New World Order: Donald only possible pick at top of final rankings
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Unclench those teeth.
No jaws will be hitting the floor. We could have written these results on a slip of paper and tucked in an envelope several weeks ago, and it wouldn't have changed.
The envelope, please.
The top player in our final New World Order ranking for 2011, where an entire season of global results was weighed, is none other than Luke Donald, who is No. 1 on every list that purported to measure the game's best.
Be it statistical, subjective, math-based or personally biased, Donald took over the top spot at midseason and only strengthened it, becoming the lone dual member to top the money lists on the European and PGA tours in the same season.
Yep, yet another first.
Whether it's the U.S, Europe or Asia, he's No. 1 in meters, yards and clicks. Whether you drive on the right side of the road, the left side, or in a rickshaw. Small wonder he was just voted the PGA Tour Player of the Year by his peers, a poll tally that should have been about 200-1. We'll allow Webb Simpson to vote for himself.
Our NWO rankings, which are published monthly and debuted in January, are a mix of data and opinion, weighted more heavily on recent performances and perceived dominance in a player's particular theater of battle. Whereas the official world ranking uses a two-year window and Golfweek magazine's Sagarin computer emphasizes a 12-month span and head-to-head play, the NWO is a quick-adjusting compendium of input, instinct and impulse. All scientific-like, too.
Here's the last hurrahs and huzzahs for 2011, with a certain Englishman leading the list yet again.
1. Luke Donald
November New World Order: 1
Hey, he ranked first across the board, huh? It was a season of 1s lined up like a picket fence for Donald, including the birth of his second child, delivered on, you guessed it, 11-11. All Donald did last week was finish a rock-solid third in the European Tour finale, staged on a course where he'd had little past success, to become the first joint member the Euro and U.S. tours to top the money list in the same season. Tuesday, he was voted the Player of the Year by his PGA Tour peers. This week, he's playing in his final event of the year, the Aussie Masters, then will finally settle in for a long winter's nap. A well-deserved one too. In 26 starts awarding world ranking points, Donald has finished in the top 10 a total of 20 times. He was 11th in another start. In straight-up, head-to-head play against other players ranked in the top 10 that particular week, Donald heads to Australia with a 92-32-4 mark, and against OWGR top-50 players, he's 460-130-21. With four global wins, that's about as consistent as it gets.
2. Rory McIlroy
November New World Order: 2
The kid had a shot at stealing Donald's European Tour money title last week if he won in Dubai and Luke finished outside the top nie, but Donald was having none of it. McIlroy turned up sick with dengue fever, his manager said, and seemed fried after an ambitious fall of chasing appearance fees around the globe. He'll be far more mindful of the air miles logged in 2012, when he will join the PGA Tour for the second time. Rigors of travel notwithstanding, in his last seven official starts, he only once finished outside the top four. He also won the unofficial Shanghai Masters, a short-field event. Along with young gun Rickie Fowler -- who is equally popular, though not yet nearly as successful -- the kids in the U.S. galleries will have plenty of players to latch onto next year.
3. Martin Kaymer
November New World Order: 3
After winning the HSBC event in China, a World Golf Championships event, the Germanator finished his year with an 11th last week at the Euro Tour finale in Dubai. Though he has long maintained a home in Arizona, Kaymer's about the last premiere player who has continually eschewed PGA Tour membership and is in fact the lone guy on this list still tied solely to the overseas circuit. Whatever, it seems to be working for him, because he finished the year with a pair of victories and two runner-up finishes, despite a lengthy flat spell in the spring and summer. As with Donald, Kaymer is a class act and credit to the game and should be a formidable foe in the Ryder Cup next fall.
4. Lee Westwood
November New World Order: 4
Westy won the 12-man Nedbank Challenge in South Africa two weeks ago and had a chance to move up a notch or two, but he fell flat last week at the Dubai event, finishing a forgettable 29th. Still, it was another big year for the English veteran, who spent several weeks parked at No. 1 in the world before he was unseated in a head-to-head fight with Donald at Wentworth in the summer. Like McIlroy, Westy jumped aboard as a PGA Tour member for 2012 and will absolutely improve the usual cast of characters at the bigger events. If some of Donald's golden putting touch rubbed off on his countryman, Westwood could easily move back atop this list in 2012.
