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Being No. 1 (and not Tiger) rarely equates to major wins

By John AntoniniJune 11, 2018, 1:50 pm

Dustin Johnson’s victory at last week’s FedEx St. Jude Classic returned him to the No. 1 spot in the world rankings, a position he relinquished to Justin Thomas after The Players Championship. It also gives him a chance to accomplish something at the U.S. Open he wasn’t able to do the last time he was No. 1, something only four other players have been able to do. He will try to become the fifth player to win a major championship as the No. 1 player in the world.

In the 32-year history of the Official World Golf Ranking only Ian Woosnam, Fred Couples, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy have won major championships while on top. Woods did it 11 times, the others one time each for a total of 14 major victories by a world No. 1.

There have been 129 majors since the advent of the ranking, meaning the top player in the world has won 10.8 percent of the majors played. If you take Woods out of the equation – Tiger won 11 of 55 majors held while he was No. 1 – the leader of the world ranking has won three of 77 majors. 

That’s such a stunning sentence that it bears repeating. When the No. 1 player in the world is not named Tiger Woods, he has won three times in 77 majors. We’ll try to explain that staggering number as we take a trip through the history of the ranking. And after we do, we will also explain why this summer just might provide us with the first No. 1 player to win a major since McIlroy at the 2014 PGA Championship.

A little background:

The OWGR was launched prior to the 1986 Masters, the impetus coming from The R & A, which was looking for a way to properly invite qualified players to the Open Championship, and with a boost from IMG’s Mark McCormack, who published a ranking system in his year-end annual. Bernhard Langer was the first No. 1 player and when he finished T-16 in the 1986 Masters, he became the first No. 1 who failed to win a major.

Less than a month later, Seve Ballesteros took over the top spot from Langer and proceeded to finish no better than T-6 in the three majors in which he was world No. 1. Then came Greg Norman, who was 0-for-7 with one “did not play” in his eight majors, the first time he was the lead Shark. Ballesteros and Norman traded places atop the ranking two more times. None would win a major in that span.

It wasn’t until Woosnam won the 1991 Masters, the 21st major played after the ranking was launched, that the No. 1 player in the world was victorious. A year later, Couples won the Masters as world No. 1. For the remainder of the century, no top-ranked player would win a major championship.

Players who have won a major while ranked No. 1 in the world

Masters Tournament U.S. Open Open Championship PGA Championship
Ian Woosnam, 1991 Tiger Woods, 2000 Tiger Woods, 2000 Tiger Woods, 2000
Fred Couples, 1992 Tiger Woods, 2002 Tiger Woods, 2005 Tiger Woods, 2006
Tiger Woods, 2001 Tiger Woods, 2004 Tiger Woods, 2006 Tiger Woods, 2007
Tiger Woods 2002     Rory McIlroy, 2014

Naturally, Woods broke the streak, and did so with a vengeance.

Woods moved to No. 1 in the world for the first time in June 1997. He didn’t win any of the first eight majors played while he was No. 1, breaking through for the first time at the 2000 U.S. Open. He would win the next three majors to complete the Tiger Slam. As we stated earlier, Woods was No. 1 for 55 majors. He won 11 of them.

The last of his victories was also the last time the No. 1 player in the world won the U.S. Open. Playing despite damage to the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and with two stress fractures in his left tibia, Woods beat Rocco Mediate in a 91-hole grind at Torrey Pines in June 2008.  Since then, the world No. 1 has won just one of 39 majors – McIlroy at Kiawah Island in ’14.

So, why doesn’t the best player in the world win more majors?    

The easiest answer is: Winning is hard, for everyone. The difference between the best player and the 10th-best player in the world is minimal. It’s not much more between No. 1 and No. 50. Want proof? Look at how many “upsets” occur at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.

But let’s not use a tournament where the vagaries of match play prove this point. Let’s use scoring average instead. In this age of modern statistical analysis scoring average might seem archaic, but it is the end result of every other statistic.

Johnson was the No. 1 player in the world rankings at the end of the 2017 season. He was seventh on the PGA Tour in scoring average at 69.55. There was a one-stroke difference between Johnson and the 52nd player on Tour in scoring average (Seamus Power). That’s pretty small. It’s the difference between one player knocking in a 20-foot putt and another coming up one roll short. It’s the difference between one player getting a lucky bounce off the slope onto a green, while the other gets a bounce into a bunker. It’s the difference between … well, you get the idea.

