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.

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Rose: 'Never' has Rory putted as well as Bay Hill

By Ryan LavnerMarch 19, 2018, 1:20 am

ORLANDO, Fla. – Justin Rose didn’t need to ponder the question for very long.

The last time Rory McIlroy putted that well was, well …?

“Never,” Rose said with a chuckle. “Ryder Cup? He always makes it look easy when he’s playing well.”

And the Englishman did well just to try and keep pace.

After playing his first six holes in 4 over par, Rose battled not just to make the cut but to contend. He closed with consecutive rounds of 67, finishing in solo third, four shots back of McIlroy at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

Rose said this weekend was the best he’s struck the ball all year. He just didn’t do enough to overtake McIlroy, who finished the week ranked first in strokes gained-putting and closed with a bogey-free 64.

“Rory just played incredible golf, and it’s great to see world-class players do that,” Rose said. “It’s not great to see him make putts because he was making them against me, but when he is, he’s incredibly hard to beat. So it was fun to watch him play.”

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Rory almost channels Tiger with 72nd-hole celebration

By Ryan LavnerMarch 19, 2018, 1:11 am

ORLANDO, Fla. – Rory McIlroy’s final putt at the Arnold Palmer Invitational felt awfully familiar.

He rolled in the 25-footer for birdie and wildly pumped his fist, immediately calling to mind Woods’ heroics on Bay Hill’s 18th green.

Three times Woods holed a putt on the final green to win this event by a stroke.

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

McIlroy was just happy to provide a little extra cushion as the final group played the finishing hole.

“I’ve seen Tiger do that enough times to know what it does,” McIlroy said. “So I just wanted to try and emulate that. I didn’t quite give it the hat toss – I was thinking about doing that. But to be able to create my own little bit of history on the 18th green here is pretty special.”

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A performance fit for a King

By Ryan LavnerMarch 19, 2018, 1:08 am

ORLANDO, Fla. – Five hundred and 40 days had passed since Rory McIlroy last won, and since golf lost one of its most iconic players.

So much has transpired in McIlroy’s life since then – marriage, injury, adversity – but even now he vividly recalls the awkward end to the 2016 Tour Championship. He had just captured the FedExCup and $11 million bonus, but afterward, in the scrum, he was asked instead to reflect on the passing earlier that day of Arnold Palmer, at age 87.

“Obviously I had a great win and it was a great day for me, but in the big scheme of things, that didn’t matter,” he said. “The game of golf had lost an icon, a legend, an inspiration to so many of us. I probably wasn’t as ecstatic as maybe I would have been if Arnie hadn’t passed away.”

But there was McIlroy on Sunday at Bay Hill, at Arnie’s Florida home, summoning the kind of charge that would have made the King proud. With five birdies in his last six holes, he broke away from a stacked leaderboard to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational for his first victory on Tour in 18 months, since that bittersweet evening at East Lake.

“Kind of ironic,” he said Sunday.

But the connection between McIlroy and Palmer runs deeper than that.

Palmer and McIlroy’s wife, Erica, shared a birthday – Sept. 10.

Palmer wrote letters to McIlroy after each of his many victories.

Palmer had lobbied for years to get McIlroy to play this event, even threatening him. “If he doesn’t come and play Bay Hill,” Palmer said in 2012, “he might have a broken arm and he won’t have to worry about where he’s going to play next.”

McIlroy kept all of his limbs intact but didn’t add the event until 2015, when Palmer’s health was beginning to deteriorate. That week he sat for a two-hour dinner with Palmer in the Bay Hill clubhouse, and the memories still bring a smile to his face.

“I was mesmerized,” McIlroy said.

And entertained, of course.

Palmer ordered fish for dinner. “And I remember him asking the server, ‘Can I get some A.1. Sauce?’” McIlroy said.

“And the server said, ‘For your fish, Mr. Palmer?’ And he said, ‘No, for me!’"

McIlroy chuckled at the exchange, then added somberly: “I was very fortunate to spend that time with him.”

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

McIlroy has been telling anyone who will listen that he’s close to playing his best golf, but even he was surprised by the drastic turn of events over the past 10 days.

