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New World Order: Skewed rankings show need for new system

by | CBSSports.com Senior Golf Columnist
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Elling's clear No. 1, even Rory McIlroy isn't immune to the jumbled mess of current rankings. (Getty Images)  
Elling's clear No. 1, even Rory McIlroy isn't immune to the jumbled mess of current rankings. (Getty Images)  

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- There's a minor movement afoot to give the official world rankings a cleansing, if not a complete dunk-tank dousing or fire-hosing.

Two Ivy League college professors, including one who recently invented the incredible new putting statistic that revolutionized how putting success on the PGA Tour is measured, have crunched the global numbers and proven what many assumed all along.

The ranking numbers are skewed and PGA Tour players are screwed.

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Because of the weighting assigned to second- and third-tier events on lesser tours overseas, the professorial data suggested the average PGA Tour player was ranked a stupefying 36 spots lower than a comparable player on other tours.

To frame it in actual live bodies: The runner-up at a tournament staged earlier this month in Indonesia, which had exactly one player ranked in the world top 150, earned as many ranking points as Matt Every and John Huh, who finished T2 at the Texas Open, one of the oldest events on the PGA Tour.

Sure, most fans find the world rankings, which represent data culled over two years, to be more coma-inducing than the Tiger Woods video posted Monday, and about as illuminating. The secondary ranking system, the Sagarins, uses a one-year metric and can be just as vexing.

For instance, Sergio Garcia and Webb Simpson are both ranked in the Sagarin top six, though neither has been a serious threat to win since last fall. Masters champ Bubba Watson, who hasn't been out of the top 20 all season, is a distant 16th, which is eight spots behind Zach Johnson, who hasn't won in nearly two years.

Go figure. No, really.

Clearly, data can be manipulated a million ways, as evidenced by the monthly unemployment report. Collate the two ranking systems and you get a jumbled mess, which is why New World Order was conjured up in the first place.

Sometimes, at least since Tiger Woods' career took a header, the numbers aren't enough to provide a full indication of recent dominance. So we do our rankings the way Bubba plays golf, with an understanding of the basic strictures and structure, but with a definite sense of spontaneity, instinct and panache.

Seriously, when one ranking system has Watson pegged at No. 4 and the second has him at No. 16, it suggests a credibility gap that is even bigger than the separation of numbers.

With a busy fortnight ahead for many top players at Quail Hollow and TPC Sawgrass, soon to be followed by the Memorial and U.S. Open, these horses figure to be doing some serious jockeying over the next six weeks. But let's take off the statistical blinders now, shall we?

1. Rory McIlroy
Northern Ireland
OWGR: 2
Sagarin: 1

Hey, occasionally the rankings systems basically get it right. It's been an interesting stretch for McIlroy since he tanked in spectacular fashion on the weekend at the Masters. While sitting at home, or parked on a beach, or batting tennis balls around, he supplanted Luke Donald as the official No. 1, then last week, when Donald finished third in New Orleans, he was unseated in the top spot yet again. There have been eight changes atop the official ranking since October 2010, and since nobody has exactly been piling up wins, that hardly figured to change.

2. Bubba Watson
USA
OWGR: 4
Sagarin: 16

Watson made a capable defense of his title in New Orleans last week, though his head was probably still spinning after his stunning victory at Augusta National. Watson has taken some heat over the past few months about his careening inconsistency, but as he pointed out last week, he has not finished outside the top 20 all season. In fact, in his last 12 events offering ranking points, dating back seven months, he hasn't finished worse than 18th. Even Luke Donald would appreciate that stretch of consistency.

3. Luke Donald
England
OWGR: 1
Sagarin: 4

He had a rough start to the season, no question, but his win in Tampa in March certainly steadied the ship, and after finishing third in New Orleans last week, Donald jumped back into the official No. 1 position for the third separate time. Donald has been ranked No. 1 for a total of 45 weeks overall, the sixth-best total since the official world rankings began in 1986. Yeah, it's confusing, so as a public service, check out this website for some welcome clarity. He just surged past Nick Price (44 weeks at numero uno) on Monday.

