Why is Tiger still No. 1?

Originally Published: August 15, 2004
By Jason Sobel | ESPN.com

HAVEN, Wis. -- Golf fans, you were a little spoiled this year.

Think about it. In the four majors, you got to see: Phil Mickelson complete an incredible round at the Masters and finally put to rest all that Best Player Never to Have Won a Major talk; the world's best golfers reduced to 12-handicappers at Shinnecock Hills (whether you liked it or not); and an unknown take the world by storm for the second straight British Open.

And then there was Sunday, when Whistling Straits finally lived up to its expectations as a true test of golf down the stretch. And you got to see a playoff for the second major in a row. Bonus golf -- nothing wrong with that.

Vijay Singh
Getty ImagesThis year, Vijay Singh has five wins and Tiger Woods has one. So how is Tiger No. 1?

But the Weekly 18 starts with something that is wrong in the world of golf. Just ask Vijay Singh.

1.
Looking out for No. 1

Singh owns five titles on tour this season, just won the PGA Championship and is already clearing off a spot on the mantle for some Player of the Year hardware.

So why isn't he the top-ranked player in the world?

The reason is because that claim goes to a guy who hasn't won a stroke play event all year and didn't finish better than ninth in any major. His name is Tiger Woods and when he wakes up Monday morning, he will have broken Greg Norman's record by holding the No. 1 ranking for 332 weeks.

You see, the ranking system is based on a two-year period, meaning that Tiger's five wins last season are still counting toward his ranking. The system, however, is archaic. If the New England Patriots finish the 2004 season with a 6-10 record, are they still the best football team in the NFL because they won the Super Bowl the year before? Of course not.

Don't fault Tiger for this one. And there's no conspiracy theory around that can argue this is set up for his benefit, because the system's been in place for quite a while.

But since citing a problem without stating a solution is just careless, here's a few ways to fix it:

  • Simply scale back the current system so that it only uses tournaments within one calendar year. Phil Mickelson, for one, would greatly benefit from this system after an off season in 2003.
  • Let the golfers, writers and tournament directors vote (at least for the top 25), just like in college sports. You really think anyone wouldn't have Vijay, Phil and Ernie Els in their top three?
  • Keep the current system, but place greater weight on tournament wins.

    In any of these circumstances, Singh and Els (and possibly Mickelson) would rank higher right now than Woods. And isn't that the way it should be?

    Coming up this week
    PGA Tour

    NEC Invitational
  • It used to be that picking Tiger Woods to win a golf tournament was like picking the big-name star to get the girl at the end of a movie; it was inevitable that it would happen. But these days, Tiger isn't such a lock to win anywhere, as he hasn't taken a stroke play event all season. At the NEC, where's he won three times, expect Tiger to outlast defending champ Darren Clarke, claim his second win of the season and retain his No. 1 world ranking ... for a few weeks, at least.

    Champions Tour

    Greater Hickory Classic
  • The leading putter (based on putts per round) on the Champions Tour is Ben Crenshaw. No surprise -- Gentle Ben's always been superb with the flat stick. Second on the list is well-known Hubert Green, but in third is the more obscure Morris Hatalsky. You may not know much about him, but he has been called "the best putter in the world" by some of his peers. At the Greater Hickory, where Craig Stadler's 15 under won the inaugural event, making putts will be the key and Hatalsky, who finished fifth a year ago, is the pick.

    LPGA Tour

    Wendy's Championship
  • Like the fries at the fast food joint the tournament is named for, our pick to win is tough to resist. After all, is any event better suited for Wendy Ward? She won here in 2001 and lost in a playoff to Hee-Won Han a year ago. If Ward's truly hungry for another Wendy's title, she'll take a bite out of the competition this week.
  • 2.
    Eighteen and life

    Whistling Straits' 18th hole was touted as one of its toughest and during the stretch run on Sunday, it was highly evident. Chris DiMarco missed a 12-foot birdie putt that would have moved him to 9-under and, eventually, given him the title in regulation. Justin Leonard left his approach short of the green and two-putted for bogey to fall into a playoff. But that's nothing compared to the misfortunes of Ernie Els and Chris Riley, who each bogeyed the hole to miss the playoff. Had Els and Riley each knocked in their makeable par putts on the final hole, we could have seen a five-man playoff.

    3.
    The life of Riley

    Chris Riley is one of the world's best putters, when he's on, and is an excellent addition to the U.S. Ryder Cup team. Pair him with a bomber like his old college buddy Chad Campbell and they'll score some points.

    4.
    Run to the hills

    Sure, the hills and mounds of Whistling Straits may have provided more than a few sprained ankles and other maladies for spectators this week, but they also provided some of the best vantage points to watch golf ever on a major course. Some of the man-made mounds on the course are as high as 20-30 feet, meaning a tough climb to scale the peak. But once there, visitors were treated to views of as many as five or six different holes, which is as good as it gets for watching major championship golf.

    5.
    Milwaukee's Best

    Entering the week, there was much talk of Whistling Straits perhaps being the toughest course to ever hold a major, some even wondering if a score over par could claim the Wanamaker Trophy. Then Darren Clarke went out and fired an opening-round 7-under 65 and all that talk blew right into Lake Michigan. When Singh hit 12-under following Saturday's third round, it looked as if Whistling Straits wouldn't even be the toughest test of golf in the Greater Milwaukee area. Last month, Carlos Franco won the U.S. Bank Championship at nearby Brown Deer Park GC with a score of 13-under. Not wanting to be outdone, the Straits gritted its teeth on Sunday, allowing for three to reach 8-under, but claiming the title of toughest Wisconsin course on tour this year.

