BY DOUG FERGUSON
AP Golf Writer
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Davis Love III would have been better off skipping the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
That's easy to say now.
The latest world ranking is out, and qualifying for the Masters effectively is closed. Love needed to be in the top 50, and he missed out by just over four-hundredths of a point. If he had not played Bay Hill, where Love missed the cut, turns out he would have been at No. 50 by seven-thousandths of a point over Louis Oosthuizen.
But assume Love had taken last week off, and Hunter Mahan had not five-putted the 16th green at Bay Hill in the final round. Love then would have fallen to No. 51 and been kicking himself for not playing.
Confused yet? It gets better.
Even after missing the cut, Love had a chance to stay in the top 50 when Stuart Appleby shot 80 in the third round and Aaron Baddeley tumbled down the leaderboard with a 76-74 weekend. But right when his odds were looking up, Prayad Marksaeng shot 64 in the final round in Thailand, and Soren Kjeldsen pulled away toward victory in Portugal.
After all that, Love still had hope. Pat Perez was in a two-way tie for third late Sunday on the 18th hole at Bay Hill, and if he were to make double bogey and slip into a four-way tie for seventh, Love would have gone to 50.
Perez went over the water and right at the flag – remember, he still had an outside shot at winning the tournament – and the ball cleared the rocks framing the lake by no more than a foot. He was able to chop his next shot onto the green and he made bogey.
So now, Love is No. 51 and must win the Shell Houston Open this week to be able to drive down Magnolia Lane.
Up until 10 years ago, figuring out who went to the Masters didn't require a Ph.D. from MIT.
Before Augusta National added the Official World Golf Ranking to its criteria, everyone knew where they stood and how to get there.
– A green jacket came with a lifetime pass.
– Invitations were extended to whoever won the other three majors over the last five years, or a PGA Tour event in the 51 weeks leading up to the Masters.
– You could finish among the top 24 at the previous year's Masters, top 16 at the U.S. Open or top eight at the PGA Championship.
– The Masters also took the top 30 from the PGA Tour money list.
This marks the 10-year anniversary when Augusta National overhauled its qualifications to include the top 50 in the world ranking. The idea was to reflect the changing landscape in golf, to ensure the best players around the world were invited to the Masters.
Was it the right move? Judge for yourself.
If the 1998 criteria were still in effect, Love could have booked his reservations to Augusta National four months ago after he won at Disney for his 20th career PGA Tour victory. Then again, the Masters field would also include the likes of Parker McLachlin, Marc Turnesa, Ryan Palmer, Michael Bradley and Richard S. Johnson, all of whom won against watered-down fields.
And if the '98 criteria were used today, here are some of the players who not be eligible – Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Rory Sabbatini, Tim Clark, Ian Poulter, Luke Donald and 54-year-old Greg Norman.
Some of them – but not all – would have received special invitations the Masters typically reserved for international players.
It only appears that the world ranking makes this more confusing than it needs to be.
Is it right that one player getting into the Masters depends on tournaments held on three continents in one day? Or that a trip to Augusta National comes down to whether another player five-putts or four-putts?
This goes on every week in the world ranking.
The difference is that no one is paying attention. It only matters a few times a year, such as qualifying deadlines for the World Golf Championships, the Masters and in late May for the U.S. Open and British Open.
And the argument intensifies when a player like Love – a major champion with 20 career victories – is edged out by a 27-year-old South African that not many people at Augusta National will recognize.
Remember, though, that Oosthuizen finished two shots ahead of Love at Doral and made the cut at Bay Hill.
Augusta National was right to revamp its criteria 10 years ago to include the world ranking, simply because the world of golf has changed. Three of the four majors are held in the United States, but that doesn't mean they should cater to Americans.
There are questions about the world ranking, specifically the “home tour'' bonus that appears skewed against the U.S. tour. And there always will be second-guessing about the points distribution – how, for example, Bubba Dickerson received more points for winning a Nationwide Tour event last week than Perez got for his tie for fourth at Bay Hill.
But there should be no second-guessing Love for playing.
Turns out he would have needed to make the cut and finish in 41st place at Bay Hill to secure his spot in the top 50 and go to the Masters. Presented that scenario at the start of the week, the choice would have been simple.
Because no matter how complicated it has become, it ultimately comes down to performance.
That hasn't changed.