Friday, July 10, 2015

Fantasy Golf: FGR Rankings Update

We're going to kick-off the British Open preview section with a special edition and for that I want to take you back to the start of the summer of 2012 and ask you to guess who the number one ranked player in the world according to the World Golf Rankings ("WGR) was. Rory McIlroy? Close but he was ranked second. Tiger Woods? Nope. That was prior to his torrid 2013 when he won five times and took over the top spot again. Wait, wait was it then defending Masters champ Bubba Watson? Close again but he was fourth. Lee Westwood? Negative Ghost Rider, he was third. 

At this point, you've either given-up or you're shouting the right answer at the screen which means this is getting annoying for both of us so for those who didn't know, it was Luke Donald despite the fact that his resume at the time included no major titles, only one WGC title (the Matchplay where he didn't face Tiger or anyone else higher than a 4th seed until the final) and only two wins that you would classify as "quality" (back to back European BMW PGA Championships in 2011-12). Based on those relatively meager credentials, we knew something was amiss and the fact that, just over three years later, Donald's tie for 7th at the Travelers Championship "jumped" him from 68th to 65th in the world proves that we were on to his fraudulent claim to the #1 ranking (even though he wasn't really the one making the claim). 

"Luke Donald?!? Well just kiss 
my ass from now on. Not me. 
I'm not gonna take this!"
Now if the Fantasy Golf Report is about nothing else, it is about correcting injustices (forget it, he's rolling) so we set-out to develop a better formula for determining the world's best golfer that didn't give a rat's ass whether a player won the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals Classic or the Transitions Championship (Donald's two most recent PGA Tour wins at the time he was ranked number one). We also wanted a formula that didn't take into account results from the Sunshine Tour and the Asian Development Tour.* 

The initial formula which only gave credit for winning and finishing top ten in majors, WGC events and the Players was very basic and, as it turned out too basic, so we begrudgingly modified it to give nominal credit for PGA and European Tour wins along with success in the FedEx Cup and the Race to Dubai. Those points basically served as tiebreakers between B+ players who could actually win tournaments like Brandt Snedeker and Zach Johnson and those who rarely closed the deal like Hunter Mahan and Steve Stricker. The guiding principle, however, remained the same. Determine who the best players are when they're playing against the other best players on the best courses (and sometimes when they're not playing on the best courses . . . ahem Sawgrass). 

So why rekindle the rankings now after blowing them off for a couple of years? Well, once Rory blew past Donald in the rankings in August of 2012, we all knew who the best player was so there really wasn't any reason to debate it. Then Tiger went nuts in 2013 while Rory swooned and again there was little to debate. Then Rory came back at the end of 2014 and had arguably the greatest three tournament stretch in golf history by winning the British Open, the WGC-Bridgestone and the PGA Championship while Tiger's game started circling the drain again and sanity was restored as the man who is by far the best golfer in the world proved it. And then Jordan Spieth reopened the debate.

As of today, McIlroy has a 1.8481 point lead over Spieth in the WGR (see below). To put that in some perspective, Spieth's lead over third place Bubba Watson is 3.5103. Then it gets bunched with spots four through ten being separated by only 1.2119. But that's per the WGR which counts everything a golfer does from finishing 2nd at the Shell Houston Open to making three 20 footers in a row on the practice green (just kidding but you get the picture). The FGR Rankings don't count any of that crap. All that matters is (a) winning and (b) finishing top ten against the best players in the world. So how do McIlroy and Spieth stack-up if you only measure big game performances? Check this out:        

    FGR Rankings                          World Golf Rankings

Watson, B.
Johnson, D.
Johnson, D.
Watson, B.
Scott, A.
At this point, I'm sure you're saying to yourself "that's outrageous. How can McIlroy have a 61 point lead over Spieth when no other margin in the top ten is greater than 25?" Or you're saying "how freakin' bored do I have to be to still be reading this and how many days until the first preseason game?" Either way, thanks for sticking around and let me explain McIlroy's huge lead by using bullet points so I don't have to bother with a bunch of words to connect my ideas (a/k/a "writing"):
  • Though Spieth won the last two majors, Rory won the two before that so they almost cancel each other out with Spieth getting 98 points for his and Rory getting 90 for his (the more recent the major win, the more points);
  • The FGR Rankings basically count WGC events as half majors because their fields are loaded. In the last twenty-four months, Rory has won two WGC's and finished top ten in two others while Spieth's only top ten is a tie for 9th at last year's Matchplay. The result is a 46-1 thumping by Rory in WGC FGR Ranking points (or WGCFGRRP's for those who like to acronymize** things); 
  • The FGR awards points for winning or finishing top five in the FedEx Cup and the Race to Dubai because those events are also played against strong fields plus they represent a form of sustained excellence. Rory won last year's Race to Dubai and was third in the FedEx Cup. Spieth hasn't done squat in either so that's another 8-0 differential; and
  • The balance of the difference can be found in the fact that, outside of his two major wins, Rory also has four top 10's in the last eight majors while Spieth only has one.
Rory's body of work in the tournaments that matter over the past two years would therefore indicate that we still have some serious separation between #1 and #2. The good news for Spieth is that (a) his next major win will mean a net gain of 48 points; and (b) Rory just wrecked his ankle playing soccer with his friends and is out indefinitely so, while he has padded his resume to build that 61 point lead over the last two years, it could be gone by the time we get to the PGA Championship?

"Hey E . . . we got a little
problem here at the house."
(TANGENT ALERT!!!) While we're here, let's try to imagine that scene as the Rory injury is too important for a footnote. One moment Rory and his boys are drinking beers and kicking it around and the next moment the meal ticket is on the ground writhing in pain. It would be like Johnny Drama practice swinging a 9-iron and accidentally cracking Vince in the nose. If it was a member of Rory's posse who did it, he's about to learn the cruel hard definition of "ostracized."   

OK we're back. Other than having Rory and Spieth too close, the current version of the WGR botches it on a couple of other players. I'm not sure how Rickie Fowler slides all the way to 9th after going 5th-2nd-2nd-3rd in the majors last year and then winning The Players but I guess they're giving Jim Furyk a lot of credit for all of those top tens he had in non-majors against guys like Cameron Tringale, Ryan Palmer and Brendan Steele (all fine players but not exactly Henrik Stenson, Adam Scott and Justin Rose).

And what about Phil Mickelson who, in the last eight majors, has a win and two seconds but sits 21st behind guys like J.B. Holmes (13th), Chris Kirk (19th) and Billy Horschel (20th)? We started with a guessing game so let's end with one. Take a shot at how many top tens those three guys have brought home in the last eight majors. Nope, lower. Keep going. Are you at zero yet? I rest my case.


* Seriously, how can we trust a golf ranking system that includes results from those minor league tours much less the Tour and PGA Tour Canada? If you're going to drill that deep, then my partner and I should get some love for finishing second in the Newport Flight last week. 

** OMG. It appears that "acronymize" is now considered a real word in some barbaric circles. WTF?!?! 

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