Commentary

Something smells rank in this system

Updated: May 10, 2012, 9:29 PM ET
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Have you met the BCS formula's older brother? It was born in 1986, is more complicated than tax law and nobody understands how or if it really works.

Meet the Official World Golf Rankings, which are supposed to identify the best player on the planet. Except not even that No. 1 player -- Rory McIlroy -- has any clue how the OWGR is calculated.

"If you go onto the website, there's a page on it where it explains," said McIlroy, smiling. "I still don't understand it, but I don't think many other people do, either."

What's there not to understand? All you do is take Greenwich Mean Time, divide it by the size of Rickie Fowler's cap, multiply it by the square footage of the TPC Sawgrass clubhouse, and then subtract it by the number of people who would be caught dead in those tan leather boats Phil Mickelson wore during Thursday's Players Championship.

The OWGR stretches from McIlroy at No. 1 all the way to Egyptian amateur Amr Abou el ela at a tie for No. 1436. In between: confusion.

[+] EnlargeLuke Donald
Sam Greenwood/Getty ImagesLuke Donald, who owned the world No. 1 spot earlier this year, admits there are some flaws in the current world ranking system. But he also doesn't believe any format would be a perfect setup.

Under normal circumstances, this is where I would insert the actual OWGR rankings explanation from its website. But I read it earlier and immediately fell into a deep sleep. So, you're welcome.

Anyway, nobody will confuse it with "Fifty Shades of Grey." In fact, nobody will confuse it with assembly instructions for bunk beds. The OWGR lost me during the detailed descriptions of Rating Valuesand equal decrements.

According to the latest rankings, McIlroy is No. 1, Luke Donald is No. 2, Lee Westwood is No. 3, Bubba Watson is No. 4 and Hunter Mahan is No. 5. And there are probably a dozen people in the world who can complete the formula on a chalkboard, beginning with a few OWGR groupies, several physicists and maybe Will Hunting. That's it.

"But I'm no mathematician," said Donald. "I don't know how to work these things out. And just remember, there's only really been some questions about the world rankings in the last couple of years because of the parity that we are seeing. Obviously, no one really questioned it when Tiger was so far ahead for many years."

Woods was ranked No. 1 from June 12, 2005, to Oct. 30, 2010. He sat atop the rankings for so long (a grand total of 623 weeks during the course of his career) that people didn't realize -- or care -- how BCS-ish the formula was. At times it made absolutely no sense. It still doesn't on occasion.

You can sit at home, pop open a frosty, do nothing more than channel surf and still move up in the rankings. You can win a tournament, said Donald, but if it's not the right kind of tournament, you'll get the same number of OWGR points as someone who finishes third or fourth in a major.

And don't forget that the OWGR helps determine who plays in majors. That might not mean much for those guys in the top 10, but it matters for those players on the fringes of majors eligibility.

"I understand the premise of the world rankings," said Donald. "I think with any system there's always going to be some flaws. I don't think there's a perfect system."

Sure there is. Mine ... and my buddy McIlroy's.

When I asked him which three or four categories feature in his rankings, McIlroy reeled off the biggies: "Wins, consistency, majors and, uh ..."

"Scoring average?" someone offered.

"And scoring average, I suppose a little bit," said McIlroy. "I think I'm No. 1 in that, as well."

He is. And he sort of winked when he said it.

Let's make it easy: wins, majors finishes, top-3 finishes, top-10 finishes, finishes in the five other big tournaments (The Players, WGC-Cadillac, Bridgestone, Northern Trust and Wells Fargo) and the Eye Test. And no more two-year rolling timetable.

If we used the Eye Test, Phil Mickelson would have been ranked No. 1 during 2010. He was clearly the best player in the world, but the OWGR had other ideas.

All you need to know about the history of these rankings is that 16 players not named Mickelson have taken turns at No. 1. Ian Woosnam was No. 1 for 50 weeks, but Phil has zero time on top of the world? Huh?

McIlroy passes the Eye Test. And his results back him up. He's been playing tag with Donald for No. 1, but I don't think it's that close. I don't think Donald thinks it's that close.

"Again, I haven't really studied it that much," said Donald. "I'm not sure I could name the top 10 exactly."

Just so he knows, the rest of the top 10 includes Steve Stricker, Woods, Martin Kaymer, Webb Simpson and Mickelson. But using the Eye Test component, I'm not sure Simpson still deserves top-10 status.

Where's SEC commissioner Mike Slive when we need him? Where's the trickle-down effect of BCS reform. How about a golf-ranking committee chaired by Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus?

"When I play golf, I don't really look at the world rankings," said Donald. "I don't try and calculate the points."

You know why? Because he can't. Not without Greenwich Mean Time.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn.com. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here. And don't forget to follow him on Twitter @GenoEspn.

Gene Wojciechowski | email

Columnist / College Football reporter

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