Sport Golf

Monday 28 May 2018

Woods yields to new world order

A new generation of young guns are lighting up the world rankings, writes Dermot Gilleece

Whatever about his current difficulties, Pádraig Harrington can claim some credit for the competitive steel of 11.4 million-dollar man, Bill Haas. It arises from the huge impact the Dubliner made on him at last April's US Masters when they played together in the first two rounds.

Speaking about the experience for his charge, coach Billy Harmon, son of Masters winner Claude Harmon, said: "I have never seen anybody with a better attitude than Pádraig, who is the man I admire the most from all the years I have been involved in golf. Watching him over the last two days was a clinic for my man. After Thursday's round, I told Bill that Pádraig's neck was really bad and he replied: 'That's amazing. He never mentioned it once all day.'"

It seems appropriate that 20-something Haas should have captured the Tour Championship and FedEx Cup jackpot last Sunday, given the dramatic upheaval among the hierarchy we have witnessed in the last three years. As part of this process, the world number one position has twice been filled by players yet to win a Major championship.

Even more remarkable is the upsurge in the number of young players, led by Rory McIlroy, making their mark on the world stage. Where only 12 aged 28 or under were in the world's top 100 at the end of 2001, that figure has almost doubled, to 22.

Ten years ago, Sergio Garcia, David Howell, Adam Scott and Paul Casey were the only under 25s in the top 100. Now, McIlroy is joined by Italy's gifted 18-year-old Matteo Manassero, Jason Day of Australia, Ryo Ishikawa (Japan) and Kim Kyung-Tae (Korea), with Rickie Fowler as the lone US representative. Haas, 29, is world number 20.

Meanwhile, the ranking's volatility is illustrated perfectly by Harrington who, from world number three in August 2008 has tumbled to 84th. And he won't take much comfort from the fact that the once peerless Tiger Woods is a humble 50th.

World ranking is one of golf's great conundrums, which only the more erudite of practitioners, like Harrington, are believed to fully understand. It was launched by the International Management Group (IMG) in 1986 when reigning Open champion Greg Norman ended the year as the world's first number one.

Prior to that, a sort of IMG in-house arrangement dated back to 1968 when the world's first top 10 players were: 1 Jack Nicklaus; 2 Arnold Palmer; 3 Billy Casper; 4 Gary Player; 5 Bob Charles; 6 Julius Boros; 7 Neil Coles; 8 Peter Thomson; 9 Frank Beard; 10 Kel Nagle.

As it happened, Nicklaus was number one for 10 straight years; Tom Watson succeeded him from 1978 to 1982 and Seve Ballesteros then took over for three years until the official rankings came into being. Though the unbroken run by the Bear could be viewed as somewhat arbitrary, it is still interesting in the context of the later supremacy of Woods, who had a possible run of 12 years at the top, from 1998 to 2009, broken by Vijay Singh in 2004. Which meant Woods had a best sequence of only six straight years at number one.

Though Ronan Rafferty achieved admirable prominence during the 1980s, it was some time before Irish players began to make the top-10 in end-of-year rankings. For instance, at the end of 1991, David Feherty and Rafferty were 42nd and 43rd, while Eamonn Darcy was 70th. In this context, Darren Clarke made the breakthrough by finishing 2001 in ninth place. A year later, Harrington came in at number seven. Since then, Graeme McDowell and McIlroy have completed a quartet of Irish players to claim lengthy periods among the world's elite.

In the immediate aftermath of Harrington's third Major triumph in the PGA Championship in August 2008, the world's top 10 were: 1 Woods; 2 Phil Mickelson; 3 Harrington; 4 Garcia; 5 Vijay Singh; 6 Henrik Stenson; 7 Ernie Els; 8 Stewart Cink; 9 Geoff Ogilvy; 10 Steve Stricker. By the end of that year, an October victory by Garcia in the Castello Masters had moved him to number two, with Mickelson and Harrington slipping out to three and four. And there were further changes down the order with the positions from six to 10 being filled by Robert Karlsson, Camilo Villegas, Stenson, Els and Lee Westwood.

That season marked Westwood's return to prominence as an end-of-year third in the European Order of Merit, his highest placing since capturing the title in 2000. In less than 33 months, he and Mickelson are the only survivors in the current top 10: 1 Luke Donald; 2 Westwood; 3 McIlroy; 4 Stricker; 5 Dustin Johnson; 6 Martin Kaymer; 7 Jason Day; 8 Mickelson; 9 Scott; 10 Matt Kuchar.

How does the system work? So as to avert an immediate dash for the drinks cabinet, I will attempt a seriously simplified version. For a start, the official World Golf Ranking is endorsed by the four Major championships and the six leading professional tours -- US PGA Tour, European Tour, Japan Tour, PGA Tour of Australasia, Sunshine Tour of South Africa and Asian Tour and is updated every Monday.

Ranking points are also awarded on the Canadian, OneAsia, South American (TLA), Korean, Nationwide and European Challenge Tours. These are generally related to the strength of the field based on the number and ranking of the Top 200 World Ranked players and the Top 30 of the Home Tour players in the respective tournaments. The four Major Championships, however, along with the Players Championship in the US, are rated separately as 'higher quality events'. Flagship events on the other tours are accorded similar status.

Points are accumulated over a two-year rolling period with those awarded for each event being maintained for a 13-week period to place additional emphasis on recent performances. Ranking points are reduced in equal decrements for the remaining 91 weeks of the two-year ranking period. Each player is then ranked according to his average points per tournament, which is determined by dividing his total number of points by the tournaments he has played over that two-year period. There is a minimum divisor of 40 tournaments over the two-year ranking period and a maximum divisor of a player's last 56 events (54 from June 26, 2011). Points are reduced by 25 per cent for tournaments curtailed to 36 holes because of inclement weather or other reasons.

It was a regular complaint of European campaigners, notably Paul McGinley, that world-ranking points were unfairly weighted towards American tournaments. Yet it was interesting to note that third-place finishes by McIlroy in the European Masters and Dutch Open in successive weeks in September were sufficient to lift him back to world number three.

Meanwhile, the most significant element in bringing about such a dramatic change in personnel at the top has undoubtedly been the decline of Woods. Remarking on the so-called Tiger Slam of four successive Major victories completed in the 2001 US Masters, his then coach Butch Harmon said: "For me, the total domination was incredible."

A reflection of greatly changed times is that since Woods stopped winning Majors in 2008, the 12 titles in the last three years have been won by 12 different players -- Angel Cabrera, Lucas Glover, Cink, YE Yang, Mickelson, McDowell, Louis Oosthuizen, Martin Kaymer, Charl Schwartzel, McIlroy, Clarke and Keegan Bradley. And the 12 FedEx tournaments have gone to: Heath Slocum, Stricker, Woods, Mickelson, Kuchar, Charlie Hoffman, Dustin Johnson (2), Furyk, Webb Simpson, Justin Rose and Haas.

Wonderfully consistent though he may be, Donald is unlikely to strike mortal dread into challengers on the first tee, even if they happen to be fresh-faced novices. And never mind the diplomatic noises Jack Nicklaus keeps making about Woods' prospects of surpassing his Major haul, with the big cat nowhere in sight, the mice are having the run of the house.

Even if Woods does happen to re-enter the competitive fray in the near future, you have the feeling that prospective young rivals will be more than eager to take him on. Which would represent the most remarkable development of all.

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