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New World Order: Much in balance as fall season kicks in

by | CBSSports.com Senior Golf Columnist

Hard-working Luke Donald tests his luck and game this week in Spain with lots still on the line. (US Presswire)  
Hard-working Luke Donald tests his luck and game this week in Spain with lots still on the line. (US Presswire)  

SAN MARTIN, Calif. -- They have already scattered to the far corners of the world.

Some, like comprehensive world No. 1 Luke Donald, are still playing -- in his case, this week in Spain at the Madrid Masters. Others atop the game's global totem pole, like Webb Simpson and others in the American contingent, have shut it down for a spell.

But rest assured, or don't rest at all, that 2011 is far from over, despite whatever "season-ending" marketing pronouncements the PGA Tour might have slapped on the Tour Championship a couple of weeks ago.

The European Tour is still weeks away from its season finale, the Fall Series in the States still has three more official weeks before heading off to a couple of semi-sanctioned events in Asia, then to the Presidents Cup.

There's a lot of hardware on the dais to be claimed, not to mention movement in the perceived pecking order at the top of the pile.

In fact, Donald and Simpson, the two players running first and second in earnings on the PGA Tour, are considering adding starts in the States to take a run at the money list, which would absolutely bolster their chances of winning the most wide-open Player of the Year race in more than a decade.

That said, the rankings have been just as muddled at times, other than Donald's grip on the top spot, which has only strengthened over the past two months thanks to another steely run of six top-10s in his last seven starts.

Beyond that, though, good luck sorting through the rest, as evidenced by the wide range of numbers for the official world ranking, Sagarins and other power-measuring metrics.

Trust us, given the caprices of these guys lately, ours are as good as any.

1. Luke Donald, England
Sagarin: 1
August New World Order: 1
Donald's schedule this year has been unusual, to say the least. He started later than usual and missed his first cut, then has hardly blinked since, including during his current road-kill stretch in which he has teed it up in a staggering eight of the past 10 weeks. This week, he's in Spain, defending a European Tour title he won last year in a different time slot. After this week, he pledged to take some time off, but he's being chased by Webb Simpson for the PGA Tour money title. If Simpson adds one of the last two tournaments this month in the Fall Series, Donald indicated he might do likewise. The five-year exemption that comes with the money title is no joke, plus whatever incentives the pair might have negotiated with clubmakers and other endorsement deals. So, we might not have seen the last of Luke in the States after all. Donald is also seeking to win the EuroTour cash title, too. Clearly, with three 2011 wins, he's the global player of the year.

2. Rory McIlroy, Northern Ireland
Sagarin: 3
August New World Order: 6
For the first time in months, McIlroy had a real shot at a big title last weekend at St. Andrews, taking the lead after a stellar opening nine, but then he hit the wall on the back nine and finished second after a 65. Hard to quibble about a 65, but McIlroy didn't take advantage of any chances down the stretch as countryman Michael Hoey won for the second time this season. But with the European Tour's Race to Dubai about to dominate the conversation, McIlroy has a shot with a hot fall to make a move on Donald for the money title.

3. Lee Westwood, England
Sagarin: 4
August New World Order: 2
Did you happen to see the outfit Westwood wore on Sunday at St. Andrews? He looked like an Octoberfest celebration run amok, dressed in burnt orange from neck to ankle. Or maybe he was late to a Texas Longhorns tailgate party. Too much orange, not enough red. The week was a disappointment for Westwood, who had been on a solid run with four straight top-nine finishes across two tours before his forgettable T30th at St. Andrews. Before last week, he seemed just a tick away from another win. Now, who knows?

4. Webb Simpson, USA
OWGR: 13
Sagarin: 5
August New World Order: Not Ranked
Along with Keegan Bradley, Simpson has been the breakout player of 2011 in the States, if not the world. After winning for the first time at Greensboro, he followed up with another victory last month in Boston, giving him two wins and two seconds this season. Because of his summer play, the third-year tour player essentially missed winning the big FedEx Cup bonus by a single shot. Simpson had played six weeks in succession before skipping last week in Las Vegas, though he is considering adding either the McGladrey or Disney events this month to take a crack at unseating Donald for the PGA Tour money title. Yes, he's definitely aware that a five-year exemption is awarded to the money-list leader. That would add some late-season spice, huh?