For certain, Johnson and Power played different tournaments with different strength of fields. Johnson played The Open the same week Power played the Barbasol Championship. But quite a few players who ranked between Johnson and Power in scoring average also played in The Open, and would you believe that 24 of those players finished better than Johnson at Royal Birkdale? Sure you believe it, because on any given week every one of those players can be just as good as DJ. In fact, the winner that week, Jordan Spieth, actually led the Tour in scoring average.

And Spieth, with the lowest scoring average on the PGA Tour, won just three of the 23 Tour events (13 percent) he played last year. Johnson, the world No. 1, won four times in 20 starts (20 percent); although he wasn’t No. 1 for all of them.

Those are good percentages. Actually, they’re stellar percentages.

Winning 20 percent of your tournaments is really, really good. Rickie Fowler was second in scoring average and ended 2017 ranked seventh in the world. He won one time in 21 starts on Tour. Paul Casey – fifth in scoring and 14th on the year-end ranking – didn’t win at all on Tour.

In the 21 years since Woods first became the world’s No. 1 player, the top-ranked player has played in 417 PGA Tour events. He has won 91 times, or 21.8 percent. Of course, Woods accounts for most of those victories. If you eliminate his 68 wins in 249 starts, you are left with 23 wins by the world No. 1 in 168 starts (13.7 percent).

That’s all Tour events. When the No. 1 player in the world is not named Tiger Woods and he plays on the PGA Tour, he wins less than 14 percent of the time. If it’s that hard for the world No. 1 to win in Hartford or Houston or Honolulu, it must mean that …

Winning majors is harder. Major fields are strong and deep, with all four of them inviting at least the top 50 players in the world. The top 10 players in the world rarely appear in the same event unless it’s a major championship. It reasonable to believe that if the top player wins just 14 percent of the time in which he plays a regular event, with less than half the top 10 or top 50 present, it would be twice as hard to win a major with every star in the field hungry for one of the game’s four most important championships.

In fact, while the world No. 1 has only won 14 majors, players ranked No. 2 through No. 5 have won 27 times:

  • No. 2: 7 major wins
  • No. 3: 9 major wins
  • No. 4: 5 major wins
  • No. 5: 6 major wins

Four players even moved from No. 2 to No. 1 after winning a major. They were Nick Faldo at the 1992 Open Championship, Nick Price at the 1994 PGA, and Woods at the 1999 PGA and the 2005 Masters.

Which brings us to our next point.

The No. 1 player on the world ranking is not necessarily the best player in the world. There is a difference. Take Price, for example. He moved to No. 1 after winning the ‘94 PGA Championship, but there’s no question he was already the best player in the world. Price won the 1992 PGA Championship, four times on the PGA Tour in 1993 and won three times in six starts coming into the ’94 PGA. The No. 1 player going into that major was Norman. Sure, Norman won The Players that March and had three runner-up finishes in his previous eight starts, but Price was winning. He was clearly No. 1. The ranking hadn’t figure that out yet.

More recently, Spieth, with four wins in 15 starts during the spring and summer of 2015, had been the best player in the world for several months before he became the No. 1 player in August. In fact, by the time Spieth moved to No. 1, Jason Day was the best player in the world. The ranking math didn’t work out for him until after he won the BMW Championship, his fourth victory in six starts.

Which is a roundabout way of getting to the final point mentioned way back at the top of this story. That this summer, the No. 1 player – DJ, JT or someone else – stands a good chance of winning a major championship.

We told you earlier that since June 1997, players whose initials are not TW won 23 times in 168 starts while ranked No. 1. Now look at how many of those wins came almost immediately after there was a change at the top of the world ranking.

Five times a player won in his first start at No. 1. Three more came in his second start at No. 1. Three more came in his third start.

It appears that when the top spot on the world ranking is in flux, when the No. 1 spot has just been taken over, the new leader is still playing well enough to win. Even if that means winning a major.

Which, if you’re Dustin Johnson, is good news, indeed.

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USGA, R&A unveil new limits on green books

By Rex HoggardOctober 15, 2018, 1:53 pm

Following a six-week feedback period, the USGA and R&A unveiled a new interpretation of the Rules of Golf and the use of green-reading materials on Monday.

The interpretation limits the size and scale of putting green books and any electronic or digital materials that a player may use to assist with green reading.

