As he prepares to tee off Thursday at this week's Shell Houston Open, Steve Stricker either is the No. 1 or No. 5-ranked golfer in the world, depending whom you ask.
The three-time John Deere Classic defending champion is ranked No. 5 in the hugely influential Official World Golf Rankings, which are used to determine which players get into the field at the Masters and other lucrative tournaments.
But Stricker's rated No. 1 in the Sagarin Rankings run by statistician Jeff Sagarin whose computerized rankings are used to help determine the field for the NCAA basketball tournament and BCS college bowl games. (Sagarin's golf rankings are published weekly in Golfweek.)
Lance Ringler of Golfweek has been in charge of the Sagarin golf rankings for a number of years. The Iowa State grad says the Sagarin rankings reward consistency.
"Steve Stricker is No. 1 in the Sagarin rankings because he beats his opponents more often than they beat him," Ringler said. "With the OWGR, you get rewarded for great play but you don't get penalized for poor play. Which means you can collect a lot of points by playing well on the European Tour, Japan Tour, or South African Tour and not lose many when you play poorly anywhere."
Ringler points out that in 2011 Stricker had 13 top 15 finishes in 17 starts. Consistent. Over the last 52 weeks, Stricker's average finish was 13.9th place compared to Rory McIlroy's 14.8th place and Luke Donald's 15th place. Donald and McIlroy are ranked No. 1 and 2, respectively, by the OWGR; they're 2 and 4, respectively, on Sagarin.
The issue of how players are ranked can be hugely important to their careers.
Recently, the Wall Street Journal noted that two professors - from Columbia and Dartmouth universities - cast doubt on the accuracy of the OWGR, arguing that it favors players who primarily earn points outside the U.S. PGA Tour. The profs are coming up with their own ranking system based on scoring comparisons.
According to the professors, one of the key flaws in the OWGR involves a seemingly arbitrary "strength-of-field" rating system used to determine how many points a player receives for a good performance.
Instead of basing its strength-of-field rating on the number of quality players in a given tournament, the OWGR's determines it by which of the world tours is sponsoring the event - i.e. PGA Tour, European Tour, Japan Tour, etc. By assigning a higher strength-of-field rating to a given tournament (say, a European event), participants in that event can move higher in the OWGR. And, because the OWGR doesn't penalize poor play as much as it rewards good play, players don't fall in the rankings as precipitously as they do under the Sagarin system, according to Ringler.
Case in point: the final results of the prestigious 74-man, no-cut World Golf Championship event at Doral earlier this month for which invitations are issued based on World Ranking points. England's Justin Rose won the event; Stricker finished in a four-way tie for eighth.
But of the 24 players who finished between 50th and 72nd place (there were two WDs), 13 garnered their OWGR points playing the European, Japan, and South African tours or some combination thereof. Happens all the time, according to Ringler.
None of this matters to Stricker, of course. He's ranked high enough to get into all the top events. And in either case, he's still the top-ranked American.
His fans will be rooting for him this week at Houston - but they'd really love to see him win his first major next week at Augusta.