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How To Find No. 1

Come to think of it, if a player parks on his sofa and no one sees him, does it make a sound if he gets to No. 1?

Not even a contrived, convoluted, computerized formula can decipher it and give us a satisfactory answer to the dilemma of who is the best player in the world. It’s still just an educated guess. We might debate who is No. 1, but at least we know who it’s not.

For about 230 of the last 281 weeks, it was clear that Tiger Woods was the world’s best – by a lot. No one was close and everyone knew it. It has only been since last Thanksgiving that there has been any doubt whatsoever. From the time he ran over the fire hydrant until now we’ve known without question that Woods was not even a reasonable facsimile of the rock star formerly known as Tiger.

Yet, he remained atop the Official World Golf Ranking. Even in the midst of his personal crises, he tied for fourth at the Masters and U.S. Open, earning enough world ranking points to hold the rest of the lackadaisical pack at bay. Woods had built up such a lead that he could stay home and delete text messages and be certain in the knowledge that no one could catch him in the rankings.

Until now. Lee Westwood is the new sheriff in town, the newly minted No. 1 player in the world, that is, according to the OWGR. He has done so without lifting so much as a calf, having competed for points only once since the Open Championship in July.

Inquiring minds will want to know how in the world this has happened but it defies explanation and space here is limited. The OWGR calculates the world No. 1 (and the world No. 400) with a two-year rolling points system. Each event – all over the world – is assigned points for the winner through those making the cut. The majors count more than others and there is a multiplier based on the strength of the field and a divisor for the number of events a player has competed in the two-year period. There’s more, but you would likely get confused.

Now you either know more than you wanted or you know as little as when you started. Either way, it is a tragically flawed system that no one, not even the creators, understands. The players certainly can’t comprehend it, which seems to make little or no difference.

Phil Mickelson, No. 2 for the longest time and who has slipped to fourth, had ample opportunities to take over the top spot while Woods was at his lawyer’s. Mickelson has never been No. 1 and hasn’t won since the winning The Masters in April. And he hasn’t played worth mentioning since a tie for fourth at the Open Championship.

Westwood reached the top of the rankings with a victory at the St. Jude Classic – his first PGA Tour win – and second-place finishes at The Masters and the Open Championship to go along with two top-three finishes in the desert at the beginning of the 2010 European Tour season.

Yet, he hasn’t taken over No. 1 by storm. He suffered an injured calf during the summer and limped through the Open Championship. He tried to play in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational but couldn’t make it and withdrew.

An argument can be made for Martin Kaymer to be No. 1, and he certainly is the hottest player in the world, having won the PGA Championship and the next two events he entered, three if you count the Ryder Cup (and apparently he does). He had a chance to be No. 1 last week with a victory at the Andalucia Valderrama Masters but finished down the list.

All this could be solved with a drastic revamp of the rankings’ system. The following is a modest plan:

Choose 15 tournaments as “counting events.” For instance: the four major championships, the four World Golf Championships events (one is played in China), The Players Championship, the BMW PGA Championship on the European Tour, the Australian Open, the Memorial, Colonial, Quail Hollow and the Northern Trust Open.

If you want to be world-ranked, you must play in these tournaments. The first nine are obvious and the Australian Open is included because it was once one of the world’s best events. It needs help and this plan would raise its profile. The Memorial and Colonial are no-brainers and the Quail Hollow (now Wells Fargo) Championship is played on one of the best courses on the PGA Tour and gets one of the strongest fields. The Northern Trust is played at historic Riviera CC and deserves more luster.

Yes, most of the events are in the U.S., but this is where the best players and best tournaments are. And, it is asking American players to travel to Europe twice, China and Australia once each. In this age of fractional jet ownership, it is an effort not entirely unreasonable to expect.

We get the best player at the end of the year and there’s no getting to No. 1 by staying home. At least it makes sense and everyone could understand it, which can’t possibly be said for the current system, no matter how mathematically correct it claims to be.


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