By The Numbers
Rory McIlroy reclaimed the top spot in the ranking over the weekend despite not hitting a shot.
Imagine if political campaigns could be won by not running. Actually, there have been some candidates this primary season for whom that would have been a good idea. It seems the more people got to know them, the less they liked them. Not running might have been their best path to the prize.
Which brings us to Rory McIlroy, the curly-haired bundle of talent from Northern Ireland who ripped the No. 1 spot in the Official World Golf Ranking
away from Luke Donald with the athletic act of sitting at home watching TV. McIlroy, who didn't play last week, passed Donald, who did.
That's sort of like improving your favorability ratings by going on a ski trip instead of showing up at a debate. While no one was complaining very much about the passive passing of Donald by McIlroy, it did give those who digest their World Ranking with a dose of skepticism a little indigestion.
Even the principals in this power shift confessed to a bit of awkwardness to it all. On Sunday, when it became clear Donald would not get the top-eight finish he needed at the RBC Heritage to retain the No. 1 spot, McIlroy tweeted: "#1 again without touching a golf club this week.... I wish it was that easy!"
After his round, Donald hit the nail pretty much on the head when he said, "The World Ranking is all about consistency." He might have added, "And playing in the right events."
Being highly ranked allows you more freedom to pick and choose where you play, which means playing in the events that offer the most World Ranking points, which keeps you highly ranked. It also helps keep second-tier events second-tier events, driving the top players toward the big ranking-points events.
Take a look at the field at this week's Valero Texas Open. The star of the show at TPC San Antonio is Johnson Wagner. He's fifth in FedEx Cup points, eighth on the PGA Tour money list and No. 64 in the World Ranking. The major champions in the field are Ben Curtis, Justin Leonard, David Duval, Rick Beem, Shaun Micheel and Lee Janzen. I guess Todd Hamilton wasn't available.
Next week is the Zurich Classic of New Orleans and then the band begins to get back together at the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow Club, a favorite event among top tour players, followed by the Players Championship, always one of the best fields of the year, majors included.
But just like how top-ranked players feed off themselves -- once you get into the top 50 it's difficult to fall out because you gain entry to all the events that yield the most ranking points -- weak-field events remain that way in part because they offer fewer points. So when scheduling off weeks -- and players need off weeks -- it's not too surprising to see which events the best players skip.
Now, let's get back to the point Donald made. The World Ranking doesn't so much identify the best player in the world as it does the most consistent player in the world. And that has been Donald the last couple of years. He's a top-10 machine with 14 on the PGA Tour in 2011 and five more on the European Tour, winning twice on both circuits.
Those are not dominating numbers, especially when you consider that there was not a major championship among Donald's wins. And then there is this fact: With his victory Sunday at Harbour Town, Carl Pettersson now has as many career PGA Tour victories -- five -- as Donald. Maybe the rotund Swede
is the best player in the world.
The issue of who is No. 1 became an issue because the guy who owned that title the majority of the time since 1997, Tiger Woods, is not the dominant player he once was. And when Woods hit lulls in the past, someone like a Vijay Singh or David Duval would lay claim to the No. 1 spot. That hasn't happened this time.
When Woods was at his peak, he didn't so much have a rival as we had a rivalry by committee, with Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Duval, Singh, Padraig Harrington and a couple others in the posse chasing Tiger. The guys who brought him down tended to be players with lesser expectations, those free of the pressure that they could beat him, like Rich Beem, Michael Campbell and Y.E. Yang.
Right now, we sort of have a World No. 1 by committee. McIlroy is really good and will be a deserving No. 1 someday. Donald and Lee Westwood both have that non-major bugaboo and Martin Kaymer did not build on his brief run at the top. We are waiting for someone to break from a very talented pack and emerge as the clear best-in-the-world. Can Bubba Watson
stay focused enough to be that guy? We'll see.
In the meantime, the World Ranking remains the best protector of certain events and the worst enemy of others. Four majors, four World Golf Championship events, four FedEx Cup playoffs tournaments and the Players Championship gives you 13 playing weeks right there, filling up two-thirds of a typical competitive schedule.
So what's left get the leftovers. The only solution is one the players would never agree to -- a mandatory rotation through every tournament over a four- or five-year cycle. That will help the strength of fields at many events, and it will lessen the chances someone can become No. 1 by sitting at home watching on TV -- and then tweeting about it.