World Golf Ranking formula defies common sense

By Jason SobelApril 15, 2012, 11:12 pm

You may believe Luke Donald is ill-suited to be the No. 1-ranked golfer in the world. You may think such honors should be reserved for a major championship winner or the most talented player according to the ol' eyeball test.

You may even be firmly ensconced in the camp which contends that after back-to-back finishes outside the top 30, Donald no longer deserves to be called No. 1 – despite the fact that his last result prior to the past two weeks was a victory at the Transitions Championship.

You can’t, however, convince me that the following development makes any semblance of sense.

Donald finished T-37 at the RBC Heritage on Sunday, in the process losing his No. 1 spot on the Official World Golf Ranking to Rory McIlroy – a guy who spent the past week enjoying some well deserved time off.

The truth is, Donald could have finished as high as ninth at Harbour Town and still been ousted by a player whose two main accomplishments this week were reaching 1 million Twitter followers and relaxing with his tennis-playing girlfriend.


Idle McIlroy takes top spot back from Donald


Speaking of which: They say it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all, but when it comes to golf’s rankings formula, abstention is often the best policy.

Does this happen in other professions? Can the world’s top-ranked surgeon perform several lengthy procedures, only to lose his title to a guy sunning himself in Cabo? Can the No. 1 plumber spend the week knee-deep in unclogged toilets, then get surpassed by a vacationing peer who left his plunger at the office?

We’ve been spoiled by the serendipity surrounding the No. 1 ranking’s revolving door over the past 14 months. When Martin Kaymer first reached the top spot, it was because he reached the final of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. When Donald initially got there, it was due to his playoff triumph over previous No. 1 Lee Westwood at the BMW PGA Championship. When McIlroy got the call, it came directly based on his Honda Classic victory.

Each of those momentous occasions masked an underlying problem within the infrastructure of the OWGR’s formula: There is no accounting for common sense.

Perhaps both the best and worst thing about the OWGR is that it's all based on mathematics. If you've got a problem with where somebody is ranked, you can't scream at a biased voter, but rather must take issue at what can only be imagined as a large supercomputer that's constantly spitting out new calculations.

Of course, nowhere in that formula is there a factor for the voice of reason, which should state some pretense of the following: If Player A competes – and especially if Player A competes pretty successfully – then he shouldn’t be passed on the list by Player B if Player B spent the same time drinking mojitos poolside at some exclusive resort.

This scenario is magnified when the No. 1 spot is involved, but it’s hardly unique to that lone place on the list. Every single week, players are passed by others with no apparent rhyme or reason, other than the calculation favors somebody else. Just recently, Bubba Watson publicly questioned how a share of fourth place at the Arnold Palmer Invitational dropped him from 16th in the world to 18th.

How does this happen? It’s all about divisors. In the case of McIlroy passing Donald, young Rory’s divisor dropped from 50 events during the rolling two-year calendar to 49, though his total number of points largely remained intact, meaning his average points – the final number used to determine world ranking status – actually increased not despite his week off from work, but because of it.

Consider it a glitch in a system that many are quick to condemn without fully understanding. Much like its distant cousin, college football’s Bowl Championship Series, the OWGR is often deemed a failure not for the high percentage of rankings that the calculations get correct, but the low number of them that are glaring and egregious errors.

In both cases, the underlying root for such issues is the lack of a common-sense divisor, some type of corollary that would override the formula when its math obviously isn’t thinking clearly.

If that had been in place this week, someone would have been able to push the big red “stop the presses” button before the OWGR was released, in effect keeping the status quo atop the ordering because it made sense, even if the numbers said otherwise.

It’s perfectly fine if you believe Luke Donald doesn’t deserve to be the world’s No. 1-ranked player. Likewise, it’s absolutely acceptable to think that Rory McIlroy should be in that place instead.

Neither conclusion, though, would have been reached based on this week’s results. Alas, there is no scenario in which a share of 37th place at a PGA Tour event should trump seven days of R&R, despite what the numbers contend.

Luke List, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood and Tiger Woods at the 2018 Honda Classic Getty Images

Honda leaders face daunting final day

By Randall MellFebruary 25, 2018, 12:46 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – The winner may need a cut man in his corner more than he needs a caddie on his bag in Sunday’s finish to the Honda Classic.

Smelling salts might come in handy, too.

“It just feels like you are getting punched in the face every single hole here,” Daniel Berger said of the test PGA National’s Champion Course offers. “Every single shot is so hard.”

Final rounds have been especially rough and tumble since the Honda Classic moved to PGA National in 2007.

That usually makes Sundays here as much about who can figuratively take a punch as who can throw one.

Luke List will have his jaw tested after taking sole possession of the lead Saturday with a second consecutive round of 4-under-par 66, but he can take comfort in the fact that punishment is doled plentifully around here.

“Just realizing that everyone is facing the same obstacles out there is huge,” List said. “You're not alone out there, if you make a bogey or a bad swing here or there.”

At 7-under 203, List is one shot ahead of a pair of major championship winners, Justin Thomas (65) and Webb Simpson (66). He is two ahead of Tommy Fleetwood (67), the reigning European Tour Player of the Year, and Jamie Lovemark (68).

List, 33, is seeking his first PGA Tour title in his 104th start. He will have to hold off some heavyweights, including Tiger Woods (69), who is seven shots back but feeling like he has a chance again. Woods closed with a 62 here six years ago when he finished second to Rory McIlroy.

“You never know what can happen the last few holes here,” Woods said. “A lot of things can happen and have happened in the past.”

Amen.


Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos


Crazy things have happened here.

Three years ago, Padraig Harrington was five shots down with eight holes to play and won. He made two double bogeys in the final round but ended up beating Berger in a playoff.

Berger, by the way, was nine shots back entering the final round.

