Thursday, April 19, 2012

The FGR Rankings

What? You expected a picture of
Travis Bickle or Jake LaMatta here?
Dan Marino is currently second all-time in career touchdown passes and yardage, arguably the two most often cited individual statistics when comparing quarterbacks. Despite those lofty accomplishments, Marino is an afterthought when the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the NFL are discussed. To the extent that you can even have a Russell v. Chamberlain debate, it ends the moment the guy on the Russell side drops the 11 titles to 2 hammer. (This is a much more legitimate debate than the one about Jordan v. LeBron that Jason Segel has with the kid in Bad Teacher. Jordan v. LeBron? The fact that they used that scene in the trailer should have been the first clue that Bad Teacher = Bad Movie).

I could go on about Ted Williams, Marcel Dionne, Henri Leconte and then maybe try to stretch it to Martin Scorses' Oscar drought that finally ended in 2006 when he won for The Departed (despite the fact that it's probably somewhere between his 6th and 9th best movie)* but I think you get the point.

It's time to put the World Golf Rankings (WGR) out of our misery.  Since May of last year, with a couple of brief interludes, we have been told that Luke Donald is the best player in the world according to a formula that no one can understand.  (You know it's bad when Stephen Hawking studies your calculations for five minutes and says, "you're over thinking it"). This past week, Donald lost the top spot in the rankings to Rory McIlroy despite the fact that McIlroy didn't even play. Donald dropped in the rankings because he finished 37th in a relatively weak field at the RBC Heritage. That performance earned him a .13 point deduction on his WGR score dropping it from a 9.61 to a 9.48. Apparently finishing 37th in a mid-level PGA event is the equivalent of coming out of your triple axle a bit too early.

Golf is a simple game. You add up the number of times you hit the ball and the guy with the lowest number wins. In that same spirit, golf also has the simplest formula in sports to determine its greatest player of all-time. It's A plus B divided by shut up and tell me how many majors you won. Here is the list of the twelve greatest golfers ever:

"What can I say?  I feel terrible
for Tiger.  Really I do."
Jack Nicklaus - 18
Tiger Woods - 14
Walter Hagan - 11
Gary Player - 9
Ben Hogan - 9
Tom Watson - 8
Arnold Palmer - 7
Sam Snead - 7
Gene Sarazen - 7
Bobby Jones - 7
Harry Vardon - 7

Anyone have any significant issues with that list? No. OK, let's move on. The other great thing about golf is that you have to beat so many feakin' players just to win one major that it somewhat negates the "how good was your competition?" argument that mucks-up using the same formula for tennis players. Jack Nicklaus had to beat an average of over 100 players for every major he won. That's 1,800 players for 18 majors. Even if half of those guys were drunker than Roger Maltbie at an open bar wedding, that's still impressive.

So clearly majors are what define a great golfer. The problem we have today, however, is that no one is winning them in bunches. The last sixteen have been won by sixteen different players so it's harder figure out who the best really is but, at the same time, when it's this wide open it's easier to figure out who the best really isn't. I don't want to hear about the winner at some Buick sponsored event where only three of the top twenty players in the world competed. That win should have no bearing on ranking the top players. No one knows who has the most career victories without winning a major despite the fact that he's higher on the total win list than legends like Lee Trevino, Johnny Miller, Gary Player and Raymond Floyd.**

"Talk to me when you make the
cut at Augusta at the age of 62."
The other reason we don't want to count the lower tier events is that the truly great players don't get that up for them. Sure they want to win every time they tee it up but Phil Mickelson did not swing by Orlando in January to play a few practice rounds at Bay Hill in preparation for the Arnold Palmer Invitational like he will at Olympic Club for the U.S. Open. Also, players like Luke Donald and Matt Kuchar who had high expectations for the Masters were due for a letdown the following week at the RBC Heritage. As previously noted, Donald's tie for 37th cost him the top spot in the World Golf Rankings which is ridiculous. I actually give him credit for grinding out a couple of 71's on the weekend after a bad start when other players were throwing-up 77's and 78's like a bunch of five handicaps.

