After Tiger Woods won the U.S. Open, the good folks who run the Official World Golf Ranking announced that he celebrated his 500th week as the No. 1 player in the world. I'm not sure Woods celebrated the milestone, but in light of Wednesday's announcement that he'll take the rest of 2008 off to have surgery and rehabilitate his left knee, the question has been raised: Will Woods still be No. 1 in the world when he returns?
It's a question with no easy answer, primarily because there are too many variables. We don't know when Woods will return and we don't know how Woods' top rivals will fare in his absence. What we do know is that Woods will lose points every week until he returns to competition and he'll start losing them at the pretty rapid rate. We also know, obviously, that he won't gain any points.
First, a primer on how the ranking works. The World Ranking is determined by awarding points for top finishes in qualified tournaments. Tiger's current points average is 21.542. The bigger tournaments award more points and top finishes earn more points. Woods earned 100 points for his win at Torrey Pines. He earned 60 for his runner-up finish at the Masters and 18.24 for his T-5 at the WGC-CA Championship. The ranking then weighs these points on a two-year sliding scale. Full weight is given for the most recent 13 weeks. Points are reduced in equal increments for the remaining 91 weeks of the two-year period. For example, Woods' win at the 2007 PGA Championship was originally worth 100 points, but is now worth just 65.22. His win at the 2006 PGA is now worth 9.78 points and will not be worth anything when it falls out of the two-year window in nine weeks. A player's total points are divided by the number of tournaments he has played and he is ranked according to his average. If a player has not played 40 tournaments in the two-year span his point total is divided by 40 to determine his average.
Based on this information we know what Woods' point total and average will be at the end of the year. He will have 469.5 points. The U.S. Open win will be worth 82.61 points, the Masters runner-up will be worth 43.698 points, the T-5 at Doral will get him 12.689 and the win at Southern Hills in the 2007 PGA will get him 34.78. The win at the 2006 PGA in Medinah will be worth nothing.
On Dec. 31 Woods will have a points average of 11.73. He will have lost almost half his ranking points. (This is unofficial, my math might be very slightly off as I cannot be sure of rounded figures.)
Phil Mickelson is currently second in the world with an average of 10.214 points. If Mickelson does not play again in 2008 he will have an average of 6.627. Of course, Mickelson will play again. Probably 10 more times. In order to pass Woods with an average of 11.74 points, Mickelson would have to earn 575 ranking points in those 10 events. That's not an easy task. In fact, it's a Woodsian task. In his last 10 events, seven of them victories, Woods earned 586 points. And that does not include the incremental loss on the sliding scale.
So it's safe to say, Tiger Woods will top the ranking at the end of 2008. How much longer he stays there can only be determined by how long he goes into 2009 without playing.
My guess: He'll be back for the 2009 Buick Invitational--as the No. 1 ranked player in the world.
-- John Antonini