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New World Order: Bubba, Phil helping Yanks make major move

by | CBSSports.com Senior Golf Columnist

Rory McIlroy stays on top despite more Masters misadventures. (AP)  
Rory McIlroy stays on top despite more Masters misadventures. (AP)  

ORLANDO, Fla. -- A funny thing happened while Rory and Luke have been playing musical chairs atop the official world golf ranking.

Some familiar faces have been closing ranks from behind, and they are wearing Uncle Sam's colors.

It's never too early to start the Ryder Cup poking and prodding, especially since the Europeans have had something close to a death grip on the trophy. But while we've been being wildly entertained by guys blowing 54-hole leads, seeing players barf up their lunch and others storming up from a mile off the pace to win on PGA Tour Sundays this season, something interesting has been afoot.

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Don't look now, but Americans have won the last two majors -- a first since the middle of 2009 -- snapping a streak of six Grand Slam titles in a row by internationals, a modern record.

Moreover, as we at New World Order corporate headquarters have duly noted with this week's updated April player ratings, there are now five Americans in the top nine of the freshly minted official world ranking.

We're not that jingoistic hereabouts, normally, and fully embrace global diversity as crucial to the game's development, but it had been a lean stretch for the American contingent at the majors. So when 11 Americans finished in the top 26, and Florida native Bubba Watson won, it was a nice tonic for the troops.

Scoreboard: Americans have claimed 13 of the first 16 events this year on the PGA Tour, with Rory McIlroy and Luke Donald claiming two of the other three.

Not surprisingly, while weighing our subjective monthly rankings, which is a domination index that puts an emphasis on recency in terms of performance, the Yanks have made a big move.

Roughly two months ago, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson seemed to be edging close to extinction, and over that span, they each added a victory, while Hunter Mahan won twice.

Forget the U.S. Open. We almost wish the Ryder Cup was starting tomorrow.

1. Rory McIlroy
Northern Ireland
Sagarin: 1
February New World Order: 2

March New World Order: Perhaps it's because he's only 22, but if McIlroy is ever held to the same standards of scrutiny as Tiger Woods, his brainpan might short-circuit. Having entered the week as the second favorite behind Woods in the betting parlors, McIlroy was a couple of shots out of the mix when he imploded again on the weekend at the Masters, tying Woods at T40, ending a stellar streak in which he finished in the top five in 11 of 12 official starts. Now, his best finish in the three majors since winning the U.S. Open last summer is a distant T25. Maybe he shouldn't have taken three weeks off before playing at Augusta. Hey, it's just a theory.

2. Luke Donald
Sagarin: 4
February New World Order: 3
Donald didn't win the Masters, but he killed at an awards banquet staged on tournament eve, donning a curly wig and doing a darned fine McIlroy imitation. Unfortunately, he played about as well as the Ulsterman when the tournament began the next day, too. After a closing 68, Donald climbed to a respectable T32 after being at the back of the pack much of the week. It doesn't compute, really, since he had just won two weeks earlier in Tampa and his short-game skills should be perfect for Augusta's tricky contours. It's a head-scratcher, and that has nothing to do with the wig.

3. Phil Mickelson
Sagarin: 10
February New World Order: 5
So, if a guy effectively loses a tournament after taking two weak whacks from a stand of bamboo, can we say he was bamboozled? Mickelson surely was, hitting a poor 4-iron that clanged off the grandstands on the fourth hole and into some bamboo that looked more like the outskirts of Hanoi than Northern Georgia. He flipped over a wedge and tried two shots swinging right-handed, with no luck, proving the new adage that two rights do make a wrong. Though a revitalized Mickelson has regained his former swagger this season, it was a disappointing finish as he sought a fourth green jacket, because he was playing in the final group and most of us thought it was his tournament to lose. And that's pretty close to what happened, thanks to that fateful triple-bogey.

4. Lee Westwood
Sagarin: 2
February New World Order: 2
By the time Westy began scaring a few putts into the hole, on the back nine on Sunday, it was a little too late. He was too far back, there were too many guys in front of him, and he was left to mull another week of what-if scenarios. Still, yet another top-three finish at a major is hardly a bad thing two years after a runner-up performance at the Masters. You'd need to do some creative research to find a player who has more consistently put himself in position to win a Grand Slam event over the past four years. As Tiger, Jack and any other multiple major winner would attest, if you hang around long enough, it's got to eventually break your way. For Westy's sake, let's hope so.

