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New World Order: Woods or Westwood? Either works OK atop new rankings

by | Senior Golf Columnist

Lee Westwood hasn't won a major but has been more consistent than Tiger Woods. (US Presswire)  
Lee Westwood hasn't won a major but has been more consistent than Tiger Woods. (US Presswire)  

ORLANDO, Fla. -- You say tomato, and I say potato.

Or something like that.

An interesting thing happened while we were tilling the soil for July's freshly updated New World Order player rankings -- it suddenly became a rich bumper crop at the top.

Depending on your palate, it's completely and utterly defensible to pick either the resurgent Tiger Woods, with three wins since March, or the more consistent and worldly warrior, Lee Westwood, as the No. 1 player in the game at the minute.

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As usual, and especially now, we'll toss aside the official and glacial world ranking, which is based on a two-year performance window. By that standard, Westy and Woods still rank Nos. 3-4 in the world, respectively, which is certainly not the true measure of the moment.

That's why the New World Order staff use a mix of more defensible and recent math, incorporates both established player-ratings systems, plus dollops of opinion, instinct and old-fashioned personal bias to sort of the here and now.

The now part looks pretty good, actually.

After hanging on to win at AT&T National on Sunday in a veritable battle of attrition -- or perhaps that's ATTrition -- Woods became the first player in two years to claim three PGA Tour victories in one season. Indeed, he has amassed three wins since mid-March, all at invitationals.

Then there's warhorse Westy, who admittedly has piled up most of his wins of late in weaker Asian events and limited-field tournaments. However, Westwood has been about tenfold better than Woods at the majors over the past three years, though he has yet to deliver a Grand Slam victory.

So how to you want to spin it?

Woods hasn't posted back-to-back top-10 finishes in PGA Tour play since before the scandal, though he has logged more victories. Westwood has consistently been in the mix at the majors and has a superior record against top-ranked players, which is why he is ranked No. 1 in the Sagarin computer index, which uses a 12-month window and greatly weighs head-to-head play.

You almost can't go wrong with either guy as No. 1. Except that for fans on the opposite side of the fence, if not the Atlantic, you almost can't get it right, either.

We'll make the case for both in out monthly rakings, as well as toss out the merits of the other eight guys who made the July cut.

1. Tiger Woods
Sagarin: 3
June New World Order: 3
To us, this is a complete coin toss. The quandary of picking between Westy and Woody was such a tossup, we even threw out the query on Twitter for fan feedback. The admittedly flawed research came back in lopsided fashion in favor of Woods, who seems to be feeling pretty good about his form at the moment, based on the fact that he said everything but "Nhah, nyah, nyah, nyah" to his perceived naysayers in the Washington media corps after the victory at Congressional on Sunday. Woods noted that four months ago, the media was still writing that he might never win another tournament. Well, having witnessed his abysmal final round in person five months back at Pebble Beach, when Phil Mickelson's cleat-mark puncture wounds were left on his backside, that was a common sentiment from fans, too. He hadn't won in 30 months and had clearly lost the plot. Looks like he found it. Now, what about those majors?

2. Lee Westwood
Sagarin: 1
June New World Order: 2
Take it with a grain of salt. Or the entire salt lick. Westwood has six victories and a pair of runner-up finishes on his two-year official world-ranking window, though the wins have mostly come against limited or weak fields in far-flung places. However, one area where he has been consistently outperforming Woods is at the majors, where Westwood has finished 11th or better in six of his past seven Grand Slam starts. Westwood has finished T8, T3 and T10 at the past three majors contested. Woods has finished no better than T21 in any of the trio. Granted, some believe Westwood first must win a major to deserve the top spot in any ranking metric, but Woods hasn't won a Slam event since June 2008, which is a lifetime ago in golf circles. The central point here being, Woods has been sprinting to the top over the past few weeks, but Westwood has been running with the peloton for two years. Put another way, Westwood has a personal 55-45-3 mark over the past year when playing against players ranked in the Sagarin top 10, while Woods is below break-even at 40-42-3. In our minds, though clearly not the general public's, Westwood is really T1 on this list.

3. Luke Donald
Sagarin: 2
June New World Order: 3
You know it, he knows it. It's no secret. Luke Donald needs to play better at the majors to be embraced as a truly transcendent player. He missed the cut at the U.S. Open last month, as he did at the British Open last summer on home soil in England, where even his first-rate short game couldn't make up for sloppy ball-striking elsewhere. The fact remains, as far as providing a drumbeat, this guy is steadier than Ringo Starr. Even with the disappointment at Olympic Club, and a forgettable T32 at the Masters, Donald has amassed five top-six finishes since March, including a victory in Tampa. He's set to play next week at the Scottish Open, where he defends his 2011 crown, then heads south to Royal Lytham for yet another English home game at the British Open. It sure seems like the pressure is mounting as it relates to the latter, no?

