New World Order: Where have all the Americans gone?

by | Senior Writer

This is, shall we say, a delicate time to be attempting to rank the top guns in golf, especially for a primarily American readership.

In the first week of each month, a feature called New World Order will sort through the scorecard circles and squares, calculate the geometry involved, and then produce a modified world top 10 that more accurately reflects both the short-term results of now and the longer-term effects of then.

Yanks keep getting yanked.

Forget DiMaggio -- where have you gone, Phil Mickelson, Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk and Tiger Woods?

When the official world golf ranking was issued Monday morning, four Europeans topped the list for the first time in 19 years, which underscores two points -- the game has gotten increasingly global, and the Americans have dived increasingly underground of late.

None of the four American horses, flag-carriers for the red, white and blue, won on the West Coast Swing. None are playing this week at the Honda Classic, but most of the top-ranked European Tour players atop the rankings are.

For the American contingent, the plot continues to thin.

Listed below is our one-man version of the Associated Press college poll, where wins and losses, weighting assigned to player schedules and actual tournament results are tossed in a blender to yield our rankings concoction. It falls somewhere between the two-year window of the OWGR and the 12-month database used by Golfweek's Sagarin ratings, which are notoriously slow to change.

Data is combined with common sense and a smattering of personal bias, and the result is's occasionally lucid ratings. In other words, these are the 10 best players in their comparative orbits, right here, right now.

Call it a dominance directory, a golfing RPI. Except that some guys on the current OWGR and Sagarin lists are closer to RIP.

To wit, some shallow thinkers will take umbrage that, for the second month in a row, a key name is absent. If you haven't figured out to whom we're referring, his first name rhymes with Schmeldrick. He still hasn't contended on the weekend in three starts this year and has fallen to fifth in the OWGR, his lowest standing since 1997.

Meanwhile, the European Tout stars are stampeding to the top, en masse, and posing for what is starting to resemble a Ryder Cup team photo.

1. Martin Kaymer. Germany. OWGR: 1. Sagarin: 8. Feb. rank: 1
The Schwarzenegger lines being bandied about on the course and in the media center would be a lot funnier if Ahnold was in fact a German, and not Austrian, but it's close enough. The 26-year-old Kaymer, a.k.a. the Germanator, has been systematically taking apart his opponents since the PGA Championship last fall, the first of four wins in six months. Sunday, he suffered something of a letdown in the Accenture Match Play finale against Luke Donald, when he didn't have much energy left after playing two full-term matches on Saturday to earn enough ranking points to ascend to No. 1 in the OWGR. This time, unlike with Lee Westwood 17 weeks earlier, nobody can whine that Kaymer doesn't deserve to be No. 1 -- which is precisely where we had him ranked one month ago.

2. Graeme McDowell. Northern Ireland. OWGR: 3. Sagarin: 4. Feb. rank: 2
McDowell has barely played this season, finally taking some time off after a hectic 2010. He went to the Super Bowl, is building a new home in Orlando, visited with the golf team at his alma mater at Alabama-Birmingham, and had his wisdom teeth yanked. He didn't have much working at the match play last week and was spending tons of extra time with swing coach Pete Cowen on the range. But it's a testament to his ability to grind that he still won two matches, despite playing well below his usual standards. Outside of Kaymer, no player has been consistently stronger over the past year. In six of his past seven starts with ranking points on the table, he's finished T9 or better. Find somebody with better marks over that span. We'll wait.

3. Lee Westwood. England. OWGR: 2. Sagarin: 1. Feb. rank: 3
It's tempting to diss Westy for getting bounced after two rounds at the match play but, for him, that actually was a positive development. His record in the Accenture event has been utterly forgettable, but he knows it and it doesn't bother him much. The results don't show it, but Westwood had a strong start in Dubai before he started dunking balls on the last two holes and dived to T15. Still, that result marks his best in four starts this year and he needs to pick up the pace. Westwood's run as official No. 1 ended after a 17-week run Monday when Kaymer supplanted him, but the Englishman has a chance this week to get even. Westwood is playing the Honda Classic and Kaymer isn't.

