Does golf's World Ranking really matter?

Originally Published: May 22, 2006
ESPN.com

It began as a benign conversation during ESPN.com's weekly On The Tee podcast. ESPN.com golf editor Jason Sobel mentioned the importance of the World Ranking and "SportsCenter" anchor John Anderson furiously refuted his point, saying the list just doesn't matter.

From there, the gloves were off. A 10-minute conversation ensued on how much significance, if any, the World Ranking holds. Nothing was solved, so we had them bring their arguments to this edition of Alternate Shot, where they'll debate, once and for all: Does golf's World Ranking really matter?

Does golf's World Ranking really matter?
YES

Put yourself in Tiger Woods' spikes. Or those of Phil Mickelson. Or, heck, any touring professional on the planet. What matters most to you? OK, family, health, happiness ... blah, blah, blah. I mean professionally. How do you rank your career priorities?

It doesn't take a golf historian to guess that 99.9 percent of players would list major victories as the No. 1 career accomplishment. Duh! There's a reason why Jack Nicklaus' 18 ranks as a more revered number than, say, Sam Snead's 82 (as in PGA Tour victories) or Tiger's 58,255,844 (and counting, as in career earnings on tour, in dollars).

Coming in a not-so-close second place is overall victories. If you can't win a major, at least win somewhere, right?

And here's where we come to our figurative fork in the road, the main argument of this piece. And here, of course, is where I'm right. The next most important thing in the hearts and minds of pro golfers is their place in the world, how they rank against their peers, a gauge of how their game is progressing or regressing. We live in a world of lists, one in which everything needs to be ranked into some semblance of order -- and the players are hardly exempt from such passions.

Do you think Vijay Singh wasn't smiling on the inside when he defeated Woods in the final pairing on Labor Day 2004 to claim the No. 1 ranking? Wanna bet Woods didn't get a kick out of stealing it back at Doral six months later?

But it's not just the top spot that is highly coveted. Colin Montgomerie recently stated that his goal this season is to once again crack the top 10. Other players may have a goal of breaking into the top 20. Or 50. Or 100.

And then there's the fact that certain places on the ranking will vault players into specific events. You know, just little things like major championships, WGC events and, well, everything else that "matters."

Sure, the World Ranking is configured by a computer, which muddies the importance of players' standings just a bit, but the stat-cruncher is a fine tool for classifying an order. The important thing is that there is order to things, and it matters to the players. It should matter to you the fan, too.

-- Jason Sobel
ESPN.com

NO

Viewers, listeners, truth seekers ... lend me your eyes, ears, hearts. I come to you in this cyper-spot not with "inside" information but rather "insight" information.

The esteemed ESPN.com golf editor, Jason Sobel, seems to believe the World Golf Rankings are of some value in the great game of the Scottish shepherds. Thus proving his brain is not only a steamed but also a half-baked and a deep-fried.

However, he is not alone in his incorrect opinion. There are many others who seem to believe that a computer's output is of some worth in determining a golfer's ability. Have we learned nothing from the BCS or the RPI?

Trevor Immelman moved up to 34th in the rankings after consecutive runner-up finishes on tour, though it seems to me that would make him No. 2. Tom Lehman was once ranked No. 1 for 1 week? Isn't the guy who wins each week No. 1 for one week? Well, no, currently Tiger Woods is ranked No. 1. I'm sorry, did you need a hard drive to help you figure that out?

The guy who used to be No. 1, Vijay Singh, was widely hailed as the best player on the planet about a year and a half before the computer caught up with common knowledge. So not only is the two-year rolling points system flawed in determining the top golfer on the globe but also the idea that being No. 1 really means anything to anybody at all. Same goes for 2, 3, 4, 5, and so on down the line.

OK, maybe they matter to Carl Pettersson, who is currently No. 50 in the rankings, because his Masters invite is on the line as well as invitations to big paydays in WGC events and the like.

But come on, do you think Tiger would rather have that little number to the left of his name or that Claret Jug on his coffee table? Is Phil Mickelson more concerned with being the world No. 2 or the two green jackets in his closet? Retief Goosen is No. 3. I'm sure he'd trade it for U.S. Open No. 3 that he kicked away last Father's Day at Pinehurst No. 2.

I could go on and on, but suffice to say Ernie Els isn't sweating his drop to sixth in the rankings, Jim Furyk isn't celebrating his ascension to fifth and Jason Sobel is just as misguided as his driver.

-- John Anderson
ESPN.com

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