Dec
6
2011
Tiger and the World Golf Rankings: Inflation Run Amok
By Conor Nagle under Tiger Woods

Worth a leap of 31 places in the world ranking? I think not.

Tiger Woods’ spectacular birdie-birdie finish at the Chevron World Challenge didn’t just earn the former World Number One his first tournament victory in two years, it vaulted him from a lowly 52nd in the official world rankings to a scarcely believable resting place on the periphery of the top-twenty.

Psychological, historical, even metaphorical significance aside, this was a victory against an eighteen-man field in what remains (promotional hoopla notwithstanding) a silly season money-grab.

It would be easy to dismiss the sudden, vertiginous reversal of Tiger’s fortunes as an anomaly due largely to his unique mathematical profile, but in truth, it’s an outcome that highlights an imbalance hard-wired into the system currently used to collate the sport’s rankings.

The birth of the OWGR as the key determinant in golf’s balance of power coincides, somewhat unsurprisingly, with the advent of the World Golf Championships.

Lucrative, invitation-only events, the WGCs earned their credibility through an assault on the sympathies of the sport’s more fickle fans.

Prize funds too big to ignore and “elite” fields determined largely, if not exclusively, by recourse to the world golf rankings: their introduction was, on a conceptual level, less a gentle courting of the public than marketing blitzkrieg.

Of course, none of this is or was necessarily a bad thing, it has just had the unanticipated outcome of elevating world ranking points to the level of near-priceless currency.

In the years since Jeff Maggert’s win at the inaugural World Matchplay in California, both the European and PGA Tours have wrestled with sudden expansions and contractions in the market, as points, keeping step with the golfing talent to which they’re harnessed, drift from one side of the Atlantic to the other.

In Europe, the new world order has yielded what is, in reality, a two-tier organisation divided between “the haves” (those who make regular appearances at elite international tournaments and earn their European crust in Abu Dhabi and Dubai) and the “have nots” (those consigned to a modestly remunerative existence on the continental circuit), while in the United States, the otherwise ghastly FedEx Cup has evolved to impose a degree of welcome, if bland, commercial stability.

To stretch an analogy a little further, the trade in world ranking points doesn’t really become problematic when it takes place in the open, under the regulatory umbrella of the global tours.

The difficulty arises in the off-season, when novelty events hungry for strong fields and a smidgen of prestige are granted licence by the sport’s more venal guardians to flood the market with junk bonds and, in doing so, claim a weight of statistical significance entirely at odds with their status in the golfing hierarchy.

In that light, the absurdity of Tiger’s victory could yet prove the harbinger of inflationary catastrophe.

Conor Nagle