4. Bubba Watson. United States. OWGR: 15. Sagarin: 29. Feb. rank: 7
Watson began referring to himself in the third person during interviews last week, clowning around. "Bubba's playin' good," he said. There's nothing arguable about that statement, regardless of its source. Insane as it sounds, only Matt Kuchar can remotely approach Watson's results over the past eight months as far as American consistency, a term that seems almost inconceivable to put in the same sentence with his surname. With his win last June, followed by a playoff loss at the PGA Championship, Watson has become infinitely more confident in his abilities. He won this year at Torrey Pines and finished fourth at match play and has climbed to a career-high 15th in the official world ranking. Watson was the best American on the course last week in Arizona.

5. Rory McIlroy. Northern Ireland. OWGR: 8. Sagarin: 14. Feb. rank: NR
It was over so quickly, McIlroy had to laugh. He was steamrolled in the second round of match play and was back at the clubhouse in time for lunch. "I could almost eat a second breakfast," he laughed. It's easy to shake off a match-play drubbing when you have the advantage of perspective borne from playing so well for so long. Still very much in his formative years, the 21-year-old has finished T10, second, fourth, fifth, sixth and fifth in his last six stroke-play starts. If he had mixed in a win at any point in that stretch, he'd be in our top three, easily. His last victory was in May, and every player ahead of him on this list has won since June, some multiple times.

6. Matt Kuchar. United States. OWGR: 10. Sagarin: 2. Feb. rank: 4
In some regards, Kuchar and the player who follows him on this list, Luke Donald, are remarkably similar. Kuchar has been the most consistent American player for months, yet he hasn't exactly piled up the victories, a common criticism levied against Donald, one of Kuchar's former college foes. The guy hangs around leaderboards, though, and given the slumping state of the usual American stars -- Woods, Mickelson and Furyk -- he has clearly been on better form. Even though he changed his putting regimen last week at match play, he finished third. Dating to his Fall Series win in 2009, Kuchar has amassed 17 top-10 finishes. After topping the PGA Tour money list in 2010, he's at it again -- Kooch has finished in the top seven in five of his six starts this year.

7. Luke Donald. England. OWGR: 3. Sagarin: 6. Feb. rank: NR
Luke is the little engine that could. Long dismissed as a guy who didn't have the horsepower, if not the heart, to play with the big boys, Donald's second start of 2011 was the best of his career. He blew through the top 63 players in the world with nary a misstep to win the match play title after having never trailed in any match all week. Blessed with a terrific short game, especially out of the bunkers, Donald rarely throws away shots. Is he the third-best player in the world, as the OWGR suggests? Well, he's won twice since last summer and has been a rock of consistency. But that position seems bloated. He's better than Graeme McDowell, who won a major last year? Don't think so.

8. Yani Tseng. Taiwan. OWGR (women's): 1. Sagarin (women's): 6. Feb. rank: NR
When the brain trust at elected to trot out rankings on the first Tuesday of every month in 2011, the boss insisted that if a player from another tour was lighting up the world, they needed to be included in the mix. Well, LPGA star Yani Tseng has been a pyrotechnic wonder in her five 2011 starts, winning four and finishing T3 last week after moving within a stroke of eventual winner Karrie Webb on Sunday in Singapore. Tseng, the LPGA's reigning Player of the Year, has an incredible seven victories globally over the past 11 months, including two majors. In terms of dominance, nobody on any circuit matches up to the 22-year-old.

9. Phil Mickelson. United States. OWGR: 6. Sagarin: 7. Feb. rank: 5
For the second year in a row, Mickelson didn't win on the West Coast Swing, and he was bounced in the second round last week at match play in lopsided fashion by Rickie Fowler, which represented another opportunity lost for Lefty. Had Mickelson beaten Fowler, he would have shot past Woods in the world ranking for the first time since the week before Woods won his first major title in 1997. Mickelson played six straight weeks globally, and only contended once, at San Diego, where he was edged by Watson. If Mickelson doesn't show signs of life in his next start at Doral, where he has won in the past, it's probably time to start fretting.

10. Paul Casey. England. OWGR: 7. Sagarin: 11. Feb. rank: 6
No question, he's been all over the map lately -- and we're not referring to his itinerary from playing on two major tours. After a brilliant fall, when he finished in the top six in five straight starts against superior fields, he won in the Middle East and climbed back into the world top 10. Then he missed the cut five days later. After a solid season opener on the PGA Tour at Riviera, where he finished T12, he was zapped in the second round of match play last week by Jason Day. So it's been unusually uneven for one of the U.K.'s most talented players. His next start comes next week at Doral, where he will bear watching. Unlike with the predictable wind at Doral, it's hard to say which way Casey will be blowing.


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