During that 18-month winless drought, he endured an onslaught of questions about his wedge play, his putting, his health and his motivation. Burnt out by the intense spotlight, and needing to rehab a nagging rib injury, he shut it down for four months last fall, a mental and physical reset.

But after an encouraging start to his 2018 campaign in the Middle East, McIlroy was a non-factor in each of his first four Tour starts. That included a missed cut last week in Tampa, where he was admittedly searching.

“The best missed cut I’ve ever had,” he said.

McIlroy grinded all last weekend, stumbling upon a swing thought, a feeling, like he was making a three-quarter swing. Then he met for a few hours Monday in South Florida with former PGA Tour winner and putting savant Brad Faxon. They focused on being more instinctive and reactionary over the ball.

“He just freed me up,” McIlroy said.

Freed up his stroke, which had gotten too rigid.

And freed up his mind, which was bogged down with technical thoughts and self-doubt.

“The objective is to get the ball in the hole,” he said, “and I think I lost sight of that a little bit.”

All McIlroy did at Bay Hill was produce the best putting week of his career.  

Starting the final round two shots back of Henrik Stenson, McIlroy made the turn in 33 and then grabbed a share of the lead on the 11th hole.

Tiger Woods was making a run, moving within a shot of the lead, but McIlroy answered with a charge of his own, rattling off four consecutive birdies – a 16-footer on 13, a 21-footer on 14, a chip-in on 15 and a two-putt birdie after a 373-yard drive on 16 – that left Woods and everyone else in the dust.

Then McIlroy finished it off in style, rolling in a 25-footer on the last that was eerily similar to the putt that Woods has holed so many times at his personal playground.

“I know what the putt does,” McIlroy said, “so it was nice to make my own little bit of history.”

Justin Rose has played plenty of meaningful golf with McIlroy over the years, but he’d never seen him roll it like he did Sunday.

“He turned on the burners on the back nine,” he said. “He always makes it look easy when he’s playing well.”

It’s little wonder McIlroy pulled ahead of a star-studded leaderboard, closing with a bogey-free 64 and winning by three shots at 18-under 270 – he led the field in driving distance, proximity to the hole, scrambling and strokes gained-putting.

“It’s so nice that everything finally came together,” he said.

Over the next two weeks, there figures to be plenty of conversation about whether McIlroy can channel that fearlessness into the major he covets most. The Masters is the only piece missing from a career Grand Slam, and now, thanks to Faxon’s tips, he’s never been in a better position.

But after a turbulent 18 months, McIlroy needed no reminder to savor a victory that felt like a long time coming.

There was a hug for his parents, Gerry and Rosie.

A kiss for his wife, Erica.

A handshake for Palmer’s grandson, Sam Saunders, and then a fitting into the champion’s alpaca cardigan.

The only thing missing was the King himself, waiting atop the hill behind 18 with his huge smile and vice-grip handshake.

“Hopefully he’s up there smiling,” McIlroy said, “and hopefully he’s proud of me with the way I played that back nine.”

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McIlroy remembers Arnie dinner: He liked A-1 sauce on fish

By Will GrayMarch 19, 2018, 1:06 am

ORLANDO, Fla. – Fresh off a stirring victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Rory McIlroy offered a pair of culinary factoids about two of the game’s biggest names.

McIlroy regretted not being able to shake Palmer’s hand behind the 18th green after capping a three-shot win with a Sunday 64, but with the trophy in hand he reflected back on a meal he shared with Palmer at Bay Hill back in 2015, the year before Palmer passed away.

“I knew that he liked A-1 sauce on his fish, which was quite strange,” McIlroy said. “I remember him asking the server, ‘Can I get some A-1 sauce?’ And the server said, ‘For your fish, Mr. Palmer?’ He said, ‘No, for me.’”

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

A few minutes later, McIlroy revealed that he is also a frequent diner at The Woods Jupiter, the South Florida restaurant launched by Tiger Woods. In fact, McIlroy explained that he goes to the restaurant every Wednesday with his parents – that is, when he’s not spanning the globe winning golf tournaments.

Having surveyed the menu a few times, he considers himself a fan.

“It’s good. He seems pretty hands-on with it,” McIlroy said. “Tuna wontons are good, the lamb lollipops are good. I recommend it.”