If you’ve followed Tiger Woods’ comeback at all, you know his ascent up the Official World Golf Ranking has been as improbable and dizzying as Alex Honnold’s climb in the Oscar-winning documentary Free Solo. OK, maybe not quite as dizzying, because that film was tough to watch. But you get the point.
In December of 2017, Woods had fallen to No. 1,199 in the world after spending most of his professional career holding down the top spot. But after his dramatic Masters win on Sunday, he has clawed his way back into the top 10 at No. 6. And Tiger’s quick turnaround is even more impressive if you isolate the numbers from only the tournaments he’s actually played.
One of the biggest factors in determining a golfer’s world ranking is something called the minimum divisor. It’s the number that a player’s accumulated world ranking points over the past two years is divided by to get his average points. The system’s current minimum divisor is 40, meaning if a player hasn’t played at least 40 events in the past two years, his total still will be divided by that number. If a player has played more than 40 events in that span, his total is divided by the actual number of events he has played.
Why is this done? To ensure someone doesn’t jump up the list too quickly, and to ensure there isn’t a fluky instance of a player reaching certain levels (Being in the Top 50, for instance, at certain points earns invites to prestigious events, including the Masters). It’s a smart safeguard, but it can hurt a golfer who is clearly deserving of such a rapid rise up the ranking . Enter Tiger Woods.
Woods has only played 26 counting events (No, THE MATCH doesn’t count) in his two-year window. So when his OWGR is calculated, the 309.47 total points he’s earned in those events is being divided by 40 to get his average of 7.7368. It’s that number that is ranked No. 6, one spot above Masters foe and World No. 7 Francesco Molinari (7.4277) and one spot beneath No. 5 Justin Thomas (8.0430). Dustin Johnson, who moved back in front of Justin Rose following his T-2 at Augusta National, is the top-ranked player with an average of 10.0114.
But how would things look if there was no minimum divisor? Check this out:
That’s right, Woods would be No. 1 already if his true average was calculated. And he’d be No. 1 over DJ by a pretty wide margin.
In fact, you have to scroll all the way down the current world ranking to No. 88 Lucas Herbert to find another player who has played fewer events than the minimum divisor in the past two years. And the Australian’s 39 events are only one fewer. The next such player is another Aussie, Jake Ian McLeod, who has only played 29 events, but is ranked 144th. To find someone on the list who has played fewer events than Woods, you have to go all the way to No. 263 Kazuki Higa, who has played in 25 events over he past 48 months.
In any event, Woods holds the record for most weeks at No. 1 with 683 (Greg Norman’s 331 ranks second) since the OWGR was created in 1986. But it’s looking more and more like the 43-year-old is going to add to that staggering total and that it’s just a matter of time—and starts. If he does, he’ll also break Norman’s record for being the oldest player (42) to hold the top spot.