CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Thanks goodness for Lee Westwood.
Otherwise, we were considering a name change to New World Odor.
Outside of a few exceptions, it hasn't been a banner 2011 for most of the world's top dogs, who mainly have trotted along, marking very few trees as a means of staking a territorial claim to a spot in the world top 10.
|Lee Westwood gives the gallery a wave after his birdie on 18 Sunday won the Ballantine's Championship in South Korea. (Getty Images)|
Luke Donald gets heads, Lee Westwood gets tails -- and nobody was flipping out over deciding the top slot in that fashion. But then Westy stepped up and won in South Korea last week, beating a decent field that included runner-up and former Ryder Cup teammate Miguel Angel Jimenez, his dinner companion the night before the final round.
Rankings change faster than mealtime friends turn into battlefield foes. A month ago, when the New World Order list was published before the Masters, Germany's Martin Kaymer occupied the top perch, but he missed the cut by an acre at Augusta National. Like with the Autobahn, the dude fast got run over and lost his perch in the official world ranking.
As tightly grouped as the players are in various world computers, they are just as jumbled in the minds of fans trying to sort through the body count and provide some context to the musical chairs that has ensued since Tiger Woods last won in the States an incredible 20 months ago.
For instance, in Monday's fresh set of Sagarins, where results over 12 months are equally weighed, the top three of Matt Kuchar, Westwood and Donald are separated by .01 points, which is as narrow as it gets.
"They are pretty much tied," said Lance Ringler, who runs the Sagarin rankings for Golfweek magazine.
Now, with a slew of big tournaments set for May, including the signature events run by the PGA and European tours at Sawgrass and Wentworth, the names on this list are hardly set in stone. Heck, after all, this is the Internet. They're not even printed on paper.
A few words of explanation. As denoted above, the slower-moving OWGR and Sagarin metrics are calculated over 24 and 12 months and have widely different outcomes -- for instance, American Matt Kuchar is No. 1 in Sagarin and 11th in the OWGR. Our NWO listing is a monthly domination index that not only is reflective of the computer metrics, but includes predispositions, biases, gut instinct and an emphasis on more recent, significant outcomes.
In other words, like the college football rankings and the game of golf itself, there's an element of human subjectivity. Plus, if at some point we need to downgrade a player for having a weak strength-of-schedule component, it's as easy to change as an opinion.
1. Lee Westwood
April New World Order: 6
Look, he's not the first guy to be ranked numero uno in the OWGR before he won a major championship, and last week's win in South Korea was a sanctioned European Tour victory. There has been no better player over the last two years than Westwood, who has piled up wins in South Africa, Asia and the States since last summer. That alone ought to engender more global love than he's been getting. The guy must pack a helluva suitcase.
2. Luke Donald
April New World Order: 2
Donald has been picking up mojo in the States because he's a member of the U.S. tour, and therefore, he's been rolling up wins and top 10s against deeper fields than has Westwood. Interestingly, at age 33, Donald is just entering his prime years and gave the Masters jacket a terrific run down the stretch. He doesn't make many mistakes, especially compared to flying Wallendas like Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson. The way Donald has played in 2011, easily a career year, it's a surprise when he isn't on the Sunday board.
3. Bubba Watson
April New World Order: 7
Half the players on this list are more consistent. If you like players who deliver steady results, then skip Watson and proceed to Donald and Kuchar, a pair of top-10 machines. Befitting his admitted ADD affliction, Watson is unpredictably fantastic, and no other American has piled up three wins since last summer. Splitting hairs here, but he also lost in a playoff at the PGA Championship, so that's almost like another victory. As Curtis Strange put it before the Masters, "Nobody on the planet has improved more than he has in the last few months." Nobody on the planet is arguing the point.
4. Rory McIlroy
April New World Order: 10
Go ahead, roll your eyes. Overrated? That's your opinion. But can you name another player who has had a chance to win the past two majors on the back nine on Sunday? We'll wait. Sure, McIlroy needs some fine-tuning, especially with this putting game under duress. But he led the PGA Championship with about 90 minutes left to play and held the 54-hole lead at Augusta. He needs to clean up the Sunday scorecard, and when he does, Ireland will have yet another major champion. Defends his title this week in Charlotte.
5. Matt Kuchar
April New World Order: 5
Everybody loves victories. They are easy to understand, easier to remember, easier to digest. True, Matt Kuchar led the PGA Tour in earnings last year, but only had one win. Well, in some fashion, consistency must be acknowledged. Now playing in the best events in the game, against the best fields, Kuchar has not missed a cut since exactly one year ago this week, and continues to demonstrate that he's not going to fade away anytime soon.
6. Charl Schwartzel
April New World Order: Not ranked
Now playing as a member of both the Euro and PGA circuits, fans will get a better look at the whippet-like South African this season and surely they will like what they see. His swing is effortless, rhythmic, easy. He is built for the long haul. Schwartzel, who got off to a stellar start earlier this year on the European Tour, birdied the last four holes to storm from behind to win the Masters. The number of times that's been done in the televised era of the majors? Never before.
7. Martin Kaymer
April New World Order: 1
A month ago, he was first on this list and in the OWGR, but it's a tough neighborhood. Since finishing second at Accenture Match Play two months ago, Kaymer has posted two rounds in the 60s and missed the cut by a wide margin at the Masters, where he left muttering about the state of his game and the issues he needs to solve at Augusta National. He has three rounds of 74 or higher in the past two months, though he did finish ninth at the E-Tour's Malaysian event in his last start. After spending weeks tweaking his swing to succeed at Augusta, the Masters was a rude slap in the face. Let's see how he responds.
8. Nick Watney
April New World Order: 3
Admittedly, we were disappointed by his 20th-place finish at the Masters, where he was among a small handful of players who seemed poised to contend entering the week. But the fact remains that Watney has only once finished outside the top 20 all season and has amassed five top-nine finishes, including a win at the WGC event at Doral. Like McIlroy, he blew a chance to win a major when he imploded with the 54-hole lead at the PGA last fall, but he sure looks like a guy who will have more Slam chances in the near future, doesn’t he? Turned 30 last week, so the best is likely still ahead.
9. Steve Stricker
April New World Order: Not ranked
Like countryman Jim Furyk, Stricker seemed to be doing a slow fade this spring. Or, maybe, that was a fast fade in Furyk's case. But Stricker has been sliding his way up the Sunday leaderboards in gradual fashion, and has been T18 or better in every start beginning at the WGC at Doral in mid-March, including a quiet T11 at the Masters that was easy to overlook given the group portrait of leaders in the unforgettably wild final round. Not many players have five top-13 finishes this season as well as Stricker's career resume.
10. Phil Mickelson
April New World Order: Not ranked
Yep, we're darned close to having no Tiger and no Phil on the list, and considering that they have combined for one victory over the past 12 months, that's probably the way it should be considering the results posted by the others not on this list (like Graeme McDowell, who despite his wins in 2010, has missed three of his past four cuts). Mickelson showed flashes of brilliance in winning at Houston in what was supposed to be a tune-up for the Masters. Then he turned up to defend his title at Augusta and didn't remotely contend. Wish we could predict where Lefty will go from here, but at this point, Mickelson's past two wins, at Houston and the 2010 Masters, look more like the exception than the rule. But that's the mystique of Mickelson -- he will sometimes win when we least expect it. Last time, there was 51-week gap between victories. A month away from age 41, it bears watching whether he still has what it takes to pick up the pace.