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New World Order: Westwood bats leadoff as first No. 1

by | Senior Writer

Listing sank the Titanic, though it went end-first rather than falling over sideways.

We also recognize that rankings usually rankle.

None of that's going to stop us.

The second half of the 2010 golf season featured a long-running, spirited conversation about the bona fides of Lee Westwood, who inherited the No. 1 slot in the world golf ranking despite having barely played in weeks, supplanting Tiger Woods, who had occupied that perch for an astounding five years.

Opinions were like secular holidays -- everybody had one and was wholly, holy convinced that theirs was the best of the bunch.

That's effectively what spawned this idea. Well, that and the fact that long has produced well-read rankings on professional team sports, like the NFL, which generate all sorts of water-cooler conversation about X's and O's.

We'll be adding some whys.

Golf already has two ranking systems that have been around for decades, both based on arithmetic computer formulas and hard data. At their crux, the Official World Golf Ranking, formed in 1986, rates players over a two-year window, with a heavier emphasis placed on recent results and the weight of the field. The Sagarin formula used by Golfweek puts a bigger onus on head-to-head results over 52 weeks. As you can see below, the chasm in some cases is insanely, inexplicably wide. Moreover, the OWGR includes performances in boutique events such as last month's unofficial Chevron World Challenge, which featured only 18 players and was viewed by many as a veritable exhibition, but doesn't address fan favorites like the Ryder Cup, which is an exhibition defined.

In this format, every foul ball is fair game.

We'll find the common threads in the rankings' uncommon ground, with unvarnished analysis added to explain our result. The player top 10 list, to be posted on the first Monday of every month, is going to round it all into a somewhat coherent form, with more than a smattering of subjectivity to stimulate conversation. Sort of like the Associated Press college football poll, which relies on opinion as much as data and results.

Over the rest of 2011, in weeks in which the top 10 players ranking doesn't appear, the New World Order will churn out other lists, possibly including the top caddies, best tour courses, worst decisions and other conversation-causing fare.

1. Lee Westwood. OWGR: 1. Sagarin: 1.
The answer to the query posed for the last few months is pretty simple: Damn right he's No. 1. He didn't remotely amass his best season in terms of topping the European money list, as he did in 2008, or seasonal wins. All he did was reaffirm that as far as majors are concerned, nobody has played them better this decade. Westy was second last year at the Masters and British Open, and in his final start of the year, at the Nedbank Challenge against a limited field in South Africa, he cruised to an easy win as Tiger Woods was sputtering at the Chevron World Challenge in Southern California, failing in an attempt to retake the OWGR No. 1. Westwood rather famously will play on the European Tour this year even though he won in the States last year in Memphis, which means his results will be like comparing oranges to Uncle Sam's apple pie, but based on the increasingly strong firepower on that tour, especially during the Desert Swing that begins later this month, there will be plenty of weeks then the E-Tour will command more of the global spotlight than anything happening here. Westwood rightly leads the charge, but his grip is tenuous at best.

2. Graeme McDowell. OWGR: 5. Sagarin: 9.
In an attempt to curry favor with fans voting on the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award, McDowell's management came up with the idea of filming a light-hearted spot about how McDowell had imagined the entire 2010 season. It was shot in Southern California, where McDowell knocked off Woods with two unbelievable haymakers on the last hole of regulation and first extra hole of sudden death. "It's been a dream season," McDowell said. More like a fantasy fulfilled. McDowell won three official starts worldwide, and held off Woods, Mickelson and Els to win the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, becoming the first Euro in four decades to claim the American national title. But it was the crazed circumstances of his win over Woods that catapulted him into our inaugural No. 2 spot. Sure, the Chevron event was effectively an exhibition, but Woods was starving for a victory of any sort and had that serial assassin look etched onto his mug. Throw in the clutch fashion with which McDowell delivered the Ryder Cup back to the Euros by clinching the winning point and there's no doubt that the computers can't begin to assess where he really ranks in the pantheon. At least at the moment.

3. Martin Kaymer. OWGR: 3. Sagarin: 19.
This is a simple, declarative fact -- according to me. Nobody had a better year. So how then is McDowell ranked ahead of the easygoing German star? Because there's some subjectivity to the list. Kaymer won four official titles in 2010, more than any player. He won the PGA Championship. He won an event at St. Andrews. He won four titles in as many starts, if his successful stint on the Ryder Cup team is included. He made people in Germany pay attention to golf for the first time in years. Another of his three European Tour wins came at Abu Dhabi, one of the better events on that circuit. He turned 26 last week, so there's the distinct possibility that he will be heading north on this list, not south. He finished in the top eight at the final three majors of 2010, held at decidedly different tracks. His hometown of Dusseldorf is ranked as Germany's most livable city, though he is easily capable of setting up shop in a better locale -- atop the world rankings.