4. Lee Westwood
England
OWGR: 3
Sagarin: 3

Westwood picked up a victory in Indonesia earlier this month, admittedly beating a thin field, but it isn't like the guy hasn't held his own when the big boys have been around. He had a chance to win the Masters, where he finished T3, and has amassed a head-to-head record of 610-187 against players ranked in the top 100 over the past year. Throw out his missed cut at the British Open last year and Westwood has not finished outside the top 30 in any event offering world ranking points in his past 32 starts. That includes top-8 finishes at the last two majors. Good enough for us.

5. Hunter Mahan
USA
OWGR: 5
Sagarin: 9

We're halfway through the so-called regular season on the PGA Tour and Mahan is the lone player with two victories, including one at a star-stacked WGC event. Mahan, who turns 30 on May 17, has started patching the holes in his short game and become a more consistent threat on a weekly basis, as evidenced by his T12 finish at Augusta, where he faded a bit on the weekend. At No. 5 in the official world ranking, this is the highest he's ever climbed, though he certainly has the chops to win a major soon too. According to the Sagarins, Mahan has played the third-toughest schedule in golf over the past year. No cherry-picking for this guy.

6. Phil Mickelson
USA
OWGR: 10
Sagarin: 11

Mickelson this week makes his first start since the infamous Bamboo Snafu at the Masters, which cost him a tournament-wrecking triple bogey and a real shot at a fourth green jacket. Lefty jacked a 4-iron on the fourth hole that clanged off the grandstands and into a stand of bamboo, then needed a machete to extricate himself. The good news is, he's had success at the next two venues, only once finishing outside the top 12 at Quail Hollow and winning at Sawgrass five years ago. Mickelson is convinced that his putting stroke is back. And if he believes it, that's all that really matters.

7. Louis Oosthuizen
South Africa
OWGR: 11
Sagarin: 42

Does this ranking seem a little high, especially since the Sagarins have Oosthuizen buried and barely inside the top 50? Not to us. In his last three global starts, he has finished 3-2-1. He blew the 54-hole lead and finished third at Houston, matched the lowest score of the week at the Masters before losing a playoff to Bubba Watson, then won seven days later at a mid-tier EuroTour event in Malaysia. So in other words, he shot the lowest 72-hole score twice and the low three-round tally once. Like with many of you, my only question is that, with a swing like Oosty's, why isn't he doing this all the time?

8. Justin Rose
England
OWGR: 9
Sagarin: 28

Think we have enough Englishmen on the list? Maybe one of them will win a major soon, huh. One of three Brits on our top-10, Rosie has come a long way in the past couple of years and turned into the player everybody believed he would be when he sprung into the scene as a teen amateur at the British Open some 14 years ago. He has four PGA Tour wins in the past two years on his record, all at invitationals or other elite-class events. Like Mahan and Woods, he shares the same swing coach, Canada's Sean Foley, who is having a better year than anybody on this list.

9. Tiger Woods
USA
OWGR: 7
Sagarin: 7

We were tempted to dock him a few spots for the lame fan video he sleepwalked through and posted on Monday, but Woods ultimately dropped a couple of spots because his game seems to have slipped back to where it was last fall, when the results were all over the map. After a strong spring, Woods never remotely sniffed the lead at the Masters, finishing T40, despite coming off a five-shot win at Bay Hill and being one of the massive Augusta favorites. He heads to two venues at Quail Hollow and Sawgrass where it's hard to predict how he will fare. In his first four starts at Quail Hollow, he had a victory and never finished outside the top 11, but in his last appearance, he shot 74-79 and missed the cut by a long par 5. At Sawgrass, he hasn't contended since he won 11 years ago. What happens next?

10. Branden Grace
South Africa
OWGR: 66
Sagarin: 295

If we're going to seriously call this ranking a modified dominance index, then we need to accommodate the players who are bashing their peers. We've had Yani Tseng and Patrick Cantlay on the list in the past when they were slaying the LPGA and amateur circuits, so Grace more than deserves this distinction. A year ago, he was playing on the Challenge Tour in places like the Kazakhstan Open and Namibia PGA Championship. This year, he's a three-time winner on the European Tour. Sure, he has a 32-71-9 record in head-to-head play against players from the official world top 50 over the past year, but nobody else on this list has three wins in 2012, do they? Plus, the guy has had the spelling of his first name butchered so often, he can use the love.

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