5. Webb Simpson
November New World Order: 5
He lost a pitched and memorable battle against Donald at the PGA Tour season finale with the money title at stake, but it was a spectacular breakthrough season for the North Carolina native nonetheless. He won twice and lost two other events in playoffs -- meaning he shot the low score four times in PGA Tour play, if you prefer -- and jumped from outside the world top 200 into the top 10 in the span of roughly 45 weeks. The PGA Tour didn't announce who finished second to Donald in Tuesday's Player of the Year vote, but you can bet it was the Charlotte resident. I guess that would make him Charlotte's Webb, huh?
6. Adam Scott
November New World Order: 7
Think things can't happen in a comparative hurry at the elite levels of the game? Three years ago at the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Adam Scott were sent off in the same threesome as the Nos. 1-2-3 players in the world. Who would have possibly guessed that Scotty, who took a significant header starting soon thereafter, would be the lone member of that trio in the top 10 a couple of seasons later? In fact, Scott has undergone such a renaissance, he's climbed to fifth in the OWGR after starting the year at No. 24. Two major developments helped the cause -- switching to a belly putter in the spring and adding controversial caddie Steve Williams at midseason. Scotty finished eighth or better in six of his last nine worldwide starts. It would be a surprise of he moves backward in 2012, frankly.
7. Charl Schwartzel
November New World Order: Not ranked
It's been a somewhat predictable, up-and-down season for the quiet Schwartzel, who was playing on the PGA Tour as a rookie this year. But consider what he accomplished on some venues where he'd been previously, like Augusta National, where he won. By the end of the year, back playing on tracks where he'd played in the past, the wiry South African finished with five consecutive finishes of ninth or better, including fifth at the Race to Dubai finale. Once he becomes familiar with more of the U.S. venues, there's room for improvement. The best metric of Schwartzel's talent is his play at the Grand Slam events, where he finished a combined 14 under this year, the best mark in golf by a whopping 10 strokes over Stricker and Sergio Garcia.
8. Steve Stricker
November New World Order: 8
Had you noticed that in this week's OWGR, Stricker is the top-ranked Yank at No. 6? His season somewhat mirrors the American prospects of the moment. After some typically solid play, he was sidelined by a disk issue in his neck that forced the popular veteran to withdraw from a FedEx series event. With the futures of U.S. standard bearers like Furyk, Mickelson and Woods looking as uncertain as ever -- at No. 14, Lefty is ranked highest among that trio -- the American fortunes look pretty spotty. Before the injury, Stricker won twice and looked as solid as ever, especially with his putter, but he turns 45 in February. In our view, he hit the shot of the year on the final hole to win the John Deere Classic. Hopefully, the neck issue will not require surgery, and he'll have more chances in 2012.
9. Sergio Garcia
November New World Order: 6
To us, it was one of the more amusing statements of the year, because despite his prowess in two languages, Sergio Garcia kept getting his cliches crossed. As he mounted an impressive comeback season after two years of lethargic, semi-interested play, Garcia repeatedly kept saying, "it's a work in process." That might be true, since he certainly showed progress. With a strong finish, Garcia won twice in Spain on the heels of a solid showing in the States, where his results weren't nearly as spectacular. In fact, on U.S. soil in 2011, Garcia's T7 finish at the U.S. Open was his best result. But it did lead to an unexpected showing in the majors, where he posted the second-best cumulative performance of any player. Garcia's still fragile and prone to losing his composure, of course, but in a way, that's a good sign. At least he cares again.
10. Dustin Johnson
November New World Order: Not ranked
Unlike the guy at No. 1, this was admittedly a tough pick. He has won every year he has been on tour, or four seasons in a row. He has contended on Sunday at three different major championships in the past two years. Yet, is there a more maddening player in the game as far as expectations? Johnson hits it a mile, but his short game is so full of holes, it's hard to know where to start. Johnson ranked dead last on tour in putting from between 5-10 feet, converting only 47.1 percent of his opportunities from that crucial distance. Take a look at his Sagarin rating, which heavily emphasizes head-to-head play. In fact, Zach Johnson is ranked higher by the Sagarin computer. D.J. went through a parade of caddies this year, which didn't help, and has hooked up again with Bobby Brown, his former looper. It's interesting to note that Simpson, the other Yank under 30 on this list, is regarded as a player who gets the most out of his game. Johnson hasn't scratched the surface.