That was the year Ian Poulter took a share of lead into Sunday, hit five balls in the water and still finished just a shot out of the playoff.

Last year, Rickie Fowler made four bogeys and a double bogey in the final round and still won by four shots.

List will have a heavyweight playing alongside him in the final pairing, with 24-year-old Justin Thomas looking to claim his eighth PGA Tour title. Thomas was last season’s PGA Tour Player of the Year.

List has never held a 54-hole lead in a PGA Tour event.

“You guys build up certain players,” List said. “I know I'll be an underdog going against Justin Thomas and guys like that, which is fine.”

There is some inspiration for List in what Ted Potter Jr. did two weeks at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Potter, largely unknown even though he already had a PGA Tour title to his credit, held off stars Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day in the final round to win. 

Thomas earned the right to play alongside List in the final pairing Sunday with his 65, which equaled the low round of the tournament.

Thomas makes his home in nearby Jupiter and knows the punishment the Champion Course can dish out.

“It's a difficult course,” Thomas said. “If you let it get to you, it can be frustrating, but if you go into it understanding and realizing it's difficult, you just kind of embrace it and deal with it.”

Thomas played the Bear Trap’s trio of daunting holes (Nos. 15-17) in 2 under on Saturday. He birdied the 15th and 17th holes.

Fleetwood got in contention Saturday with a pair of eagles. He’s a four-time European Tour winner.

“I would love to get my first win on the PGA Tour this week,” he said. “It’s just great to be out here. It's great to be playing on courses like this that are such a test of every part of your game.”

Alex Noren, a nine-time European Tour winner, is also seeking his first PGA Tour title. He is three shots back. He lost in a playoff to Day at the Farmers Insurance Open last month.

Though this is just Noren’s second start at the Honda Classic, he knows how wildly momentum can swing on the Champion Course. He shot 65 Saturday after shooting 75 on Friday.

“I’m a few back, but anything can happen,” Noren said.

That’s the theme around here.

Getty Images

Thomas: Winning hometown Honda would 'mean a lot'

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 24, 2018, 11:53 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Justin Thomas is trying to join Rickie Fowler as a winner of his hometown event.

Thomas will play in the final group alongside Luke List on Sunday at the Honda Classic after matching the low round of the week with a 5-under 65. He is at 6-under 204, one shot back of List.

The reigning PGA Tour Player of the Year is one of several residents of nearby Jupiter. After Fowler won last year, Thomas (who missed the cut) returned to the course to congratulate his neighbor on his fourth Tour title.

“I hope I give him the opportunity or the choice to come back,” Thomas said. “But I’ve got a lot of golf in front of me before I worry about him coming here.”


Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos


More important to Thomas, however, is winning this event, which is played at PGA National, one of the most difficult non-major courses on Tour.

“It would mean a lot,” he said. “It means a lot to win any golf tournament, but it would mean more because of how prestigious this golf tournament is and the list of winners that have won this event, how strong of a field it is, how difficult of a golf course.

“A decent number of my wins have been on easier golf courses, so it would be cool to get it done at a place like this.”

Getty Images

Woods paired with hotshot rookie Burns at Honda

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 24, 2018, 11:38 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Rookie Sam Burns will be in the biggest spot of his career Sunday – playing alongside Tiger Woods.

Burns, the reigning Nicklaus Award winner who turned pro after two standout years at LSU, will go off with Woods at 12:45 p.m. at the Honda Classic.

Burns, 20, who earned his Web.com Tour card via Q-School, is playing this week on a sponsor exemption, his fourth of the season. He is 13th on the Web.com money list this year, after a tie for second two weeks ago in Colombia.


Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos


Burns and Woods are tied for 11th, at even-par 210.

Sunday is an important round for Burns, who can earn a spot into the Valspar Championship with a top-10 finish here.

Getty Images

List leads Honda; Thomas one back

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 24, 2018, 11:25 pm

Luke List, one of a legion of PGA Tour players who live in Jupiter, just two exits up I-95 from PGA National, shot a 4-under 66 on Saturday to take a one-shot lead after three rounds of the Honda Classic. Here's how things stand going into the final round at PGA National:

Leaderboard: Luke List (-7), Justin Thomas (-6), Webb Simpson (-6), Tommy Fleetwood (-5), Jamie Lovemark (-5), Alex Noren (-4) 

What it means: Leader List has played well this season, with no finish lower than T-26 in six starts. Thomas, of course, is the reigning Player of the Year. The next best pedigree among the leaders belongs to Simpson, winner of the 2012 U.S. Open and three other PGA Tour titles.

Round of the day: Thomas and Noren both shot 5-under 65s. Thomas made two of his six birdies in the Bear Trap (at the par 3s, Nos. holes 15 and17), while Noren played that stretch (15-17) in 1 over. Noren made his hay elsewhere, including an eagle at the last that canceled out his two bogeys.


Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos


Best of the rest: List, Simpson and Kelly Kraft all shot 66.

Biggest disappointment: After an opening 76, Jimmy Walker probably thought he was back on track with a 68 that allowed him to make the cut. Alas, the improvement was temporary, as he ballooned back to a 74 on Saturday.

Shot of the day: Tommy Fleetwood hit a fairway wood from 282 yards to within 8 feet of the cup on the 18th hole. He then made the putt for his second eagle of the day.

Quote of the day: "The course played a fair bit easier with not as much wind." - Thomas

Biggest storyline going into Sunday: List may be in the lead, but most eyes will be on Thomas, a five-time winner last year who has yet to lift a trophy in 2018. And of course, more than a few people will be keeping tabs on Tiger Woods. He'll begin the day seven shots back, trying to channel Tiger of 2012 - when he posted a 62 on Sunday at PGA National (which was good only for a runner-up finish to Rory McIlroy).