Lawrence Donegan, writing about the Dubai Desert Classic, and the hype-fuelled, crowd-pleasing, three-ball of Martin Kaymer, Lee Westwood and Tiger Woods, claims,
…if Thursday’s three-ball will inevitably fall short of expectations it should still provide a fascinating snapshot of where golf’s balance of power lies, particularly in relation to Kaymer, who many people believe is the best player in the world…
Does he have the game, and the fortitude, to withstand the scrutiny? If he does the answer is yes, and if he can go on to win the tournament on Sunday, then not even Martin Kaymer will be able to deny that Martin Kaymer is the best golfer in the world.
Well, Martin Kaymer might not deny it, but I will. Winning the Dubai Desert Classic – even if you do spend the first two rounds with Westwood and Woods, playing in front of a huge golfing galleries, the focus of all the media attention and scrutiny – does not make you the best player in the world.
Here is the current ranking,
Lee Westwood, golf’s current World Number 1. Well played Lee, you might say. Not me. How can a player who’s finished second in the last 43 major championships (or an equivalent record similar to our other recent sporting runner-up Tartan Tim) be classed as the best player in the world? Westwood even spent months on the sidelines injured. An injury that ruled him out of the final major championship of last year, the USPGA, a withdrawal that didn’t seem to have a negative impact on his charge to the top of the rankings. In fact, the injury, the six-week lay off before the end of last season (after his brief cameo at the Ryder Cup) and his consistent approach to not winning a major title, seemed to cement his place at the top of the golfing world. But how can this be I hear you cry? Well, let’s take a look at how the ranking system works,
The World Ranking Points for each player are accumulated over a two year “rolling” period with the points awarded for each event maintained for a 13-week period to place additional emphasis on recent performances – ranking points are then reduced in equal decrements (of 1/92nd of the original amount) for the remaining 91 weeks of the two year Ranking period. Each player is then ranked according to his average points per tournament, which is determined by dividing his total number of points by the tournaments he has played over that two-year period. There is a minimum divisor of 40 tournaments over the two year ranking period and a maximum divisor of a player’s last 58 events.
The winners of the Masters Tournament, the US Open Championship, the Open Championship and the PGA Championship are awarded 100 points (60 points for 2nd place, 40 for 3rd, 30 for 4th down to 1.50 points for a player completing the final round), and the winner of the Players Championship is awarded 80 points (points are awarded down to 1.20 points for 60th place and ties).
Pretty simple stuff? Hmmm… Ranking reward, for consistency, seems to be the jist of the above equation. A noble, but still counter-productive system that allows a player to repeatedly finish second or third, but still claim the top spot. Take a look at Westwood’s 2010 record for yourself,
You can’t beat the Nedbank or the St Jude. A barrage of top five finishes. However, the true test of golfing superiority has to be the major championships, and Westwood throughout his whole career, hasn’t won a single one. But as the world rankings suggest, is still considered to be the best player in the world.
I’m a huge fan of Lee Westwood. His first Ryder Cup outing with Nick Faldo in 1997, his incredibly successful pairing with Sergio Garcia in 2002 at the Belfry, his recent performance in helping the Europeans defeat the Yanks in Wales at the Celtic Manor (again after a period off with a calf injury) all contribute to my support. But what has always struck me, and I hope I’m proved wrong this season, is his ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Go over the number of ‘close run things’ that have contributed to Westwood’s ranking success. In the majority of his runner-up major championship finishes, he’s had the chance to win. A steady back nine or a decent 18th hole tee shot. A regulation par, a cool head or a five iron straight down the middle would have secured victory. He didn’t. He found a way not to win. Because, as the rankings suggest, winning major titles isn’t everything in golf.
Am I being too harsh on Westwood? Maybe, and like I said above, I hope I’m proved embarrassingly wrong this season (and I’ll be the first person to print off this article, put it between two slices of wholemeal bread, and eat it, if he does claim a major victory.) Let’s consider tennis for moment, do you think it would ever happen that a player could climb to the top of the world rankings without winning one of the four major titles? No. So am I being harsh? Probably not.
As for Kaymer, he actually won a major championship, the USPGA title last August, so he would have more of a valid claim at being the best player in the world than Westwood. However, a bizarre sequence of events led to his victory.
The finale will be remembered for the controversy that befell Dustin Johnson.
Leading by one going down the last, the 26-year-old carved his tee shot into the crowd on the right, before grounding his club as he addressed his second shot on a patch of trampled sand.
Johnson explains the misdemeanour in more detail,
It never once crossed my mind I was in a sand trap, said Johnson, who led the US Open by three shots going into the final round at Pebble Beach in June, only to crash to a round of 82.
The only worse thing that could have happened is if I had made that putt on the final hole.
I just thought I was on a piece of dirt where the crowd had trampled it down. Obviously I know I can’t ground my club in a bunker but I should have looked at the rules sheet a little closer.
Stupid or naive? Well, considering
…the PGA of America put a notice in the locker room all week to remind players that every patch of sand was to be treated as a bunker regardless of its location
I’d say idiotic.
So Kaymer won his only major title by way of Mr Dustbinhead Johnson forgetting the rules? Not quite, but if a player can’t judge between a grassy patch of dirt that looks like sand or a sandy patch of grass that looks like dirt – then I for one would be claiming it the United States Professional Golf Association Major Default Championship #1. So that rules Kaymer out of world number one reckoning.
Tiger Woods is the greatest golfer I’ve ever seen. Will we ever see him rise to great heights of holding all four major championships at once, a feat referred to as the ‘Tiger Slam’ (insert your infidelity jokes as you please), I’m not so sure. I heard him on the radio today stating he no longer spends as much time on the practice ground – and that what time he does, is ‘focused’ and ‘more intense’ than his old sessions. That worries me. He now spends the majority of his time, since his new found love of all things moral, with his children. Good on Tiger. If he quits now, he’ll be regarded as the second best player of all-time. I can’t, with the drive and desire, the sheer single-minded domination and breathtaking skill the man has shown over the last 15 years, believe that he will quit until he’s overturned or equalled Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major championship wins. The only thing stopping Tiger from completing his dream, is Tiger himself. If any sporting legend can spend less time practicing and still succeed, I dare to say it’s Tiger Woods. He is golf’s real number one.
*On a side note, if Tiger returns to the porn scene and forgets all about the game of golf, there are a few (other than Westwood and Kaymer) who could challenge this season.
Ricky Fowler was impressive in the Ryder Cup and on the US Tour last year, and as an outside pick, is one to watch.
Graeme McDowell, who had the bottle to sink the winning putt at The Ryder Cup, and claim the first European victory at the US Open since 1740, deserves a special mention.
Only an idiot would discount Phil Mickleson from being ranked number one at the end of 2011, so I’ll say he’s got no chance.
But if I had £10 to spare and I wasn’t allowed to pick Tiger Woods, I’d spend my hard-earned currency on Rory McIlroy to be World Number 1 at the end of the season. He’s probably the only player, ability-wise, who worries Tiger. He’s got it all, he can construct shots from nowhere, shape the ball both ways, brilliant touch around the greens – but has he got the bottle? The upcoming 2011 golf season will certainly give us the evidence to decide whether he’s the next Tiger Woods or the new Lee Westwood.