4. Jim Furyk. OWGR: 6. Sagarin: 10.
Now 40, the bald guy with the loopy swing locked up the PGA Tour Player of the Year Award by winning the FedEx Cup bonus in September, winning his third title of the season. Pretty good for a guy who generated his biggest splash -- and a tour rules change -- when he overslept and was disqualified from the FedEx series opener. Furyk had been mired in a lengthy victory drought but countered with a deluge -- he had never before won three times in the same season, though in many regards, he has been the third-best player in the world over the past decade. Had Furyk not won the FedEx finale, the POY voting would have been a complete mess because no other U.S. regular truly broke away from a broad pack of two-time winners. By being named the top player of '10, Furyk, who gets as much out of his talent as any player in the game, also bolstered his chances of someday making the Hall of Fame. Furyk, by the way, is a decent pick this week at the U.S. season opener in Hawaii, where he is a past winner.

5. Matt Kuchar. OWGR: 13. Sagarin: 3.
Here's where we need mental wiggle room. Kooch only won once in 2010, which is enough reason to question whether he's been parked far too high on this list. But in a PGA Tour season where only Furyk won more than two times, Kuchar was an astoundingly consistent presence on leaderboards from start to finish. Since winning the now-defunct event at Turning Stone in late 2009, Kuchar amassed 13 top 10 finishes, including at two majors. Ultimately, he topped the PGA Tour money list and won a $3 million bonus for finishing second in the FedEx Cup sweepstakes. It all began last year with a third-place finish at Kapalua, where Kuchar returns this week. Aloha in Hawaiian famously means both hello and goodbye. For Kuchar, given his steady ascent of the past four seasons, we're guessing he's still gravitating toward the former. With his putting stroke, he could contend at majors for years to come.

6. Ernie Els. OWGR: 12. Sagarin: 17.
Heading into 2010, more than a few knowledgeable golf scribes were certain that Els would never again win a PGA Tour event. He'd only won once on U.S. soil since 2004. Then Els had a March to remember, winning against deep fields at Doral and Bay Hill. Then he had a summer to forget, failing to muster much of a treat outside of a missed chance at Pebble Beach at the U.S. Open, where he had a shot at collecting his third National Open title. Rather than fade away, though, Els put a nice ribbon on his season by winning the South African Open last month on the European Tour. While it wasn't exactly a stacked field, just holding off talented countrymen like Charl Schwartzel and British Open champion Louis (Shrek) Oosthuizen counts for something. Now 41, it's hard to predict convincingly whether Els will continue to be a presence at meaningful events. But in a season with few breakout performances, Els surely earned his rankings spot of the moment.

7. Phil Mickelson. OWGR: 4. Sagarin: 8.
Admittedly, it was a coin toss between Mickelson and Woods for this spot, and Lefty got the nod because he actually won something. Not just any something, but his third Masters title in astoundingly memorable fashion. But unquestionably, by year's end, the main point of discussion relating to Mickelson was about his diet -- because he didn't accomplish anything meaningful on the field of greens for months. Odd as it sounds, Woods' short-term future seems more assured than Lefty's at this point, because while Mickelson was sliding into the offseason in forgettable form, Woods was showing signs of emerging from his first winless season. Still, as far as being the top-ranked Yank, Furyk schooled them both.

8. Tiger Woods. OWGR: 2. Sagarin: 4.
Had Woods not nearly won the short-field Chevron event in his final start of 2010, he might not have made this list at all. As heretical as that sounds, he just didn't contend on Sunday afternoon all season. But late in the year, he began showing glimpses of his former self, with a round at The Barclays, some inspired play at the Ryder Cup and the first three rounds at the Chevron, where he blew his first 54-hole lead of more than three strokes, albeit in an unofficial event. Take away McDowell's pyrotechnics, and the most memorable image from the Chevron was Woods' staking his approach on the 72nd hole to seemingly cement the win. With his swing changes taking root and his personal life settled, by the end of March, it would be downright shocking of Woods hasn't moved up several notches here.

9. Steve Stricker. OWGR: 7. Sagarin: 2.
Though he was a disappointment at the majors, including the PGA Championship staged in his Wisconsin backyard, Stricker managed two wins, nine top 10 finishes and was among those in the Player of the Year discussion down the stretch. The oldest guy on this list -- he turns 44 next month -- I thought Stricker would have a hard time following up on his Comeback Player of the Year Award won in 2006. All he has done since is win six of his nine PGA Tour titles, including at Riviera and John Deere last year, and play on two Ryder Cup teams.

10. Dustin Johnson. OWGR: 15. Sagarin: 14.
Johnson made more news last year by what he didn't do -- get off the 72nd hole at the PGA Championship with his hide intact. A strong case could be made for the inclusion of Rory McIlroy, Luke Donald, Paul Casey and Ian Poulter on this list, since each is ranked ahead of Johnson, who won twice last year. In this instance, placing Johnson ahead of the other foursome is like picking a player in the NFL Draft. It's based as much on what he'll do in the future as what he did in the past. Rather than dwell on his twin screwups at the U.S. Open and PGA -- both the subject of massive worldwide coverage -- note that Johnson held off Casey to win the loaded BMW Championship and heads into '11 as the best American player under age 30. If he had won either of those majors, wow, it's hard to envision how much talk the big-hitting kid from South Carolina, who at age 26 has won in each of the past three seasons, would be generating. If his wedge game improves, he will be a fixture on everybody's top 10 list.


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