5. Hunter Mahan
Sagarin: 8
March New World Order: Not ranked
You could start a lively watering-hole conversation regarding which Yank is the best in the world right now, and by lively, it could include a few flying chairs, cheap shots and haymakers. To us, Mahan wins because he has won twice already this season, the only player of any nationality who can make that claim on the PGA Tour. Moreover, he was within sniffing distance at the Masters before stumbling to a 74 on Sunday to finish T12. It was an impressive week, given that he had just won the previous Sunday in Houston under serious duress down the stretch. The incredibly glib Mahan turns 30 later this month and it sure looks like the best may still lie ahead.

6. Tiger Woods
Sagarin: 7
March New World Order: 6
In no particular order, Woods' last three starts could be described thusly: He's up, he's down, he's out. Playing at three consecutive venues where he has logged multiple victories, Woods was out of contention when he walked off the course at Doral, then won by a commanding five shots at Bay Hill, where it looked like he had stepped back in a time capsule to around 2005. Then he showed up at Augusta as the global favorite and posted a T40 finish, his worst as a professional by 18 positions at the Masters. Worse, he was buried by off-the-course stories and revelations, then acted like an angry 5-year-old on the course. If anybody in the golf galaxy claims they know what to expect in his next start, likely to be at the Wells Fargo event in Charlotte in three weeks, they are yanking your chain.

7. Peter Hanson
OWGR: 24
Sagarin: 23
March New World Order: Not ranked
Perhaps 90 minutes before what seemed his biggest day as a professional player, Peter Hanson walked under the famous oak tree outside the Augusta National clubhouse and barely anybody noticed. He was the 54-hole leader, of course, and a very chatty man. But well-known, he is not. One media guy cracked, "He could walk into a store wearing a shirt that said, 'I am Peter Hanson' and it still wouldn't be enough." Well, the staff at New World Order has noticed. Hanson's play against the best in the world this spring has been nothing short of stellar. He was T5 and T4 in two World Golf Championships events in Tucson and Miami, and though he didn't win the Masters, he hung on to finish T3 with three others, including Westwood and Mickelson. Hanson has joined the PGA Tour and surely looks like he's poised to make some noise, if not a name, for himself.

8. Bubba Watson
Sagarin: 11
March New World Order: Not ranked
It's always an interesting part of Masters week to gauge reaction to the final results out there in Sidewalk, USA. Watson has hardly been hiding in a closet for the past five years, though for casual sports fans who watch the Masters and little else as far as golf, he's become an overnight cult figure and celebrity. He's been hitting those jaw-dropping shots for years, and as he'd be the first to admit, given where he hits that pink driver, has had plenty of practice with insane recovery shots. Watson is never going to be a consistent player who rolls up top-10 finishes as have Donald, McIlroy or Matt Kuchar over the past few years, because he makes Mickelson look like a rock of predictability. But have fun watching him play, America, because he's making it all up as he goes along.

9. Louis Oosthuizen
South Africa
OWGR: 19
Sagarin: 53
March New World Order: Not ranked
It was addressed rather kindly during the Masters broadcast, but anybody who knows a lick about the golf swing and has watched Oosthuizen (pronounced wist-HI-zen) play the past couple of week is asking in less-kind terms, "uh, how does this guy not contend every week?" After running away with the British Open at St. Andrews two years ago, he's been mostly off the radar in the States, though he began to warm up last fall. He was the 54-hole leader in Houston the week before the Masters, in fact. One shot he'll rue for years is the 3-wood off the second playoff tee after Watson had bashed the ball into the trees a moment earlier. Oosthuizen made the percentage, smart play, then hit a poor shot down the right treeline that led to the losing bogey. Or we'd have renamed the Masters jacket "Shrek green" by now.

10. Justin Rose
OWGR: 10
Sagarin: 36
March New World Order: Not ranked
Rose won the World Golf Championships event at Doral last month, a fact that seemingly everybody forgot because Woods limped off the course in the final round with yet another in a series of Achilles issues. Rose had finished fifth the week before at the Honda Classic, and was T8 on Sunday at the Masters. Like Mahan, Rose is a Sean Foley pupil who seems to be piling up the victories without nearly the acclaim of the other top gun in the stable, Eldrick somebody. But he gets his due here. Rose has four official PGA Tour victories on his two-year world-ranking window, or as many as Mickelson and Woods combined. Well done.


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