Rankings accurately reflect golf landscape
Golf's world rankings are all wrong - they must be.
This seemed to be the verdict stateside after Lee Westwood returned to the top of the standings with his victory in the Indonesian Masters.
Of course, had Luke Donald won his play-off with Brandt Snedeker at the Heritage tournament in South Carolina it would have been another Englishman celebrating becoming world number one.
Westwood and Donald do not have a single major between them, therefore the rankings must be flawed, say the critics. How can the best player in the world be regarded as such without winning one of the game's four biggest prizes?
"I think there's something wrong with the system," opined the respected Florida Times Union golf man Garry Smits. Meanwhile, the Charlotte Observer observed: "I don't know how the world rankings work, No. 1 is getting traded like bad stock."
Westwood poses for photographers after his win in Indonesia - Photo: AP
Another who doesn't seem to appreciate the minutiae of the rankings is the great Sir Nick Faldo who, with trademark diplomacy, tweeted ahead of Donald's final round at Hilton Head: "Nothing at all against Luke Donald and Lee Westwood as No. 1 - that's the system - but I think system should give extra points for a major win."
In other words: "No offence, but world number one isn't what it used to be." So says the only other Englishman to have topped the rankings.
If that is what Sir Nick meant, then he is probably correct because world number one status does not currently belong to a single dominant figure in the way it did when the six-time major winner was at the top of the tree, but he fails to acknowledge that in fact the system does give extra points for major wins and does not need tweaking.
For Faldo and any Charlotte Observer readers out there here's a rough guide on how the rankings work.
Performances on the professional tours gain you ranking points and the total number of points earned in a two-year period is divided by the number of tournaments you play in that time. It is this points average that determines your position in the list.
Throughout this period the value of the ranking points steadily diminishes, so a result from a year ago is not worth as much as when first earned. Players are expected to play at least 40 tournaments, if they play fewer (as with Tiger Woods) the arbitrary divisor applied to the overall points tally to produce the all important average is 40.
The bigger the tournament the more ranking points are earned. Victory in a major yields 100 points, a win in The Players' Championship (regarded in some quarters as the unofficial fifth major) yields 80 points and Donald picked up 76 points for his victory in the WGC Matchplay in February.
For winning the Indonesian Masters, Westwood collected just 20 points, 4.67 fewer than Donald received for finishing in a share of fourth place at the Masters.
So the system, Sir Nick, is weighted in favour of the majors and takes due account of the value of the events that make up the rest of the calendar. The problem is that these four biggest events; the Masters, US Open, Open and PGA have failed to identify a dominant player for more than two years.
We are in an extraordinary period of flux at the top of the game. The difference between Westwood at number one, Martin Kaymer at two and Donald at three is covered by .278 of a ranking point.
Donald narrowly failed to make it two English wins in the same day - photo: Getty
Westwood heads the standings with a points average of 7.653. In 2008, when Harrington had just won back to back majors, he had an average of 7.855. He would be a commanding world number one with that now, but then was only three in the world behind Woods and Phil Mickelson.
Was anyone arguing then that the Irishman should be world number one? I don't remember many, because although Harrington had the golden form that summer, Woods was the reigning US Open champion and still the man to beat wherever he played.
Woods is no longer that dominant figure, so if anyone now were to repeat Harrington's feats of three years ago they would almost certainly jump to the top of the rankings.
The same system that identified Woods as world number one for a total of 623 weeks (when no one had an argument against it) is the one that has Westwood as world number one now - so why should we dispute its verdict?
What we should do is look at the detail, acknowledge the volatility of the game at the very top and recognise the value of consistently high finishes week in, week out because this is how players are separating themselves at the moment.
Another usually insightful voice, that of the Golf Channel's Brandel Chamblee, tweeted: "No. 1 ranking will be traded like a fruit cake for an unforeseeable future (sic), what interest does that hold compared to a dominant figure in golf?"
The answer from this side of the pond, with five UK players (Westwood, Donald, Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy and Paul Casey) in the top 10, has to be plenty.
We have just enjoyed the most thrilling Masters of recent years, the climax to the Heritage was never anything other than compelling and the Players' (even without the absent Westwood) can't come quickly enough.
Someone will eventually emerge as a dominant figure. If Donald could drive like Westwood or if Westy could chip and putt like Donald, it would be that person. Perhaps the closest hybrid is Kaymer, the German they sandwich in the rankings.
But there are several more candidates and this period of jockeying for position is enthralling. I suspect it will only be seen that way in America when one of their own joins the party.
When that player does - whether its a Dustin or a Rickie or someone else - they'll find the ranking system will prove perfectly adequate in reflecting their presence at the top of the game.