World Ranking under Fire
Until this year the World Ranking was largely ceremonial. Who cared if Greg Norman or Nick Price was No. 1? But with the introduction of three $5 million World Championship events in 1999, starting with next week's Andersen Consulting Match Play, for which only the top 64 are eligible, players from San Diego to Melbourne to Dubai were suddenly poring over the Ranking.
"If I make some points, I'll be all right," said a slumping Nick Faldo at last week's Dubai Desert Classic. When Faldo missed the cut, he stayed at No. 65, but he got in anyway because 14th-ranked Jumbo Ozaki declined his invitation. Faldo will meet No. 1 Tiger Woods in the first round.
The World Ranking was the 1968 brainchild of Mark McCormack, majordomo of the International Management Group. In '85 McCormack hired London statistician Tony Greer to refine the system, which was roundly ignored until 1997, when it was sanctioned by the four majors and the world's five pro tours. As the sole criterion for entry into next week's Match Play, it took on added significance.
Now everyone's interested, and confused. How can a player move down after playing well? How can David Duval still be No. 2?
The Ranking is based on performance over the past two years, with the finishes in the most recent 12 months counting twice as much as those in the 12 before that. Every tournament around the world is awarded rating points based on the quality of its field. If the No. 1 player is entered, the tournament gets 50 points. If No. 2 is also in, add 34 more. Even player No. 100 is worth two points. Add them all up—the maximum is 825—and you get a tournament's rating.
If a player wins an event with a total of, say, 726 to 775 points, he earns 78 points toward his World Ranking. If he wins a lesser event, one with only 106 to 115 points, he earns just 34. Lastly—and this is what has bewildered many players—performances from exactly two years ago fall off the charts. For instance, Woods earned 100 points for winning the '97 Masters. After the '98 Masters, that number was reduced to 50. After this year's Masters, those 50 points are history.
The confusion among the players could be alleviated if at the start of the year the PGA Tour presented every pro with a printout of his performance over the past 24 months. A player could then see that the points he earned for his third-place finish two years ago at, say, Pebble Beach were about to disappear and that he might drop a notch even by finishing 20th that week. Of course, before this happens, the Tour must understand the workings of the system.
"All this with the World Championships is a learning experience for everyone," says Tour official Lee Patterson, sounding a bit bewildered. "The more we learn about it, the better information we will get to the players." Let's hope.
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