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On April 27, 1986, Seve Ballesteros become the first Spaniard to top the Official World Golf Ranking.

All told, the five-time major champion spent 61 weeks at No.1 across five different spells, the most recent of which ended on August 19, 1989.

Since then, 21 other players from around the world have been top of the pile. A Fijian, a Welshman, three Australians, a German, multiple Americans, several Englishmen, a Northern Irishman, a South African and even a Zimbabwean have all been ranked world No.1 since the most recent of Seve reigns ended.

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But there have been no more Spaniards.

Not until today, that is.

With his victory in the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village – his fourth career win on the PGA Tour – Jon Rahm has emulated his great hero Ballesteros by becoming the world’s top golfer.

The 25-year-old has brought to an end Rory McIlroy’s eighth stint at the top of the standings, becoming the 24th different player to be No.1 in the OWGR era.

He made heavy weather of it – appropriate given the stormy conditions that forced play to be temporarily suspended early in his round. 

After a bogey-free front nine, he extended his four-shot 54-hole lead to eight at the turn. 

However, that was trimmed to three mid-way through the homeward stretch after he coughed up four shots in five holes, with playing partner Ryan Palmer continuing to keep the pressure on with a birdie at the 12th. 

More drama followed.

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After a wild tee shot that went through the back of the green at the par-3 16th, Rahm spectacularly holed his second shot from thick rough. 

Spanish hands, indeed. Somewhere, Seve was smiling.

Suddenly, another twist.

On closer inspection, television cameras spotted Rahm’s ball had moved as he prepared to hit it. Word quickly filtered down that rules officials were looking at it and were considering assessing the Spaniard with a two-shot penalty. 

Blissfully unaware, Rahm ploughed on. When Palmer bogeyed 17, he had the luxury of a five-shot lead to take to the last. At least so far as he knew.

When both players parred 18, the win was assured. 

Rahm fist-bumped a waiting Nicklaus and embraced his wife Kelley before being informed of the possible rules infraction he had committed at 16. 

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The penalty was subsequently applied but it barely mattered. His five-shot win became a three-shot win – but it was still a win. 

A fourth on the PGA Tour. 

An 11th in just over four years as a professional. 

More importantly, a win that propelled him to the top of the world rankings.

“I don’t know how to describe it,” he said afterwards. “It’s been a goal since I was 13 or 14-years-old. I remember I heard a story on the radio from my swing coach back in Spain, Eduardo Celles. We were driving somewhere and he asked me what my goals were and my ambitions and this and that, and I remember telling him, ‘I’m going to be the best player in the world’, and that’s what I set out to be.

“Every day I wake up trying to be a better player, a better person, every single day, a better husband, and that’s how I can sum it up.”

The enormity of emulating Seve wasn’t lost on him, either.

“Any time I can join my name to Spanish history or any kind of history, it’s very unique. Seve is a very special player to all of us, and to be second to him, it’s a true honour.”

author headshot

Michael McEwan is the Deputy Editor of bunkered and has been part of the team since 2004. In that time, he has interviewed almost every major figure within the sport, from Jack Nicklaus, to Rory McIlroy, to Donald Trump. The host of the multi award-winning bunkered Podcast and a member of Balfron Golfing Society, Michael is the author of three books and is the 2023 PPA Scotland 'Writer of the Year' and 'Columnist of the Year'. Dislikes white belts, yellow balls and iron headcovers. Likes being drawn out of the media ballot to play Augusta National.

Deputy Editor

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