“We’re thankful for everyone’s willingness to provide feedback as we worked through the process of identifying a clear interpretation that protects the essential skill of reading a green, while still allowing for information that helps golfers enjoy the game,” said Thomas Pagel, the USGA’s senior managing director of governance.

Players will be allowed to continue to use green-reading books beginning in 2019, but the new interpretation will limit images of greens to a scale of 3/8 inch to 5 yards (1:480), and books can be no larger than 4 1/4 inches by 7 inches (pocket-sized). The interpretation also bans the use of magnification devices beyond normal prescription glasses.

The USGA and R&A will allow for hand-drawn notes in green books as long as those notes are written by the player or their caddie. The rule makers also dropped a proposal that would have limited the minimum slope to four percent in green-reading material.

“These latest modifications provide very practical changes that make the interpretation easier to understand and apply in the field,” Pagel said.

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CIMB purse payout: Leishman earns $1.26 million

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 15, 2018, 1:34 pm

Marc Leishman never let off the gas pedal and cruised to a five-stroke victory at the CIMB Classic. Here's how the purse was paid out at TPC Kuala Lumpur.

1 Marc Leishman -26 $1,260,000
T2 Emiliano Grillo -21 $522,667
T2 Chesson Hadley -21 $522,667
T2 Bronson Burgoon -21 $522,667
T5 Justin Thomas -20 $237,300
T5 Abraham Ancer -20 $237,300
T5 Charles Howell III -20 $237,300
T5 Louis Oosthuizen -20 $237,300
T5 Gary Woodland -20 $237,300
T10 Kevin Chappell -19 $175,000
T10 Si Woo Kim -19 $175,000
T10 Shubhankar Sharma -19 $175,000
T13 Kyle Stanley -18 $122,640
T13 Byeong Hun An -18 $122,640
T13 Paul Casey -18 $122,640
T13 J.B. Holmes -18 $122,640
T13 Stewart Cink -18 $122,640
T13 Austin Cook -18 $122,640
T19 Keegan Bradley -17 $89,320
T19 Kevin Na -17 $89,320
T19 Nick Watney -17 $89,320
T22 Keith Mitchell -16 $71,120
T22 John Catlin -16 $71,120
T22 Cameron Smith -16 $71,120
25 Xander Schauffele -15 $59,920
26 Joel Dahmen -14 $54,320
T27 Kevin Tway -13 $50,120
T27 Gaganjeet Bhullar -13 $50,120
T27 Scott Piercy -13 $50,120
T30 C.T. Pan -12 $43,820
T30 Thomas Pieters -12 $43,820
T30 Beau Hossler -12 $43,820
T33 Billy Horschel -11 $35,303
T33 Ryan Palmer -11 $35,303
T33 Ryan Armour -11 $35,303
T33 Kiradech Aphibarnrat -11 $35,303
T33 Danny Lee -11 $35,303
T33 Kelly Kraft -11 $35,303
T39 Brice Garnett -10 $27,720
T39 Jamie Lovemark -10 $27,720
T39 Brian Stuard -10 $27,720
T39 Jimmy Walker -10 $27,720
T43 Jason Dufner -9 $20,160
T43 Satoshi Kodaira -9 $20,160
T43 Chez Reavie -9 $20,160
T43 Justin Harding -9 $20,160
T43 Ernie Els -9 $20,160
T43 Jason Kokrak -9 $20,160
T43 Sam Ryder -9 $20,160
T50 Branden Grace -8 $15,365
T50 Sanghyun Park -8 $15,365
T50 Andrew Putnam -8 $15,365
T50 Rafael Cabrera Bello -8 $15,365
T54 Ted Potter Jr. -7 $14,280
T54 Ben Leong -7 $14,280
T54 Brendan Steele -7 $14,280
T54 Sihwan Kim -7 $14,280
T54 Troy Merritt -7 $14,280
T59 Whee Kim -6 $13,720
T59 Davis Love III -6 $13,720
T59 James Hahn -6 $13,720
62 Michael Kim -5 $13,440
T63 Pat Perez -4 $13,160
T63 Tom Hoge -4 $13,160
T63 Anirban Lahiri -4 $13,160
T66 Scott Vincent -3 $12,740
T66 Brandt Snedeker -3 $12,740
T66 Ryan Moore -3 $12,740
T69 Peter Uihlein -2 $12,390
T69 Brian Gay -2 $12,390
71 Minchel Choi -1 $12,180
T72 J.J. Spaun E $11,970
T72 Berry Henson E $11,970
74 Ollie Schniederjans 3 $11,760
T75 Scott Stallings 5 $11,480
T75 Jon Curran 5 $11,480
T75 Rahil Gangjee 5 $11,480
78 Leun-Kwang Kim 13 $11,200
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Congressional cited for improper tree removal

By Will GrayOctober 15, 2018, 1:30 pm

With preparations underway for a significant renovation, future Ryder Cup host Congressional Country Club has been cited by Montgomery County (Md.) officials for improper tree removal.

