Forget the official ranking — here's the real list of 10 best players in the world

Tuesday November 24th, 2009
After a disappointing week at St. Andrews, Tiger Woods is still the top-ranked player in the world. But is he the <i>best</i> player?
Warren Little/Getty Images

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — I don't know about you, but the 2010 British Open championship at the storied Old Course went just about as I expected:

• Tiger Woods very nearly managed a top-20 finish. (He was tied for 23rd.)

• Phil Mickelson posted at least one nine-hole score in the 40s. (A 41 coming in Sunday really hurt his chances. A 23 was all he needed.)

• Play stopped Friday when the sun was out. Well, it was kinda windy.

• Paul Casey and Lee Westwood came close but didn't win. No, I'm not kidding!

• Tom Watson kissed the Swilcan Bridge at a quarter to 10 Friday night, and he was still playing. Can't wait to see that on a future Royal Bank of Scotland five-pound note.

• The dawn of The Louis Oosthuizen Era. (Sorry, Tiger.)

Yep, exactly as I called it. I saw this one coming — except for all of the above.

It was a topsy-turvy Open in many ways. In the past, the Old Course has identified great champions, some of the best players of their eras: Sam Snead, Peter Thomson, Tony Lema, Jack Nicklaus, Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, John Daly. (Long John did have a certain kind of genius that didn't involve Jim Beam.) And, of course, Tiger Woods.

Now Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa is on the list. Nothing against Louis — he won by an almost-record margin, has a fantastic swing, and he chipped and putted like a maestro — but it's definitely too early to crown him the best player of his era, or even of this year. So, after three major championships in 2010, who is the best player in the game right now?

The Official World Golf Ranking covers a two-year period. We all know Tiger is still No. 1, and Phil is still No. 2. Westwood, with his second-place finish here, is still No. 3.

But are they really? Tiger is 0-for-2010 and hasn't won a major since the 2008 U.S. Open. Phil won the Masters and then evaporated. Westwood won in Memphis, but only because Robert Garrigus couldn't manage a clinching double bogey on the 72nd hole.

Face it, the world ranking is too slow to react to current events. With two years worth of events in the calculations, it's like trying to swerve the Titanic to avoid that pesky iceberg. Tiger Woods is no more the real-life No. 1 player in the world at this exact moment than Louis Oosthuizen.

Therefore, after the momentous events we have witnessed at the Old Course last week, I have devised a new, more relevant world ranking. I won't bore you with details of the heavy math — which involve a Level 4 calculator and an old copy of The Sporting News Book of Batting Averages — but this is your new top 10:

10. Tiger Woods The sympathy factor at work. He has dominated the top spot for the last 13 years. You can't just boot him to the curb unceremoniously.

9. Rory McIlroy Got his first PGA Tour win in Charlotte. Followed his 63 with an 80 and still finished tied for third in the British Open. The kid's got it.

8. Jim Furyk Wins this year at Innisbrook and Harbour Town, and has two other top 10s. Missed cuts in the Masters and the British — oops.

7. Graeme McDowell Two Open wins — the U.S. and Wales — and a good British Open showing if not for that third-round 76.

6. Justin Rose Wins at Memorial (with an impressive closing 66) and Aronimink, plus a blown chance in Hartford, and a third at Honda. Blooming at last, as the cliche-prone headline writers keep saying.

5. Louis Oosthuizen The son of a South African dairy farmer, Louis crushed the Old Course field like so many bugs. Sixteen under par? Wow. Plus a win in Andalucia. Shrek rules. He's No. 5 with a bullet.

4. Steve Stricker The hottest golfer on the planet for a while, with five wins in the last two years, including back-to-back John Deere titles.

3. Phil Mickelson He had an answer for the Brit questioner who was implying that Europeans were dominating the majors. "April went pretty well," joked the Masters champ. Since then? Fifth at Memorial, a disappointing fourth at the U.S. Open, and a Scottish fade.

2. Ernie Els Back-to-back wins at Doral and Bay Hill (a million years ago in March), and a pair of recent third-place finishes at the Valero Texas Open and the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. Missed the cut at Old Course, though. Ouch.

1. Intentionally left blank Will be awarded again when somebody, anybody, earns it.

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