• Out of Bounds

Major-less rankings not a problem

Alex Dimond August 30, 2011
Luke Donald is a deserving world No. 1 - of that there should be little doubt © PA Photos
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Dustin Johnson's victory at The Barclays re-awakened talk about his potential to be the United States' next true golfing superstar, but it also re-ignited the debate over the current world rankings.

With victory in the tournament, shortened to 54 holes due to concerns over the impact of Hurricane Irene, Johnson moved himself up to No. 4 in the world rankings - a career high. But it was also notable for another reason; Johnson's rise now means the top four in the rankings are all still looking for their first major championship.

Luke Donald, Lee Westwood and Steve Stricker have also risen to the top of the rankings without ever getting the job done at the highest level. Martin Kaymer, fifth, is the highest ranked player who actually has a trophy from one of the game's four biggest tournaments in his cabinet - a far cry from the umpteen years when Tiger Woods (and, briefly, Vijay Singh) had both major and ranking success on their CVs.

For many, particularly west of the Atlantic Ocean, such a scenario has led to calls for the rankings system to be changed. The best players in the game are those that perform in the biggest championships, so the thinking goes (a stance doubtless reinforced by Woods' long-term dominance of both spheres) - so surely they should be represented at the top of the rankings that highlight the greatest professionals.

Whenever they are not, as is the case right now, then - well - the rankings system clearly must be wrong.

What utter rubbish. The argument might appear to make sense on paper but does not hold up to any sort of logical scrutiny. Golf is a game where players' form rises and falls day by day based on subtle, often intangible criteria - to the extent where a player can play outstanding golf one week but be inexplicably off the pace in another. The rankings help eliminate such variables over a two year period, and thus give us a genuine idea of who is the best golfer over a sustained time frame.

Should Keegan Bradley or Darren Clarke really be ranked among the top four in the world, purely because fortune favoured them for one important week of the year? They surely deserve a rankings boost for their success - which they both got - but even such a life-changing triumph doesn't automatically mean they deserve to be ranked among the best players in the game.

Perhaps the argument would hold more sway if the majors consistently identified only the very best players at the top of the leaderboard each week, but invariably they don't. Would anyone rate Jason Dufner (who Bradley beat in a play-off at the US PGA) or Kevin Chappell (who was third behind Rory McIlroy at this year's US Open) inside the top ten of the game's best players? Of course not - but if you made major championship performances the primary criteria in compiling the world rankings, then they are the sort of names you would see near the summit.

"Considering how he has performed this year, for Donald not to be No. 1 would be the biggest joke of all"

The best player across the major championships in 2011 was Charl Schwartzel - the South African making the cut in all four and winning one of them (The Masters). He is currently ranked 12th - perhaps low based on his performance this year, yet fair when his less outstanding 2010 is also taken into account.

The No. 1 in the rankings, Luke Donald, finished in the top ten at the majors twice in 2011 but never really got close to winning one (and missed the cut at the Open). Yet he is where he is - deservedly so - because he has won three times around the world already this year and has the unprecedented chance to win the money list (generally a good indicator of a player's yearly consistency) on both of the major tours.

Considering how he has performed this year, for Donald not to be No. 1 would be the biggest joke of all.

Westwood, Stricker and now Johnson - all four have won frequently (at least twice in the last 15 months) on their respective tours and have shown they can contend in the major championships. They may not have won one of the later, but they've been at the business end of big tournaments with greater regularity than many of those who have won majors in recent years.

And isn't that we want the rankings to show?

The world rankings and major championships are linked, as they should be, but they should never be considered the same thing. There should be a place in the game to recognise consistency just as we recognise those who peak four times a year.

Sometimes, the top of the world rankings will be filled with recent major champions. Other times, like currently, it will not. But that is not a cause to demand change, but rather to offer recognition - for those players with the mental strength to raise their game for the biggest occasions, and for those who consistently perform better than their peers over a sustained period of time.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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Alex Dimond is an assistant editor of ESPN.co.uk