According to a report from the Washington Post, the club near the nation's capital has cut down more than 20,000 square feet of tree canopy in recent months. That's more than four times the maximum removal allowed without obtaining a "sediment control permit," which the club did not procure.

The county's department of permitting services reportedly e-mailed the violation to the club on Sept. 26, and a Congressional spokesperson indicated the paperwork for the permit is "in process."

"Congressional has selectively removed trees for the conditioning of our golf courses," wrote general manager Jeffrey Kreafle. "We have not received a stop work order from Montgomery County. Rather, they notified the club that we need to obtain a sediment control permit for work being done on the golf course."

In an interesting twist, the investigation reportedly started when an anonymous Congressional member tipped off a local environmental group over the removal of what they estimated to be 1,000 trees.

"I am (upset) because they're ruining my club," the member said.

Congressional's Blue Course, which has hosted three U.S. Opens and most recently held a PGA Tour event in 2016, is scheduled for a renovation in 2019. Last month the PGA of America announced that it would be bringing several marquee tournaments to Congressional over the next two decades, including the 2031 PGA Championship and the 2036 Ryder Cup.

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Monday Scramble: Hall pass, and a hard pass

By Ryan LavnerOctober 15, 2018, 1:00 pm

The Hall calls, Marc Leishman and Eddie Pepperell flip a switch, the 2020 Ryder Cup leaders come into focus, Brooks Koepka defuses the drama and more in this week's edition of the Monday Scramble:

Struggling to remain relevant, the World Golf Hall of Fame didn’t do itself any favors with its latest inductees.

It’s not that the Class of 2019 isn’t deserving – quite the opposite, in fact.

It’s the timing that is most curious.

Peggy Kirk Bell, for example, was honored through the lifetime achievement category. She died in 2016, at the age of 95, so what’s changed in the past two years that she suddenly is worthy of inclusion? What a thrill it would have been for her and her family to receive that recognition in her final years. Instead, she'll be honored posthumously, in what seems like a decision that was made a decade too late. 

So what does this mean for others in that category moving forward?

Will Tom Weiskopf have to wait until he passes? Butch Harmon, too?

What was the rush to induct Retief Goosen, who turns 50 in February? Surely his seven PGA Tour titles and two major titles could have waited a few more classes, if they warranted serious consideration at all.

The selection process underwent a facelift a few years ago, to put the decision-making into the “right hands,” but it's clear that this new system isn’t much better.

1. Marc Leishman was hitting it so sideways last week that he thought he’d have to call Callaway and request more golf balls be put in his locker.

He ended up shooting 25 under to equal the tournament record at the CIMB Classic. In a three-way tie for the lead after 54 holes, he broke away from the pack with four birdies in his first five holes and a 7-under 65 to cruise to a five-shot victory.

"Sorted that out and this is the result," he said. 

2. After the first multi-win season of his career in 2016-17, Leishman barely advanced to the Tour Championship in the recently completed 2017-18 season, sweating it out as the No. 29 seed. Barring a midseason swoon in ’19, however, he should be in a much better position to advance to East Lake after picking up an early-season victory.

“Once you’ve got a good early start, you can really just think about winning and that’s exciting for next week and the rest of the year,” he said.

Next week, of course, is the CJ Cup in Korea, where last year Leishman lost in a playoff to Justin Thomas. The good vibes should continue.

3. And look who’s gearing up for his title defense.

After falling off the pace midway through the CIMB, Thomas rallied with a best-of-the-day-tying 64 in the final round to jump all the way into a tie for fifth.

4. Leishman wasn’t the only player who was down on his game before his big week.

Eddie Pepperell’s form leading up to the British Masters was, he said, “the worst I’ve played for ages.” He then went wire to wire in miserable conditions at Walton Heath, securing his second European Tour title of the season.

