Planet Golf — 28 February 2012 by Bob Sherwin
Who’s No. 1: Ask the eggheads

So who’s the No. 1 golfer in the world right now? Get out a slide rule, a nonogram and your Calculus for Dummies handbook.

That’s what might be needed to figure it out in a rather complicated system of ascension. But I offer a couple simple, effective tools to identify it almost immediately – my two eyes. It shouldn’t be that hard to decide who is on the best player on the planet at this time. Yet it is.

According to the Official World Golf Ranking, entrusted with the august duty of determining the order of the professional ranks, it’s a big deal. Or, rather, an ordeal. Everyone get in line, wait your turn and we’ll tell you when it’s time. It may take longer than an election run-up.

There is some complexity to the process. The overseers have to take into account and grade the results in the six leading International Federation of PGA Tours – the PGA Tour, European Tour, Japan Golf Tour, PGA Tour of Australasia, Sunshine Tour and Asian Tour. All the scores and results are analyzed then a new list is churned out every Monday. Here’s the latest result.

To give you an idea of how the Rankings group determines 1-to-1,000 on the master list, here’s a snapshot of the logic and language:

The World Ranking Points for each player are accumulated over a two-year ‘rolling’ period with the points awarded for each event maintained for a 13-week period to place additional emphasis on recent performances – ranking points are then reduced in equal decrements for the remaining 91 weeks of the two-year Ranking period. Each player is then ranked according to his average points per tournament, which is determined by dividing his total number of points by the tournaments he has played over that two-year period. There is a minimum divisor of 40 tournaments over the two-year ranking period and a maximum divisor of a player’s last 52 events.

Tournaments are weighted, depending on how prestigious they are. The winner of any of the four majors is awarded 100 points (60 points for 2nd, 40 for 3rd, 30 for 4th and down to 1.50 points for a player completing the final round). Each tour also has its own set of points awarded, and the PGA Tour understandably generates the lion’s share.

There is also a greater emphasis on recent results – not enough for me, however.

It’s a complicated system relegated to computers and eggheads. But the biggest problem is this two-year ‘rolling’ period. It’s much too long. It serves as a protection against the fading golfers while not accounting enough for the emerging golfers.

The most glaring example is Tiger Woods. He holds the record – by far – of 623 weeks as the No. 1 player in the world. He also has a record for most consecutive weeks at the top spot with 281. No problem here. He’s won 71 PGA tournaments, 14 majors with 168 top 10 finishes. He was the symbol for sustained success, fending off every challenger.

Then came the shock of his messy personal life, hitting the tabloids on Nov. 28, 2009 when he rammed his car into a neighbor’s tree. That opened up his sordid double life, mistresses, payoffs, embarrassing phone calls and a subsequent big-money divorce from his stunningly beautiful wife, Elin.

Before his world blew up, Woods won six events in 2009. But after knee surgery, a new swing and all his private distractions, he did not win again until Dec. 12, 2011 in a non-sanctioned PGA event. That’s a span of two years and 15 days without a victory. He also has not won a major since June 15, 2008, the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines.

Woods went the entire 2010 season winless yet retained his No. 1 status. It was a year in which he finished in the top 10 just four of 14 tournaments. With his sliding scale analysis was over a two-year period, however, he was able to ride it out. He did not lose the No. 1 position until Oct. 30, 2010.

Anyone could see that so many other golfers were better than Woods during the 2010 season but he had a built-in straight arm. He survived virtually the entire year.

Since Woods’ fall over the past 15 months, Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer and Luke Donald have swapped the top spot. Donald earned his position. He had an extraordinary 2011 season, winning twice with top 10 finishes in 14 of 18 events he entered. He completed the season as the Tour’s leading money-winner with $6.7 million.

But that was last year. In his first tournament of 2012, he finished tied for 56th then followed that with a 33rd place finish. Donald has a tenuous hold over on-rushing Rory McIIroy and Westwood.

McIIroy, who balances his schedule with the European Tour, nearly won the Masters last year, won the U.S. Open, was third in the PGA and finished in the top 10 in seven of the 11 PGA events. This year he already has finished second in Dubai and second at the WGC-Accenture.

Clearly, he’s ahead of Donald. If he’s not deserving of No. 1 then it should be Westwood or Phil Mickelson. You could make a case for Kaymer, Steve Stricker and Hunter Mahan. But Donald’s reputation is riding on what he did eight, 10 months ago so his streak is now at 40 weeks.

It’s like, let’s say Albert Pujols has just an average season with the Angels in 2012 but since he was coming off an extraordinary season a year ago, he’s given the MVP award based on a two-year reflection.

There is an accidental benefit of the confusing rankings this season, however, in the fact that with the absence of a Woods-like dominant player, there may be a series of flip flops at the top spot. It means that if one of the prominent players wins a major, No. 1 could come with it. As it should be. You beat the best at the best events, it makes sense that No. 1 ranking should follow.

Yet with McIIroy within a short reach of No. 1, once he gets there he’s likely to get on rolling.

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Bob Sherwin

Bob grew up in Cleveland, an underdog city with perennial underdog teams, and that gave him an appreciation and an affinity for the grinders in golf, guys such as Rocco Mediate, Jhonattan Vegas and star-crossed John Daly. This is the 44th year for Bob as a sportswriter, the first 34 working for newspapers throughout the west, Tucson (Daily Star), San Francisco (Examiner) and Seattle (Times), and the past 10 years as a freelancer. He has covered just about every sport, including golf tournaments, Tucson Open, Bing Crosby/AT&T Pro-Am, the 1998 PGA Championship, the 2010 U.S. Senior Open, the 2010 U.S. Amateur and the annual Champions Tour Boeing Classic. He also writes articles for golf magazines. For most of his 20 years at the Seattle Times his primary beat was the Mariners. He then picked up Washington men's basketball in the winter. He also was the beat writer for the Sonics, including 1996 when they played the Bulls for the NBA title. After a lifetime hacking on public courses, he finally gave in and joined a country club in 2011, the Members Club of Aldarra near Seattle. He won't win the club championship any time soon with his 14 handicap and default-swing slice but he does have a pair of aces – 37 years apart – and in 2009 came agonizingly close to his ultimate golf goal of scoring in the 70s when he finished with an even 80. He lives in Seattle, and spends part of his winters in Marco Island, Fla.

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