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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Ruthless Golf World Rankings: May 2011

The RGWR really got shaken up during April. Only one American remains in the list, while the Top 6 in the European Tour's Race to Dubai (the equivalent of our FedExCup) all made it in. Some of the previous winners finally started playing better and separated themselves from the pack. Their recent play also moved them past some of the previous winners who were resting on their laurels.

I've made a slight alteration to my system, so here is my updated description of the RGWG criteria:
I focus on the last 12 months of play -- that's long enough to see some consistency but short enough to be current. Every player in the RGWR won at least once on either the PGA or European Tour. The OWGR rates consistency over the last 2 years, so I see no reason to rank that; my RGWR says if you're a top player, you've won somewhere recently. My priority list (based on quality of field) looks like this:
  1. majors, TPC, and WGCs
  2. FedExCup playoffs and prestige events (like Bay Hill and Dubai)
  3. other PGA and ET events
I put extra emphasis on recent form, and I make some allowance if you're recovering from injury or serious sickness.

I assign points to tournaments like this:
  • Majors: 10 points
  • TPC: 8 points
  • WGC: 7 points
  • Prestige events: 5 points
  • Regular wins: 3 points
  • Top 5 finishes: 2 points
My alteration? I've decided to give full credit for wins on the "minor" tours like the Nationwide and Asian Tours provided the winner has a current win on the PGA or European Tour. These wins will count only as "regular" wins and not "prestige" wins, no matter how prestigious they may be for their tour, because they generally don't have the strength of field of a PGA or ET prestige event. I've been doing this somewhat sporadically and inconsistently (think about Jhonattan Vegas getting credit for his South American wins after his win at the Hope), so I've devised this more consistent rule to try and level the playing field.

Under this new rule, Brendan Steele got credit for the 2010 Nationwide Championship by virtue of winning the 2011 Texas Valero Open, and Lee Westwood got credit for the 2011 Indonesian Masters by virtue of winning the 2010 St. Jude Classic. And having gotten credit for such a win, it continues to count even after the qualifying win drops off -- for example, Lee's Indonesian Masters would have continued to count even if the St. Jude dropped off and he hadn't already replaced it with the 2011 Ballantine's Championship.

As usual, the points affect my rankings but don't override my personal opinions. However, you'll note that I've paid a bit more attention to Top 5s and Total Points than usual this month, even noting them in the ranking. Because wins count so much in my system and so many players are bunched, I needed something more than wins from nearly a year ago to rank by since some of the players aren't doing as well now:
  1. Lee Westwood: 4 wins (1 prestige), 3 Top5, 20 points. Lee's two wins over the last couple of weeks vaulted him back up into my rankings, even putting him ahead of my previous leaders who, quite frankly, haven't played well of late. I'm beginning to believe his calf injury had not truly healed until recently. By the criteria I use, Westwood clearly deserved to take #1 in the OWGR back from Kaymer.
  2. Martin Kaymer: 4 wins (1 major, 2 prestige), 1 Top5, 27 points. Kaymer remains ahead of McDowell for one reason, and one alone -- he has a win on the ET this year, while Graeme doesn't. Graeme has him beat just about every other way, however.
  3. Graeme McDowell: 4 wins (1 major, 3 prestige), 4 Top5, 34 points. The U.S. Open champ seems to be really struggling. Perhaps he tried to do too much too soon, traveling all over the world to play.
  4. Bubba Watson: 3 wins (1 prestige), 3 Top5, 17 points. Bubba's the only American in the list, and also the only player with 3 PGA wins in the last year. Having gotten two of them this year, plus a Top 5 in a WGC event, Bubba could be the breakout American player this year and my early pick for POY.
  5. Jhonattan Vegas: 3 wins, 1 Top5, 11 points. Jhonattan continues to be a bit flat after a strong start to his year. Still, he's won in more than one country, so that counts in his favor.
  6. Charl Schwartzel: 2 wins (1 major), 1 Top5, 15 points. That Masters win counts for a lot and it's the sole reason he holds this spot over Donald, who has only one win in this calendar year (and let's face it, a Masters outranks a WGC). Still, other than his two wins in 2011, he hasn't really done that much. With so many twinners to choose from, even that major won't keep him high in the rankings for long if he doesn't pick it up a bit. Oosthuizen already dropped out this month since he's done little since January. The RGWR is all about what you've done lately! Unless you've got so many wins I can't ignore you, of course.
  7. Luke Donald: 2 wins (1 WGC), 10 Top5, 30 points. Mr. CashRegister continues to put himself into position to snag some more wins. One of the reasons I only count Top 5s rather than Top 10s is that Fivers usually have a realistic chance of winning and it's only a shot or two that took them out of the running. Donald continues to average a win or Top 5 every month, and it's just a matter of time before he starts closing more of them out. He's still my current fave for the U.S. Open.
  8. Alvaro Quiros: 2 wins (1 prestige), 4 Top5, 16 points. He just keeps getting himself in position and, with his length, that's eventually gonna translate to wins. (In case you're curious, he and Dustin Johnson have nearly identical RGWR stats except for wins.) I think Quiros has a decent chance at the Open Championship or the PGA Championship this year.
  9. Matteo Manassero: 2 wins, 3 Top5, 12 points. With 2 ET wins and a Top 5 in only 6 months -- and before even turning 18! -- Manny has earned this recognition. If he can stay in the Top 50 for another few weeks, he'll qualify for the remaining majors of 2011 and I'll have to consider him a possible favorite in the U.S. Open.
  10. Miguel Angel Jimenez: 2 wins, 4 Top5, 18 points. Although both of the Mechanic's wins came in late 2010, he's posted 3 Top 5s this year and barely missed out on a playoff for Westwood's latest win. He's also fourth in the Race to Dubai. Given that he's 47 years old, I'd say that getting into the running that much is pretty impressive.
Guys to watch over the coming months:
  • If his putting continues to improve, Lee Westwood could be a real factor in the majors this year. Say what you like about the Indonesian win, the ET win this past week was against a premium field and Lee came from behind with a 67 to win. I like what I'm seeing.
  • Tommy "Two Gloves" Gainey is well on his way to a great year. He's got Top 3s in his last two tournaments and a Top 5 in March, locking up his card for next year. And get this -- if he manages to win before June, he'll debut in the RGWR with 3 wins, since he won twice on the Nationwide Tour last year! Tommy's putting is his real weakness, but if he gets on a streak he could be a factor at the PGA Championship.
  • Brandt Snedeker seems to be gaining some confidence at last. A win and 2 Top 5s over March and April will do that for a player! If he can improve his GIR a bit, he might contend in the U.S. Open at Congressional.

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