4. Jason Dufner
Sagarin: 20
June New World Order: 3
Everybody figured that the steady Auburn product might have a sniff at the U.S. Open, and darned if they weren't right for once -- he finished T4 and two strokes behind Simpson. Steady and stoic as ever, attributes that come in handy at any major, but especially the U.S. Open, Dufner shot 70-70 on the weekend. How about this for a strong run: In his past five starts, Dufner won his first career event at New Orleans, finished T68 at the Players Championship and then got married, won at Byron Nelson, finished second at Colonial and was T4 at the Open. Heck, we probably should have ranked him even higher. This spring, nobody has done it consistently better across the board, Westy and Woody included.

5. Hunter Mahan
Sagarin: 10
June New World Order: 8
He has moved up three notches in the New World Order since last month not so much because he's collecting scalps like he was in the spring, but because he has been the best of the rest. After winning in Houston for his second title of the season, Mahan looked like a Player of the Year candidate -- and he still is, even though Woods passed him in total victories. While the others have been mercurial sorts, Mahan has had an outside chance at winning heading into his past three weekends. He skidded home at the U.S. Open in 38th after standing T9 after 36 holes, then finished 11th at Travelers and T8 last week at Congressional. In what represents his career year to date at age 30, even when he has been out of the picture, it hasn't been by much.

6. Rory McIlroy
Northern Ireland
Sagarin: 7
June New World Order: 5
It didn't seem possible in the spring, after McIlroy stormed to the top of the official world ranking with a stretch of stellar top-10 performances that dated back six months. But he has been rappelling down the mountain steadily ever since, fighting a swing that abandoned him and resulted in four missed cuts in a span of seven starts. So, you think Tiger has been unpredictable? Sprinkled among that string of MCs has been a T7 and T10 in his past three starts as well. That said, where does the most talented player under age 30 go from here? Your guess is as good as ours. Truly.

7. Webb Simpson
Sagarin: 11
June New World Order: Not ranked
The disparity between his official world ranking and the Sagarin number underscores the impact of his unexpected victory at the U.S. Open three weeks ago. Nobody saw it coming, even after winning twice in late 2011. Simpson had flattened out in early 2012, which isn't to say he flatlined completely, mind you. The North Carolina native managed three top-10 finishes earlier this year, though it's hard to declaratively state that he threatened to win late on Sunday. Yet while others were blowing chances at the Olympic Club -- that would include Jim Furyk, Padraig Harrington and Graeme McDowell -- Simpson kept his head somehow and kept grinding out pars. He isn't flashy, but he certainly looks like a player capable of picking off a victory or two for several seasons to come.

8. Matt Kuchar
Sagarin: 9
June New World Order: 6
Just like Mahan, Kuchar seemed poised to make a run at the U.S. Open, entering the weekend T9 before falling backward to finish a distant T27. Somewhat akin to Simpson, Kuchar had been experiencing a mostly quiet spring until he won the Players Championship six weeks ago, easily the biggest victory of his career. In all, though, he has mustered six top-10 finishes over the year's first six months, and has been outside the top 30 exactly once in 2012. In fact, Kuchar has made 21 straight cuts, the longest active run on the U.S. tour.

9. Justin Rose
Sagarin: 14
June New World Order: 9
The personable Rose has played well across a variety of events -- and continents. After winning the big-money WGC event at Doral in mid-March, Rose has been steady, finishing second at the flagship European Tour event and T8 at the Masters, where he has made a habit of being on the leaderboard over the years. In fact, while everybody has been mostly eyeballing countrymen Luke Donald and Lee Westwood, who both have climbed to No. 1 at some point, Rose might be the sneaky bet to contend at the British Open later this month. Why not? He has top-10 finishes in seven of his past 11 global starts. For a kid who made his first splash at the British as a teenage amateur, that would be a heckuva story.

10. Graeme McDowell
Sagarin: 61
June New World Order: Not ranked
The Sagarin ranking is eye-popping, and based largely on the fact that he is 48-85-7 in head-to-head play against other top-10 players over the past 12 months, but GMac has nonetheless reinvented himself and rejoined the game's elite after a so-so 2011 season. McDowell finished second to Tiger Woods at Bay Hill and was runner-up at the Volvo Match Play event a month later, a format where he clearly excels. Then there was his T2 at the U.S. Open, which really portends well for the rest of the year, since he has plenty of golf remaining on two tours, as well as a likely berth on the Ryder Cup team this fall. The insanely chatty McDowell is not the most naturally gifted player, but he gets plenty out of his game. It's good to have him back.


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