Lehman had to finish seventh or better to move up.
“I think at any one point in time, the No. 1-ranked player in the world may not necessarily be the guy who is playing the best at the moment,” Lehman said. “But over the course of two years, I think the rankings are reasonably accurate.”
Norman had been up top for a record 96 weeks. He did not play the MCI Classic and will not return to the tour until next month.
Lehman, who grew up in Alexandria, Minn., is the second American to lead in the rankings’ 11-year history. Fred Couples was up top for 15 weeks ending in July 1992.
The tone for Lehman’s year — and maybe the PGA Tour’s — was set in his first tournament, the Mercedes Championships. Lehman was tied with Tiger Woods through three rounds. Rain canceled a full final round, but things dried up enough for a two-man playoff. Woods thundered his tee-shot to tap-in range on the first playoff hole, after Lehman put his in the water.
Lehman has struggled to find his focus since. He was just three shots behind eventual winner Nick Price starting Sunday’s final round, then took bogeys on Nos. 2-4 to fall from contention.
Suddenly, Lehman was in danger of dropping from the top 10. However, a birdie on the par-5 15th hole moved him into range.
“It was two tournaments in one out there,” Lehman said. “It was nice to finish at least on a good note.”
Lehman first dented the rankings in 1993 when his third in the Masters moved him to 60th. Top finishes in the U.S. Open in 1995 and 1996, plus his British Open victory, gradually sent him higher.
Norman is second, followed by Steve Elkington, Price, Woods, Colin Montgomerie and Mark O’Meara.
Price, last ranked No. 1 in 1994, said he talked with Lehman about the ascendancy in the Masters a week earlier. The key to maintaining position, Price said, was to concentrate on golf and not let distractions creep into your game.
“But old Tom’s been around the block a few times before and knows what it takes,” Price said.