PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Adam Scott took a deep breath and glanced over to a nearby leaderboard, his fate now dependent on others and the winds that buffeted TPC Sawgrass.
After an opening 77 on Thursday, the would-be alpha male of the golf universe found himself perched on the wrong side of the 36-hole ax at The Players Championship at even par.
He still had a chance to play the weekend, but found himself in the unenviable position of needing some help from the field as well as Mother Nature.
“I’m going to need the wind to stay up this afternoon,” said Scott, who rallied on Friday with a 10-stroke improvement to shoot a 67 that included birdies at three of his last four holes. “That’s the only defense out there at the moment.”
The same could not be said of the Official World Golf Ranking.
As this latest episode has proven, there is no defense for the ranking, just tacit indifference to a formula most observers don’t understand and even fewer agree with.
This would be no ordinary missed cut. Scott – along with Henrik Stenson, Bubba Watson and Matt Kuchar – have a chance to overtake Tiger Woods atop the ranking with a solid week at the PGA Tour’s crown jewel.
The rub, at least as Scott stood in the scorching midday sun pondering his weekend options, is that the Australian would have passed Woods had he not hit a shot this week.
In the complicated computed world of world golf ranking divisors, Scott would have slipped passed Woods, who has been sidelined following back surgery last month, had he not participated in The Players. Of course, that didn’t assure him the top ranking since Stenson (who needs a two-way tie for sixth or better to claim the top ranking), Watson (who needs a solo second-place finish or better) and Kuchar (who needs to win) could have assumed the No. 1 ranking regardless of Scott’s competitive status.
But then hindsight can be a ruthless opponent when one considers that Stenson and Watson are currently tied for 36th and Kuchar is in a group tied for 40th place.
It is the mathematical middle ground that is becoming a common theme in professional golf. Because of how the rankings are calculated, it is often a better option for players, particularly those trying to qualify for certain events like the majors or World Golf Championships, to watch tournaments from the couch than actually play in them.
Just this week Tour commissioner Tim Finchem was asked about the phenomenon, let’s call it the ranking flu.
“The rankings are an imperfect science that have a reasonably good result, and relative comparative competitive assessment. They do a reasonably good job,” Finchem said.
Aw, stop it.
If that didn’t sound like a ringing endorsement it’s because it wasn’t. But when it comes to the world golf ranking, the best of what seem to be numerous bad options is the winner. It’s an enemy-of-my-enemy sort of thing.
“This is one of those variables in the rankings that we wrestle with from time to time. I don't think we have any new ideas,” Finchem said.
And if the Tour is stumped, imagine how Scott – who moved to No. 2 in the world with his victory at last year’s Barclays – and the rest of his Tour frat brothers must feel, not that he has been paying much attention to the math or the ranking’s misgivings.
“I haven’t been watching any of that kind of stuff,” said Scott, who revealed on Friday that he married his longtime girlfriend in April in the Bahamas. “I would have thought there were other guys with the possibility (to overtake Woods) this week, so sitting at home wasn’t going to do me any good.”
Turns out he won’t be sitting at home on the weekend, either. Thanks to those afternoon winds and a Stadium Course that grew tougher with each gust he finished just inside the cut and will continue his pursuit of the world’s top ranking.
Even in the unyielding sun at TPC Sawgrass, it wasn’t the ridiculousness of the rankings that was haunting Scott. It was his finish on Thursday when he rinsed consecutive tee shots at Nos. 17 and 18 to finish off his 5-over card.
“Quite costly, really,” he sighed.
Not playing was never an option, regardless of the impact on divisors and destiny (he would be the first Australian since Greg Norman in 1997 to claim the top ranking). But not having to play to reach that goal seemed quite ridiculous.