MARANA, Ariz. – If the Official World Golf Ranking thought it was being vilified more than a Middle East dictator of late the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship is not helping things.
Nothing, save a healthy and heated world No. 1 debate or the Ryder Cup, unravels the world ranking math like the Match Play and this week’s WGC is proving to be ranking kryptonite. So far this week the top-seeded players have fallen away like so many zeros behind a decimal point – first Tiger Woods was bounced followed 24 hours later by Phil Mickelson and Lee Westwood.
In a mathematically correct world the reigning No. 1 doesn’t miss a bunny on the 16th hole to square his match, the No. 5 at least sees the last five holes of his second-round match and the No. 3 doesn’t jump a redeye back East on Wednesday.
But then only match play exposes the world rankings for what they are with such expediency – a conversation starter. To be clear, Woods’ slide out of the top spot last year didn’t create that reality, it only magnified it.
What else would explain two wild days in the Arizona desert that has left the assembled masses with just a single top-seeded player? And even that player, Martin Kaymer, needed 20 holes to dispatch Justin Rose, who began the week as the No. 9 seed in the Gary Player Bracket.
On Wednesday, 14 lower-seeded players advanced, the second most in Match Play history, and Day 2 was no easier on the status quo with six “long shots” making it to the Sweet 16.
Thus is the fallacy of the world ranking. Rose is no more golf’s version of Weber State than Woods is the game’s North Carolina, at least not the current version.
“It’s been an interesting couple of days. A lot of big names going out in some style,” said Graeme McDowell, a 4-and-2 winner over Ross Fisher on Thursday. “But it’s the nature of the beast at this event. You don’t have to shoot 65 every day, all you’ve got to do is win and stay standing.”
The distance between No. 1 and No. 64 is measured in feet not yards, and no one validates that point more than J.B. Holmes who was actually No. 66 in the world when the WGC field was set on Feb. 14 but was called in on a last-minute relief assignment when Tim Clark’s ailing elbow forced him to withdraw.
So far this week Holmes has taken down Camilo Villegas and Ernie Els on a golf course not named TPC Scottsdale and is starting to look less like a Cinderella story than a solid sleeper pick.
The same can be said of Miguel Angel Jimenez and Ben Crane. The Mechanic has never made it past the quarterfinals in nine tries yet is 2-0 and hasn’t been pushed to the 18th tee all week, while Crane stunned Rory McIlroy, the Ryder Cup hero and a second seed this week, in just 11 holes.
It is at the top of the marquee where the math makes even less sense, however.
On Wednesday, Westwood made it clear via Twitter he was not pleased with his lack of airtime on Golf Channel. On Thursday he was probably looking to avoid the camera on his way to a 1-up loss to Nick Watney, a less-than-stellar match that included a missed 3 ½ footer at the 16th hole.
“The 16th . . . I basically vomited up on the 16th green,” was Westwood’s only assessment.
At least he made it to the 16th hole. Phil Mickelson was 1 up through three holes against Rickie Fowler, 10 holes later he was looking for a ride back to the Dove Mountain clubhouse with his hat in his hand, a 6-and-5 train-wreck that was the worst Match Play loss of Lefty’s career.
“I got beat up pretty bad. He’s a heck of a player,” Mickelson said. “We only played four holes on the back side and (Fowler) played them in 5 under.”
If nothing else two days in the desert did validate Gen Y’s growing reputation as world beaters.
Fowler’s rout of Mickelson was clinically efficient, while Italian teen sensation Matteo Manassero has been flawless for two days, and 23-year-old Jason Day, an old man in that group, was the day’s ultimate bracket buster with a convincing 4-and-2 walkover of two-time Match Play runner-up Paul Casey.
Not that a youth movement could even begin to explain the ranking carnage through two rounds at Dove Mountain. The only trends on a potpourri leaderboard are an utter lack of order – young beating old, supporting actors ousting the established, sixth men outshining stars. The only certainty at the Match Play is that nothing is certain.
But this is less an indictment of the world ranking than it is a clarification that the game goes much deeper than any math could ever accurately portray and once a year the Match Play reminds us of that simple truth.
– For more insight from Rex Hoggard, follow him on Twitter @RexHoggard