27 Nov

How Golf Rankings Are Calculated: A Comprehensive Guide

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When you’re setting out to make smart golf bets, one of the first things you’ll look for is golf’s world rankings. However, golf doesn’t have one set system for ranking players. Instead, it uses a variety of systems. Understanding how they work and how they are compiled is critical to understanding their value for you, the sports bettor.

What the “Money List” Means

  • Not as important as it used to be
  • Still a fun stat to track

Based simply on the amount of official prize money each player earned throughout the year, the money list once determined who kept and lost their tour cards, and (partly) who was named PGA Player of the Year. The money list used to be king.

Players did everything they could to maximize the amount of money they won on the PGA Tour, since money has an intrinsic value that a point system never can, and it was actually a pretty solid way to track performance. Unfortunately, it was also considered somewhat uncouth, and despite its endless attempts to “grow the game” and appeal to a more diverse audience, golf retains a WASPy aversion to talking about money so frankly.

The money list has is, simply, just another way to marvel at how much money Dustin Johnson makes (and another opportunity to feel sorry for yourself).

The FedEx Cup

  • Big money, big prize
  • Still an arbitrary points system

The FedEx Cup is golf’s postseason system. With winners netting a cool $10 million, players do everything they can to get there. Throughout the season, players accumulate points by placing well or winning PGA Tour events, and the 125 players with the highest point tallies head into the playoffs.

Playoff events (The Northern Trust, the Dell Technologies Championship, the BMW Championship, and the Tour Championship) are worth about four times as many points as regular events, and after each one, the field is narrowed even further.

Only the 30 players with the most points compete in the Tour Championship, and if a top-5 player wins the tournament, they also win the FedEx Cup. Otherwise, the player with the most FedEx Cup points at the completion of the Tour Championship wins the FedEx Cup.

It’s a complicated system and is not meant to gauge the relative quality of the players. The FedEx Cup leader is definitely not considered to be the #1 golfer in the world.

Official World Golf Ranking

  • They’re official, it says so right there
  • Just as arbitrary as any other rankings system. (It’s just the one we’ve settled on.)

The PGA Tour and the European Tour are separate entities, and it can be difficult to discern how players from the different tours compare. The Open and the Masters, which pride themselves on an international field, needed a world ranking system to decide who should and shouldn’t be invited, as well as players who should be exempted from the qualifying process.

They decided to lean on something called “the McCormack rankings”, which were compiled for no other reason than entertainment since 1968. In 1986, the R&A adopted the system, and it became known as the Sony Rankings. In 1995, all the world’s major tours endorsed the system, and it became known as the Official World Golf Rankings.

The OWGR isn’t a perfect ranking of who the best golfer in the world is. For one thing, it’s calculated over a two-year period, and a lot can change in two years. A golfer can go on a run of form in which he’s plainly the best golfer in the world for six or eight months, and not crack the #1 spot on OWGR because of the previous year’s results. OWGR does favor more recent results, but results often take a very long time to phase out.

Sagarin Rankings

  • Computed differently than OWGR, and on a one-year cycle
  • A better indicator of player performance

Slightly more useful for bettors, as the time scale is a lot shorter, Sagarin Rankings actually compare golfers who play together on the same day. At the end of every competitive round, each golfer is assigned a win or a loss against all the other golfers in the field (such that posting the best score in a 78-man field would give you a 78-0 record).

Keeping track of these win/loss records on a rolling, 52-week basis gives a pretty comprehensive ranking of player performances in a way that the two-year OWGR cannot.

For the latest in golf odds and rankings, visit our 208 US Open odds tracker. 

Meet the authors

Matt McEwan
Dave F.
Sports Writer
William Hill
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