Tiger Woods has 79 wins on the PGA Tour, we are told. What we are not told is that eighteen of those wins were in limited-field events, seriously tainting the accomplishment.
In fact, the narrative has been that winning a WGC event is a greater accomplishment than winning a regular Tour event. Instead of properly saying, “Woods has 79 wins, but unfortunately eighteen of them were limited-field WGC events,” we are told, “Not only does Woods have 79 wins, but eighteen were strong WGC events!”
Such spin, as ludicrous as it is, is standard fare for the out-of-control 21st Century golf media, a group of reporters intent on turning golf a one-man reality show.
If you are confused by my point, don’t feel bad. The media intentionally deceives you, and it is unpopular these days to point out when one of the media’s kings has no clothes. Which is what I will be doing in this article.
Golf is not like tennis. In tennis, the top two or three seeded players win nearly every event. That’s not at all the case in golf. In golf, there is more far more variation in the requirements of the players, and there is a vastly greater luck factor. It’s a golf fact of life that a hot putter and a lucky bounce or two results in many victories by “unknowns.” There is a lottery aspect to a golf tournament, and the more people who hold tickets, the lesser chance of any given player winning. You could double the size of a tennis tournament, and the same guys would be playing in the quarterfinals. However, in golf, doubling the size of the field would result in many wins by “unknown” players in the bottom half of the field. It’s the nature of the game. A hot putter and a few lucky breaks equal “surprise win.”
Need an example? Look no further than Y.E. Yang at the 2009 PGA Championship. He was ranked 110th in the world, a position that would not warrant entry into any WGC tournament, and yet Yang won the tournament by three shots over… Tiger Woods. Had this been a WGC event, Woods would have “won” another event over the “best players in the world.”
From this one example, it is obvious that field size is critical to the difficulty of winning a tournament. In tennis if you cut the size of the field in half, you merely eliminate a bunch of guys who weren’t going to win anyway. Do the same in golf, and you eliminate potential winners.
There are many such examples in golf: think of the many “unknowns” who have won golf’s majors.
Now I’m going to show you a convenient way to track this yourself, on a week-to-week basis, so you will become immune to the relentless spin of the golf media. We’ll have to do this on the European Tour, as corporate involvement has made it impossible on the American Tour. (The European Tour lists the OWGR ranking for every player on the scoreboard. The American Tour uses the largely useless FedEx Cup point ranking.)
Each week on the European Tour online leaderboard includes a column for OWGR ranking. (For some reason, they don’t include that column on their archived leaderboards, so you have to make your observations while the tournament is in progress, or for a day or two after its conclusion.) This column is sortable, so we have two good ways to see just how important field size is in determining the difficulty of winning a golf tournament.
The first chart is the leaderboard from this past week’s tournament at Qatar sorted by final result; the second chart is the leaderboard sorted by OWGR ranking. The first column is the OWGR ranking, the second column is Notice how many “doesn’t have a chance” players beat the “best players in the world.” Notice how poorly some of the “best players in the world” did.
Notice things like OWGR #654 finishing 9th, OWGR #6 finishing T-46, and OWGR #25 finishing T-93.
This tournament was no anomaly, as you will see if you continue to follow these tournaments all year. The critical point is that golf is not like tennis, where only a handful of players have a true chance to win. In golf, nearly every player in the field has a legitimate chance to win.
Therefore, the larger the field, the more difficult the tournament is to win. Tiger Woods has 18 WGC limited-field tournament wins. They are tainted.
[By the way, I realized after having posted this piece that Woods has an additional three wins in limited fields from FedEx Cup events. That bumps the 18 tainted events up to 21. Fully 1/4 of Woods’s wins were in limited-field events.]