The victory moved Pepperell to No. 33 in the world rankings, all but assuring that he will earn an invitation to the Masters next April via the top-50 exemption rule.

“It’s always been a dream to play in the Masters,” he said. “It also shows I’m not a one-hit wonder.”

5. Everything needs to come together to get a W.

After a nervy three-putt on No. 9 Sunday to drop only one shot clear, Pepperell holed his 122-yard approach on the 10th to regain his advantage.

It was his second hole-out of the week, after this spectacular (and strange) ace on Thursday:

6. The 2020 Ryder Cup picture is getting clearer.

It’s pretty obvious that Steve Stricker – in the captaincy pipeline, beloved in his home state of Wisconsin – will get the nod for the U.S. at Whistling Straits. There’s little debate on the other side, either, since Padraig Harrington has virtually no competition for the captaincy.

7. Lee Westwood said last week that he’s stepping aside for 2020 and focusing on the '22 matches at Rome. It was viewed as a selfless decision, but it’s also a smart one for his legacy: No European captain has lost at home since 1993, and the Europeans will once again be the favorites in Italy.    

8. It was bad enough that the Americans got smoked at the Ryder Cup. Turns out, a few weeks later, that two of Europe’s leaders were also playing hurt.

First it was Francesco Molinari who revealed that he was dealing with a sore back for the final two days at Le Golf National. He joined Larry Nelson as the only players to go 5-0, but he said that the day after the Ryder Cup he was so sore that he couldn’t bend over to tie his shoelaces.

Then it was Henrik Stenson who said that his bum elbow was worse than he initially led on. His elbow has plagued him for months, ever since the U.S. Open, but last week he underwent a “minor” procedure to alleviate some of the discomfort. He, of course, won both of his team matches with Justin Rose and then won his singles match, too.

9. The Tiger-Phil match is starting to look like an outright disaster.

Reports surfaced last week that, to the surprise of no one, fans won’t be allowed on-site at ultra-private Shadow Creek. Logistics were always going to be an issue there, and now the showdown will be limited to a few VIPs and sponsors.

So, to recap, this duel that is probably a decade too late won't have many people around the tees and greens ... won't have two mega-millionaires putting up their own cash ... won't be played under the lights in Vegas ... and won't have as many viewers, since it'll be on pay-per-view. 

Hey, we could be wrong, but here’s thinking the organizers will be disappointed by just how few people tune in for this.

My word, this was horrible, which was probably the point.

But putting the Bash Bros together in a cheesy video isn’t going to convince anyone that there wasn’t a dust-up at the Ryder Cup in Paris. Jim Furyk already confirmed The Telegraph's reporting that there was some kind of incident, even if by now it's been entirely overblown.

This week's award winners ... 

Oldie But Goodie: Bernhard Langer. He may not have been as dominating as we’re used to, but Langer’s runaway victory at the SAS Championship gave him the points lead heading into the Champions Tour’s three-tournament playoff series.   

All Works Out: Marc Leishman. Before he won in Malaysia, Leishman booked plane tickets to Maui for the first week of 2019 – assuming that he’ll either be there playing in the Tournament of Champions (for which he had not yet qualified) or enjoying a family vacation. Turns out it’s the former now.  

Who Wants to Ball?: Steph Curry event. The Warriors star is reportedly on the verge of finalizing a Bay Area event that would appear in the early part of the 2019-20 Tour schedule. That should attract more stars to show up than the season opener at Greenbrier. 

Twice As Nice: In Gee Chun. A week after helping lead the Korean team to the International Crown title at home, Chun closed with a final-round 66 to win the Hana Bank for her first non-major LPGA title (and third overall).

Thanks, Mom!: Eddie Pepperell. As he walked to the 10th tee in the final round, his mom gave him a pair of mittens to deal with the cool temperatures. Pepperell proceed to hole his second shot.

Will This Suffice, Commish?: Jordan Spieth. The Golden Child ran afoul of Tour rules when he failed to play either 25 events or commit to a new tournament last season, so he’s getting out ahead of the game this season by committing to the Shriners event in Vegas in early November. It's the first domestic fall event that he's ever played. Smart. 

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Ryan Moore. A runner-up a week earlier in Napa, he usually tears up the limited-field, guaranteed-cash event in Malaysia. Instead, he appeared out of gas, finishing 66th out of 78 players. Sigh.