Saturday 20 January 2018

Number one in name only

Flawed ranking system puts Westwood top when Kaymer is world’s best

Lee Westwood has replaced Tiger Woods as the number one player in the world. Photo: PA
Lee Westwood has replaced Tiger Woods as the number one player in the world. Photo: PA

Karl MacGinty

LEE WESTWOOD is a good player, not a great player. Not yet, anyway. Great players win Majors and, given the number of close calls he's had at golf's Grand Slam championships over the past couple of years, Westwood (37) is very close to achieving that status.

The Englishman's elevation this week to the world No 1 spot can largely be attributed to his phenomenal consistency in recent seasons.

Westwood deserves enormous credit for the supreme levels of skill, discipline and determination which have brought him to the top of the world, yet he wouldn't be there today without a wonky points system.

Tiger Woods' domination of the rankings for most of the past 13 years stifled completely any need for meaningful debate about the way in which the game's top players are rated. But Westwood's ascension to No 1 after completing just one ranking tournament in more than three months since July's British Open blows the lid off a seriously flawed scheme. For sure, he's had 24 top-10 finishes, including three tournament victories since November 2008, the two-year period covered by the current rankings.

And yes, Westwood had four top-threes at the Majors in that time, including runner-up finishes behind Phil Mickelson at last April's US Masters and behind Louis Oosthuizen at St Andrews, the latter in spite of a torn calf muscle.

Yet, partly because of the recent ravages of that injury, Westwood cannot be described as the best player in the world at present. Despite his masterful victory at last November's Dubai World Championship and a splendid play-off win at June's St Jude Classic in Memphis, his performances over the past 12 months pale alongside those of Martin Kaymer.

The German has won six times on Tour since June 2009 and four times since January, including his first Major, August's US PGA.

Yet the overwhelming pressure and prestige of winning a Major is not adequately reflected in a ranking system which gives 100 points to Kaymer for his life-altering achievement at Whistling Straits and just 20 fewer to Tim Clark for winning The Players, regardless of the strength of the field at Sawgrass.

Kaymer then established himself as the hottest player on the planet by completing a phenomenal hat-trick of victories at the Dutch Open and Dunhill Links yet, ludicrously, he remains third on the ladder behind Westwood and the hapless Tiger.

One hesitates to mention Kaymer's top-10 finishes at this year's US and British Opens because golf's grand obsession with saluting defeat in this way is part of the problem.

Winning is everything in golf, especially at the Majors. The vast difference between taking victory on Sunday afternoon at Augusta National, for example, and finishing second certainly is not reflected in a world points system which awards 100 points to first and 60 to the 'best loser'.

Never mind how purses are divided on Tour -- that's another symptom of 'top-10itis' in professional golf. The winner should get at least double the ranking points of the man he beats in any tournament.

Another massive flaw is the ludicrously lop-sided way in which results from the previous year influence the rankings. Points won at any specific event count in full for just 13 weeks, then decrease in value by 1/92nd of the original amount for each of the 91 remaining weeks of the two-year cycle.

This scale isn't steep enough. Take Paul Casey, for example. He remains at No 7 in the world, though his most recent win was 17 months ago at the BMW PGA Championship in Wentworth.


How in the name of all that's holy can Graeme McDowell, winner of the US Open last June, still lie three places below Casey at world No 10 after completing his third victory in five months on Sunday?

It's exciting that any of Westwood, Woods, Kaymer or Mickelson can emerge from this week's HSBC Championship as world No 1.

Frankly, it'd be splendid if the immensely talented and popular Westwood managed to endorse his arrival at the pinnacle of the world game by winning in Shanghai on Sunday and followed up by claiming his first Major title next season.

Yet nothing still should be allowed paper over the cracks in golf's world points system.

Irish Independent

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