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Change of guard at the top of world rankings

By | October 22nd 2010

By The Albatross

At the close of week 41 of 2010, Tiger Woods had been the World Number One golfer for an unprecedented 280 consecutive weeks and for total of 622 weeks in his career. That is to say that over the last five years, no other professional golfer has been anything but number two in the world golf rankings.

Over the 24 year history of its existence, the other players who have had the ranking of the official world no. 1 are: Bernhard Langer – 3 wks., Seve Ballesteros – 61 wks., Greg Norman – 331 wks., Nick Faldo – 97 wks., Ian Woosnam – 50 wks., Fred Couples – 16 wks., Nick Price – 44 wks., Tom Lehman – 1 wk., Ernie Els – 9 wks., David Duval – 15 wks. and Vijay Singh – 32 wks.

Prestigious ranking

This is an extremely prestigious ranking and it is little wonder then, that, the press has piled so much pressure on Phil Mickelson, the perennial no. 2, to seize the opportunity offered by the slack in Tiger Woods’ game, through most of the current season, to climb to the top of the ladder.

This moment came knocking on Mickelson’s door when Tiger Woods failed to make it into the last 30 in the FedExCup playoffs, for The Tour Championship, played Sept 23rd to 26th, at The East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, Georgia: the final round of the play-offs. But as has happened so many other times in the past, Mickelson finished off tied for the 22nd position, and therefore nowhere in contention for anything in the play-offs, let alone the number one ranking.

Tiger Woods is, however, set to lose the Number One spot, for the first time in over five years, on 31st October, 2010 to the Englishman, Lee Westwood. That is if they both keep to their planned schedule of resuming play at the HSBC in Shanghai, November 4 to 7, 2010. But nothing is cast in stone about this. The 25 year old German, Martin Kaymer is making a determined charge and could upset the apple cart if he wins The Andalucia Masters at Valderrama, over the last weekend of October. He is currently ranked 4th.

The Official World Golf Rankings were established some 24 years ago to create a rating platform for the performance level of male professional golfers. They were established in 1986 and endorsed by the four major championships and the six major professional tours of the PGA Tour, The European Tour, The Asian Tour, PGA Tour of Australasia, Japan Golf Tour and the Sunshine Tour, which incorporates Africa.

It awards points on an agreed rating system that accords an event weight and importance based on the depth of the field. That depth is measured on the basis of the numbers of the top 200 world ranking golfers participating and also the top 30 ranking golfers in the particular tour that are participating in the event. This mechanism allows the Touring professionals to maintain a running assessment of how they rate against the group. The actual determination of points revolves around a calculation that takes the points awarded in each event, according to the weight of the event, and taking an average against the number of events the player has participated in.

That average runs over a two year playing period; which means taking 92 events as the maximum over the period. The oldest event is dropped from the calculation basket as the latest one is taken in to maintain the rating on the basis of the most recent performance. There is, however, a minimum of 40 events so that where less than 40 events are played the divisor is maintained at 40.

And since Tiger Woods participates, as a general rule, in only a limited number of events his divisor is almost always at 40, the minimum prescribed. Other professionals who participate in higher numbers of events take higher divisors and thus the fairness of the system is maintained. This is demonstrated by the following status. At the close of week 38 of 2010, Phil Mickelson, the then world no. 2 had a total of 368.825 points from 43 events against Tiger Woods’ 361.550 points. But since Woods had played fewer than 40 events, his divisor is set at the minimum number of 40.

Dividing the total points for each player by the number of events gives an average of 9.04 points for Tiger Woods; against an average of 8.58, for his nemesis, Phil Mickelson. Having taken a glimpse at the complicated calculation that produces the weekly World Golf Rankings, let us now turn to the application of the result. The four majors use the world rankings in determining the first 50 participants as a first selection criterion in addition to the number of PGA Tour competitions that have been won by an individual, followed by their standing on the money list.

Money list

But it is easy to surmise that a golfer who is in the top 50 in the world rankings has also raked in a sizeable package from winnings and is therefore also likely to have qualified on account of his ranking on the money list. The only theoretical exception to this rule is The Masters, which has no automatic reliance on all other criteria as the ‘qualified’ players must also be invited in order to participate. That allows the Augusta National private club status to be maintained without any possibility of an apparent conflict.

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