It occurs to me, that since we have a new No. 1 in the World Golf Rankings we’d better get to the matter before there’s a change — which there almost surely will be this weekend.
For the first time in 251 weeks, Tiger Woods has lost his place at the head of the list. Lee Westwood moved into the lead simply resting comfortably in his digs in England. There had been speculation that Martin Kaymer, the German who won our PGA Championship, might move up in the Spanish Masters, but the bottom dropped out of his game in Valderrama.
Now the cast reconvenes in Shanghai, for the HSBC Championship, which is a major on the European Tour. (Understand, the EuroTour has never paid much attention to geography.) It was in 2006 that Woods turned his back on the Tour Championship, then showed up the following week in Shanghai — for a $3 million appearance fee. The HSBC lost, and so did Tiger. Y.E. Yang, then a total stranger to most of us, beat him by two strokes.
Tiger will be back this week, I understand. So will Lee Westwood, and he’ll have to win to keep his lead. There has been only one player who held the World Ranking lead for just a week — Tom Lehman in 1997, strangely, a year after he’d won the British Open. Westwood, by the way, is the only player who has been No. 1 without winning a major, and that’s almost impossible. The reason is, that the World Rankings are produced by an arrangement between the four major championships and six professional international tours.
Frankly, it’s complicated, “a rolling two-year formula,” as explained by Official World Golf Rankings. “Simple to understand, difficult to explain,” an inexplicable phrase in itself. To carry it further, the official body says that it is based on field strength,” that is, “a player is given a numerical value and compared to his peers.”
Got it? As convoluted as it sounds, it’s more complicated than that. Surely there has to be a better way, something that the average world tour player might understand, as well as the average student of the game. Westwood’s promotion to No. 1 is “his reward for consistently good golf over the past two years,” so the rankings committee explained, whoever might compose that body.
Woods dropped to second place, Kaymer third, Phil Mickelson fourth and Steve Stricker fifth. Mickelson had been flirting with the lead for the better part of a year, but a story emerged that he has been suffering from some nerve disorder.
Surely there must be some kind of clarified system, one that can be understood by the average man who can keep a scorecard. This formula complicates itself with the phrase, “Simple to understand, difficult to explain.”
For years, PGA Tour players have complained about the international rankings formula — those who profess to understand it. Right now, it has come to a head. Westwood, non-winner of a major, resting in his homestead while he might have been playing in Spain or Malaysia, slides into the position of world leader. Main complaint of PGA Tour members is that too much emphasis is placed on foreign events with lesser fields than the U.S. events far deeper in ratings.
Simple as that. Just as simple — reset the standards.
Furman Bisher is one of the deans of American sports writing. The longtime Atlanta sports journalist is a member of the Georgia and Atlanta Sports Halls of Fame and in addition to his newspaper writing has authored multiple books on major figures like Hank Aaron and Arnold Palmer. He writes periodic columns for the Daily Post.