No. 1? It's anybody's game

Woods' fall opens door for others to claim top spot

March 03, 2011|By Jeff Shain

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — Lee Westwood didn't bother checking the World Golf Rankings on Monday.

Having seen Martin Kaymer reach the WGC Match Play final, Westwood already was aware his reign at No. 1 was going to end. Besides, checking the list never was his habit.

"I tend to look when I'm going up," he quipped.

For years, golf fans didn't even have that kind of incentive. Tiger Woods was No. 1, and the question about the next guy wasn't so much "Who?" but "How far?"

"When Tiger was so far ahead, it just seemed impossible that you could ever get there," Luke Donald said. "But things have changed a lot."

And how. Woods now stands fifth — a drop of three spots just since late January and his lowest ranking since before that iconic 1997 Masters victory.

Meanwhile, the door is as wide open as it has been in more than a decade — well, if Kaymer doesn't start putting the hammer down himself.

Kaymer is idle this week, leaving Westwood the chance to reclaim the throne at the Honda Classic.

And by continuing their recent strong play through the Florida swing, No. 3 Donald or No. 4 Graeme McDowell could thrust themselves into the mix before the Masters.

Heck, even Woods could get back in the game if all the pieces come together at Doral or Bay Hill.

"It's exciting that the world No. 1 is up for grabs," McDowell said. "I know we were excited back in Europe that Lee Westwood has been the world No. 1 and now we have Martin Kaymer. It proves how healthy golf is and it's a great time to be playing the game."

Like the BCS, there's a maddening, geeky quality to the world rankings. Well, perhaps not quite so maddening as the BCS. Quite possibly geekier, though.

There are times when the decimals and the eyeball test don't necessarily match, such as when Woods held on to No. 1 as his swing deteriorated last summer or Westwood holding the spot without a major or WGC trophy to his name.

It's a decimal-heavy realm of points won and points lost. Each tournament around the world gets a strength-of-field ranking, which determines how many points are available to the winner. Then you go down the list.

Points are lost as well, with values from each finish diminishing as they fade further from the present, until they fall off the chart after two years.

Put it this way: I can calculate the BCS myself from the raw data. I wouldn't even attempt the world rankings.

That said, there's one digit pretty much all sports fans relate to: Who's No. 1?

When that's up for debate, it always generates interest.

jshain@tribune.com

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