(Please tell me this is going somewhere).

All of this has been a very long-winded and convoluted way of saying we need a new ranking system that (a) focuses exclusively on the tournaments that matter and (b) is easier to understand than Euclid's Algorithm. For the FGR Rankings, we are therefore only going to consider the results from majors, WGC events and The Players Championship because those are the only tournaments where all of the best players in the world compete against each other. (I originally didn't have The Players in the mix because I can't take a tournament seriously where Craig Perks, Stephen Ames and Fred Funk have the same number of wins (one) as Tiger and Phil.  In the end, I decided to count it but at a significant discount . . . and then I almost ditched it again when I realized that Tim Clark won it in 2010.  Tim Clark?!?). Using those nine events over a rolling two year period, we are going to implement the following point system (this is what happens when you try to come up with writing ideas while watching Moneyball):

          Majors                        WGC Events                 The Players

1st     40 points                         20 points                         10 points
2nd    20 points                        10 points                           6 points
3rd    18 points                           9 points                           5 points
4th    16 points                           8 points                           4 points
5th    14 points                           7 points                           3 points
6th    12 points                           6 points                           2 points
7th    10 points                           5 points                           1 point
8th      8 points                           4 points                           1 point
9th      6 points                           3 points                           1 point
10th    4 points                           2 points                           1 point

A few more wrinkles. Because we want to reward champions and sports is a "what have you done for me lately" business, we are going to add a winner's bonus that declines in value depending on how many tournaments have been played since the win.  For example, Bubba gets 10 bonus points for winning the most recent major, Keegan Bradley gets 8 points for winning the previous one, Darren Clarke gets 6 points for his British Open win, McIlroy gets 4 points and Schwartzel gets 2.  The WGC events work the same way with half the points so Justin Rose gets 5 points for his win at Doral, Hunter Mahan gets 4 points for the Match Play and so on. And one more thing, you need at least two top 10's in the qualifying events to be ranked (the "Darren Clarke" rule).*** We're not going to recognize one hit wonders.

Applying our new formula, here is the FGR top 20 side by side with the WGR top 20:

       FGR Top 20                WGR Top 20

1. McIlroy 125 McIlroy 9.59
2. Kaymer 94 Donald 9.48
3. Westwood 89 Westwood 8.27
4. Watson, B. 88 Watson, B. 6.47
5. Donald 80 Mahan 5.82
6. Oosthuizen 74 Kaymer 5.58
7. Scott, A. 69 Stricker 5.53
8. Schwartzel 64 Woods 5.48
9. Kuchar 60 Mickelson 5.32
10. Mahan 57 Rose 5.2
11. Johnson, D. 55 Scott 5.13
12. Day, J. 54 Oosthuizen 5.12
13. Mickelson 54 Schwartzel 5.11
14. Hanson, P. 53 Simpson, W. 4.95
15. Bradley, K. 52 Kuchar 4.86
16. McDowell 52 Johnson, D. 4.84
17. Watney 41 Day, J. 4.79
18. Woods 40 McDowell 4.79
19. Rose 38 Haas, B. 4.46
20. Dufner 36 Bradley, K. 4.29

It turns out that I may owe Luke Donald an apology because his track record in big events is better than I thought (unfortunately for Luke, I used up all of my 2012 apologies on Eli Manning). Instead of a referendum on Donald's big game performance, the FGR rankings turned out to be a referendum on Steve Stricker and Bill Haas. Stricker is ranked 6th in the WGR and 55th in the FGR. Haas is ranked 19th in the WGR and does not even register on the FGR because he doesn't have a top 10 in any of the 18 qualifying events. (Figures it has to be two of the nicest guys in the world. Why couldn't it have been Sergio or Tiger?)

