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Mel Sole has 30 years experience teaching golf and is co-founder of Ritson-Sole Golf Schools, USA


Is it time to take a look at the
World Golf Ranking system?

by Andy Smith, Editor, Golfing-Weekly.com

Before this is dismissed as another Tiger-bashing article, it should be made clear that the author is well documented for supporting Tiger Woods at a time when other Golf Writers have been eager to take any opportunity to put the boot in. However, the time has surely come to ask the question: is Tiger Woods currently the best golfer in the world, or rather, is he the best golfer of the current era?

If the Official World Golf Rankings are to be believed, Tiger stands a head and shoulders above the majority of professional golfers in the world. Still, even under the current ranking system his margin of superiority is slowly reducing. Even to the casual observer it is obvious that he is no longer winning everything in sight and rarely seems to make an appearance for his fans. When he does, it is not often that we see him emerge victorious. He still performs well and has one victory this year, but this is not the Tiger Woods we have come to expect.

Vijay Singh, officially ranked second in the world, is a completely different kettle of fish. Apart from the fact that he turns out and competes on a regular basis, when he plays in a tournament he is rarely out of the top ten. In fact, in the first four months of this year alone, he has won three PGA Tour events. Currently, he is penalised by a system, which takes into account eighteen events that he participated in more than a year and a half ago and are surely irrelevant to his current form.

It would be wrong to propose that we should only look at players’ performances over the last four months, or even over the last year. The current system is fundamentally well based in the way it doubles the value of points won in a tournament for the first three months after the points are earned, and then gradually reduces the value of those points over a two year period - after which time they are no longer taken into account. The rules also insist that a player must compete in at least twenty tournaments each year over a two year period to be included in the rankings. In fact, as ranking systems go, it is probably one of the fairest in the sporting world – but it has one major flaw.

Tiger Woods chooses to play in only the minimum number of tournaments stipulated by the rules, and therefore, his total of weighted points is divided by forty to calculate his average points per appearance. Vijay Singh has played in fifty eight events over the same two year period, and while his points total exceeds that of Mr. Woods by quite a considerable margin, his average points per event suffers because he enjoys playing competitive golf more often. Bottom line, Vijay Singh has played 40 events in the last eighteen months, the rest are ancient history.

If the Official World Golf Rankings were to take into account only the total weighted points gained in the last forty appearances of both players and divide them by forty, we would actually get a more relevant picture of their current ranking positions. Instead of Vijay Singh being 2.58* points behind Tiger Woods, he would actually be 1.01* points ahead. A miscalculation of 3.59* points might not seem like a lot, but considered against Tiger Woods’ current points average unchanged at 13.27*, it represents a 27 percentage point swing. That is a lot, ask any politician.

Apart from giving a fairer and more relevant picture of the current player rankings, there would be another major benefit of making this one small change to the system. In order to improve or maintain their ranking positions, all the top golfers would be more likely to enter more events. So, the golf-watching public would get to see their favorite players on a much more regular basis. If the only thing achieved by the proposed change was that Tiger’s focus and form returned to its previous superlative level, he could justifiably carry his current label as golf’s world number one. That can only be good for the sport and the fans alike. 

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The suggested change was submitted to the Official World Golf Rankings organisation on May 4th, 2004. A reply was received on May 19th stating that "There is a proposal currently under discussion to include a 'Maximum Divisor' which would have the effect you are looking for". In the author's opinion, this change may encourage the top players to enter more tournaments but does not address the issue of 'current form'. It will be interesting to see what figure is chosen as the maximum divisor.

*The ranking points quoted in the article were correct on May 10, 2004.

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