    6.
    Open for business?

    The USGA must want to bring the U.S. Open to Whistling Straits after this week. And don't think course founder Herb Kohler wouldn't be all for it. Reportedly, Kohler was disappointed by all of the low scores being shot in the first few rounds of the PGA; surely, the USGA would trick up the course enough that a winning score would be closer to even par -- and closer to Kohler's liking.

    7.
    Chip in

    Chip Sullivan was one of only three club pros (out of 25 in the field) to make the cut, and at 1-under, he finished as low-club pro by 12 strokes. An admirable feat in any condition, but based on Sullivan's current personal life, it was astounding. Sullivan, of Troutville, Va., has a sister, Kerry, who was recently diagnosed with a fatal liver disease. Meanwhile, his wife Kari is back at home, expecting to give birth to the couple's third child any day. That's a lot to have on your mind and still beat 120 other professionals in a major.

    8.
    The Price is right

    Gregory Price is only 13 years old and yet he has already had a huge impact on the world of professional golf. Price was born just before the 1991 PGA Championship, which led to his father Nick withdrawing from the tournament. John Daly took the spot of Nick Price in the field and promptly won the tournament, with Price winning two of the next three. This week, Price withdrew for the second straight year to spend time with Gregory and the rest of the family. His replacement? Brett Quigley, who didn't exactly have Daly-like success, but did make the cut and finished in a tie for 37th place.

    9.
    Hat's all, folks!

    In two rounds playing with a normal baseball-style cap, Briny Baird shot 67-69. In the third round, he switched to the wide-brimmed straw hat he was known for wearing prior to this year and shot a 75.

    10.
    Howell do you do?

    Talk about pressure. David Howell, right on the fringe of making the European Ryder Cup team, shot 72-72 in the opening two rounds and was rewarded with ... a third-round pairing with Euro captain Bernhard Langer. In a good test of Ryder Cup-like pressure, Howell handled it well, shooting a 2-under 70 to best Langer by five strokes.

    11.
    Verplank, ker-plunk

    Scott Verplank entered the week 14th in the U.S. Ryder Cup standings. With a first-round 67, he looked poised for a top-10 finish and possibly enough points to automatically make the squad. But during his second round on Friday, Verplank twisted his ankle on one of Whistling Straits' many hills, then went on to shoot 76-77-73 for the final three rounds.

    12.
    Stuart belittled

    Stuart Appleby spent Saturday's third round bobbing on and off the leaderboard, but after he finished play, he found himself off for good. After three straight birdies, Appleby hit his drive on the par-5 16th outside the gallery ropes into a bunker that was seemingly out of play. When he got to his ball, Appleby first picked up a piece of grass from the bunker (two-stroke penalty), then grounded his club (another two-stroke penalty). His par on the hole became a quadruple-bogey nine and Appleby never got back to the leaderboard. Two understandable mistakes, but careless nonetheless, as Appleby admitted after the round: "You talk about saving shots in a round of golf. I basically could have saved four strokes by reading a piece of paper inside the locker room."

    13.
    Clarke can't

    The greatest shot of the weekend -- camera shot, that is -- was the super-slow-motion of Darren Clarke's club striking the ball on his shanked tee shot on the par-3 17th Saturday. Clarke hooded the club at impact and wound up making bogey.

    14.
    Kelly tires

    Playing in front of the home crowd, a shot at an automatic Ryder Cup berth ... maybe it was too much pressure for Jerry Kelly. The Madison, Wis., native missed the cut, halting his streak of cuts-made at 27; he previously had the second-longest such streak on tour behind Tiger Woods' 128 entering the PGA. Kelly has a history of pressing in major events; he has never finished higher than 20th in any major championship.

    15.
    Hawaiian (knockout) punch

    Despite grumblings from those around golf that she should be more focused on winning amateur events (like last month's Women's Junior Amateur) rather than playing in LPGA tournaments, Michelle Wie will benefit more from being around the professional players than she will the amateurs. However, don't think Wie's legacy and legend won't be tarnished by losing 1-up to In-Bee Park in this past week's Women's Amateur, especially after leading 2-up through 15 holes.

    16.
    Expect the unexpected

    With Casey Wittenberg and Nick Flanagan having turned pro over the past few months, look for a new star to emerge in the U.S. Amateur at Winged Foot.

    17.
    Quote of the week

    "If Whistling Straits' greens were as hard as Shinnecock's, we'd still be playing the first round."

    --Joey Sindelar, on ESPN Radio on Saturday night

    18.
    Bonus quote of the week

    "That's the most exciting thing Retief's ever done."

    --Pardon the Interruption's Skip Bayless, reacting to the news that U.S. Open champ Retief Goosen had injured his hip while jet skiing.

    Information from ESPN.com's news services is included.

    Jason Sobel is ESPN.com's golf editor. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com.

    Jason Sobel | email

    Golf Editor, ESPN.com
    Jason Sobel, who joined ESPN in 1997, earned four Sports Emmy awards as a member of ESPN's Studio Production department. He became ESPN.com's golf editor in July 2004.
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