5. Adam Scott, Australia
Sagarin: 41
August New World Order: 5
The 31-year-old Aussie has reinvented himself with the broom-handled putter, new caddie Steve Williams and a fresh outlook that looked none too rosy just a few months back. He's been a bit up and down since winning the Bridgestone Invitational in August to re-establish himself as an elite player, with three top-8 finishes and two utterly forgettable finishes in New Jersey and Chicago, but there's not much doubt that the soft-spoken Scott will be making a slew of leaderboard appearances going forward indefinitely. Just a few months ago, nobody was making that claim.

6. Steve Stricker, USA
Sagarin: 2
August New World Order: 3
His situation at the moment bears watching. After a withdrawal from the third FedEx series event because of a neck issue, Stricker was diagnosed last week with a bulging disk in his neck, and while no medical path has been disclosed, it's becoming a question as to whether the top-ranked American in the official world ranking will be ready to play in the Presidents Cup matches. Stricker likely will need to play, somewhere, before the matches next month, to knock off the rust. If he elects not to play, or if doctors advise him to skip it, Keegan Bradley is the 13th man on the dozen-man roster.

7. Keegan Bradley, USA
OWGR: 26
Sagarin: 91
August New World Order: 9
With three Fall Series events left, the PGA Tour Player of the Year award is as fluid as it's been in weeks. No player won more than twice all season, and Bradley, a rookie, is the lone PGA Tour member with a major championship among his two victories. He ran out of gas in the FedEx series, missing consecutive cuts before rallying to finish T16 and T11 at the last two. In the minds of many fans, not to mention certain scribes, he deserved the last at-large spot on the Presidents Cup team over Tiger Woods, who hasn't won in more than two years in the States.

8. Dustin Johnson, USA
Sagarin: 34
August New World Order: 4
It's been a rough stretch for Johnson since he won The Barclays to open the FedEx series. After extending his streak of seasons with a victory to four at Barclays, Johnson hasn't finished better than 23rd in four starts since, culminating with a missed cut last weekend at St. Andrews on the EuroTour. His caddie, hired in late spring, quit on him a week ago to take a job with Tiger Woods, adding even more question marks about Johnson's continuity going forward. Suffice to say that by all career yardsticks to date, Johnson looks more like a streaky player than a Matt Kuchar or Luke Donald type, piling up the odd win amid mixed results, versus a string of top-10s. Nothing wrong with that, per se. It's just hard to predict when the spurts are coming.

9. Nick Watney, USA
Sagarin: 3
August New World Order: 1
What a mess he could have cleaned up last week, potentially. Watney, one of six players with two PGA Tour victories in 2011, finished second last week in Las Vegas behind first-time winner Kevin Na, who outplayed everybody on Sunday. Watney could have been the first player to amass three wins, and could have moved within striking range of winning the money title with another solid start in the Fall Series, had he elected to play another week. As it stands, he'll make his first appearance for Uncle Sam at the Presidents Cup in Australia. Like Johnson, he's up and down, but it's been a career year for the 30-year-old, who is just settling into his prime.

10. Charl Schwartzel, South Africa
OWGR: 12
Sagarin: 11
August New World Order: 10
Others considered for this spot were K.J. Choi, Matt Kuchar and Jason Day, who again are enjoying solid seasons. But that trio has one victory among them. Schwartzel hasn't torched the planet since winning in South Africa and the Masters early this year, he was the most consistent player cumulatively at the four Grand Slam events this season and he has 11 finishes of T15 or better. Still a PGA Tour rookie, once he gets the lay of the tournament land in the States, he could be a force next year. Has missed one cut all year, despite playing in eight different countries on the two major tours. In terms of upside, perhaps only McIlroy on this list has more glitter in his future.


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