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World Golf Ranking: Flawed, but effective

May 21, 2009

The World Golf Ranking is Jim Furyk's swing were it a mathematical equation. Each is impossibly convoluted, but usually produces the desired result.

Usually is the operative word. Occasionally the ranking produces a perplexing result, as it has this week, involving David Toms' appearance in the HP Byron Nelson Classic.

At the conclusion of the Byron Nelson, the top 50 players in the World Ranking who otherwise haven't qualified are exempted into the U.S. Open. Toms is ranked 47th. One of the quirks of the ranking formulaic system is that Toms actually could improve his ranking by not playing in the Byron Nelson. By playing well, he also could improve his ranking, but by playing poorly he conceivably could fall from the top 50.

Davis Love III faced a similar situation prior to the Masters, missed the cut at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, fell from the top 50 and was not invited to Augusta. It is one of the flaws of a system for which there probably is no perfect formula.

The formula, incidentally, can be viewed here.

The ranking is a necessary evil; major championships and the World Golf Championship events rely on them to ensure the best players in the world are in their fields.

Among the complaints is that overseas tours don't match the depth of quality on the PGA Tour and might be weighted too heavily. J.J. Henry brought this up in this story in the Shreveport Times.

"There are just a lot of points going to other tours," Henry tells the writer Roy Lang III. "I'm not trying to slight other tours, but I feel the strength of our events may not be reflected in the system."

Lang writes: "If a player played every PGA Tour event for the past two years, not including the events held on the same weeks as the majors and World Golf Events, and finished 25th, he would not stand inside the top 90 in the world rankings. 'If you finish 25th over here, you're playing pretty well,' Henry said."

From my vantage point, that speaks on behalf of the World Golf Ranking. Someone finishing 25th week in and week out on the PGA Tour indeed is a good player, but not one worthy of a free pass into every major championship and WGC event.

Its flaws notwithstanding, the ranking tends to work reasonably well. At any rate, it will have to suffice until a mathematical genius delivers a better formula.

-- John Strege