Think about that. The last 18 times the best players convened at the same golf course and the 19th ranked player in the world did not finish in the top 10 once. Stricker is not much better. His only top 10's are a 6th at the Cadillac, a 9th at the Match Play and a 9th at the 2010 Bridgestone. He hasn't had a top 10 in a major since he finished 6th at the 2009 Masters yet he's five spots ahead of Louis Oosthuizen who won the 2010 British Open and just came within about an inch of winning the Masters with his putt on the first playoff hole. Stricker is also seventeen spots ahead of Peter Hanson who just finished 3rd at the Masters, 7th at last year's U.S. Open, 4th at the Cadillac and 5th at the Match Play.

"The plaque for the John Deere
Classic
 is down in the ladies' room."
How does this happen? First, Stricker dominates the John Deere Classic which he has won the past three years. That's great except for the fact that the John Deere is played in July in Sylvis, Illinois when most of the best players in the world are about 4,000 miles away getting ready for a little something the Brits like to call The Open Championship. Stricker also racks-up one other win every year and in 2012 it happened to be the Hyundai Tournament of Champions which sounds impressive until you consider that only 27 players competed in it and none of them were named Phil, Tiger, Luke, Lee or Rory. In short, Steve Stricker is Joey Knish from Rounders. His skills are undeniable but he's a grinder who hasn't finished in the top 5 of a major since 1999. The 7th best player in the world? I don't think so.

Bill Haas' case is even weaker. Sure we all remember the great shot from the water to win the Tour Championship**** last year and the miracle putt on the first playoff hole at Riveria but the fact is that Haas' best finish in a major ever is a tie for 12th at last year's PGA Championship and that is his only top 20. If you're ranking the best players in the world, you can't have him one spot ahead of the guy who actually won the PGA Championship, Keegan Bradley, even if the only other highlight on Bradley's resume is a tie for 8th at this year's Cadillac. I can hear the argument now, "but Haas beat Bradley AND Mickelson in the playoff to win the Northern Trust Open." Yeah yeah. That's the equivalent of Josh Freeman outplaying Drew Brees when the Bucs beat the Saints in Week 6. Did anyone remember that by the time Brees was breaking Marino's single season yardage record and the Saints were locking-up the division at the end of the season? Nope.
Kelly Brook at No. 60?
She must have totally
botched the verbal. 

I don't know many places that engrave your name on the wall of the clubhouse for winning the Nine and Dine, the Turkey Shootout and the Tuesday Night Twilight. Not to belittle the rest of the PGA schedule because God knows I need it to get me from February to September, but factoring in the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open***** to decide the best player in the world would be like Maxim counting SAT scores when determining it's Hot 100 list. What it really comes down to is this. Whether you're ranking golfing greatness or female hotness, only the truly relevant measurables should be considered.                  

Endnotes

* For me it's (1) Goodfellas, (2) Raging Bull, (3) Taxi Driver, (4) Mean Streets, (5) Cape Fear, (6) The King of Comedy, (7) The Departed, (8) Casino, (9) The Last Waltz, (10) Bringing Out the Dead . . . with an honorable mention for The Color of Money . . . "On the snap Vincent!"

** It's Harry Cooper who is tied for 16th with 31 career wins. If you got that, you're either Harry Cooper's son or Ken Jennings.
"I will take Utterly Useless
Golf Trivia for $1,000."

*** I should probably discount the British Open in light of Clarke's win and the recent close calls by Tom Watson and Greg Norman but I can't bring myself to downgrade the Mad Men major (The FGR British Open Update).

**** The Tour Championship is borderline worthy of being part of the FGR Rankings but it's really just a 30 man version of The Players Championship.

*****  I did not make-up the name of that tournament. I also just set a personal record for endnotes.

If you would like to email me your comments on this or any other column or you would like to see the stats behind the rankings, you can find me here fantasygolfreport@earthlink.net.