The Rise and Fall of 2021: Who went up and who went down in the world rankings this year

With the final significant action of the year behind us, who in the golf world climbed ladders and who slipped down snakes?

The golfing year is complete, for the big guns of the men's game at least.

A year of four Majors, three WGC events, the Ryder Cup, the Olympics, increased money either side of the pond, a rebranding of the European Tour and the looming shadow of piles of Saudi money.

A year which saw America dominate (two Majors wins, Olympic gold, Ryder Cup triumph, the Stars and Stripes all across the top 20 in the world rankings).

A year when Jon Rahm and Viktor Hovland mostly flew the flag for Europe.

And a year when Hideki Matsuyama broke Japan's Major Championship duck.

How did the world rankings reflect what happened?

Let's take a look at the significant movers and what they can hope for in 2022.

Going up

Sam Burns

The biggest mover into the top 50, gaining 143 spots from 154th to 11th off the back of two PGA Tour wins and play-off defeat in the World Golf Championship St Jude Invitational.

His best golf has, thus far, mostly come on Bermuda grass greens, but he did threaten to win at Riviera in the Genesis Invitational, a Major Championship hosting venue.

Jordan Spieth

He started the year in 82nd and apparently still in his slump. He ends it ranked 14th and a new dad.

You get the sense that the approach of the birth, and coming to terms with the new life, distracted Spieth from around late summer, but from mid-February to early August he was superb and very nearly back to his best.

He started that run by threatening to win, but remaining calm when he didn't close out. "It will come," was his message and he was proved correct, landing the Texas Open a week before finishing third at the Masters.

Late in that spell, he contended for the Open before finishing second and also got in the hunt at the WGC St Jude.

He'll be excited to return to Augusta National and might also feel St Andrews owes him, because back in 2015 he finished one shot outside the play-off.

Golfers tend to win Majors in one hot spell. Can Spieth find a second wind?

Will Zalatoris

The young American had ended 2020 in fine form and he maintained that in early 2021 to confirm a leap from 59th to 34th.

That said, after reeling off a rash of top 20 finishes from January to early October (including a thrilling run at a Masters debut victory which saw him pull up narrowly short in second) he'll be disappointed with ending the year with four failures to crack the top 30.

Scottie Scheffler

He started the year in 31st and ended it in 12th. Moreover, he finished fifth at the WGC Workday Championship, runner-up in the WGC Dell Technologies Match Play, T18th at the Masters, and then top 10 in the other three Majors.

He also looked assured in his Ryder Cup debut.

In other words, he's done just about everything but claim a first win.

Louis Oosthuizen

He may not have made up the most places on the rankings, but the rise from 22nd to 10th confirms just what a fine year he had, particularly in elite level competition.

He finished second at the PGA Championship, second at the US Open and third at the Open. He also led all three tournaments at some point in the week.

He also contended at both the WGC strokeplay events, the Workday Championship and St Jude Invitational.

Two big questions remain. No.1: Will he ever win in America?!

And No. 1: Will a return to St Andrews help him land a second Major?! He won there in 2010, was a play-off loser in 2015 and he wants another win to add to his eight second and third places finishes.

Nearly man is nice, two-time winner better.

Jon Rahm

He started 2021 in second and is now first; a tiny move but a significant one.

His year was a transformative, but also curious, one.

He landed four top 10s in the Majors, one of them a breakthrough win at the US Open. No less than 14 of his 22 starts earned top 10s and he would have won a second title at the Memorial but for a positive Covid test (he led by six with 18 holes to play). He also became a dad for the first time and starred for Europe in the Ryder Cup.

That he only won once, failed to land the FedExCup, and ended the year with three limp performances will grate. He's the type to be motivated by such trifles, however. We can expect more quality from him in 2022.

Others to note

Viktor Hovland made an assured move into the top 10 (eighth from 14th) and Collin Morikawa very nearly landed top spot (second from seventh).

Three youngsters thrived lower down. The Aussie pair of Min Woo Lee (172nd to 49th) and Lucas Herbert (70th to 41st), plus Japan's Takumi Kanaya (123rd to 50th).

And will the Americans Max Homa (100th to 35th) and Talor Gooch (81st to 32nd) maintain their progress? Homa, notably, has landed two of his three career wins on Major Championship standard courses.

Going down

Let's not dwell too much on the downer of who struggled this year. Instead, just note those moves.

Of those who remain in the top 50, Tommy FleetwoodAdam Scott and Webb Simpson all dropped at least 20 spots. Fleetwood, who also lost his full PGA Tour card, slipped from 17th to 40th, Simpson from sixth to 27th, and Scott from 21st to 46th.

Patrick Reed and Tyrrell Hatton both slithered from inside the top 12 to outside the top 20.

A small but significant drop was Rory McIlroy's: he started the year ranked fourth and is now ninth.

Two others to note are Victor Perez, who was flying high at 32nd but is now 81st, and Matt Kuchar. The veteran was 37th at New Year and is now 114th.

READ MORE: Viktor Hovland ends 2021 on a high and has “home” Major target for 2022

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