Study of ranking system finds flaws
Foreign tours get too much weight, majors not enough
By T.R. Reinman
February 24, 1999
CARLSBAD -- The field for the Andersen Consulting Match Play Championship is "the top 64 players in the world," which sounds pretty impressive, and is.
But, as Greg Norman suggested yesterday at La Costa, "If you are No. 66, how do you feel right now (about) not having a chance to win a million bucks?"
Golf Digest commissioned Dean Knuth, who developed the USGA Course Rating and Slope Systems, to examine the current world ranking system. That system is run by International Management Group and the International Federation of PGA Tours.
Knuth found several objections to the current system and suggested solutions in the magazine's April issue, which hits the stands next week.
His primary complaints are "an inadequate decay process" and the "inequitable distribution" of points.
Because the two-year rolling system gives double points for the current year, Knuth says a victory last week is the same as one 51 weeks ago. That doesn't help give an accurate measure of the best player right now. He suggests decreasing the value by 1/12th each month.
Knuth says the current distribution system is "totally weighted toward the top." Whether a player finishes 22nd or misses the cut he gets zero points. That squeezes too many players together at the low end of the top 64.
The difference between No. 1 Tiger Woods and No. 22 Tom Lehman is 7.5 points. The difference between Stephen Leaney, who this week is No. 64, and No. 86 Joe Durant, is .49.
"There isn't precision in the system to rank anything down that far," said Knuth.
His findings also indicate that the Japanese and Australasian tours are awarded too many points and that majors don't carry enough weight. Currently a player can earn as many points for winning some Japanese events as he can for finishing fifth in a major. Knuth suggests cutting those tour's point values by half and increasing the majors' value from 10 to 15 percent of the entire year's point value.
He also finds that the strength-of-field factor is self-perpetuating, a complaint lodged by many players. When Woods as No. 1 enters an event he brings 50 weighting points, while the No. 7 Ernie Els brings only 20. Top players create their own strength of field. Knuth suggests computing the strength of field over the previous five years.
Back at the top of the ladder, Knuth says that by his accounting Mark O'Meara would have finished 1998 as the No. 1 player, David Duval would have been No. 1 after his win at the Hope and Woods would have regained the top spot after his win at the Buick Invitational.
But more important than determining who's No. 1, Knuth said, the rankings determine who's allowed to play in lucrative and prestigious World Golf Championships events and majors, and that's why he feels a more accurate and responsive system is needed.
Knuth said he showed his findings to Tony Greer, who runs the ranking system computer in London, and was told by Greer that his points already had been examined and dismissed. Golf Digest plans to present the report to the International Federation of PGA Tours next week.
"Nothing's going to happen unless (PGA Tour commissioner) Tim Finchem makes an issue of it," said Knuth, who writes military software in San Diego.
In January, before Knuth's work was made public, Finchem said this was in some ways an experimental year, that the Federation would be taking a look at the rankings and the events and be willing to make adjustments if necessary.
Copyright 1999 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.