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About the Pope Of Slope

Pope Of Slope

These golf rankings are for the birdies

By Jon Saraceno
Wed., Feb. 24, 1999
Section: SPORTS
Page 3C

So, you ask, who is the baddest golfer on the planet? Got me. I'm still trying to figure out why on earth those guards so rudely interrupted Mike Tyson while he was watching Masterpiece Theatre on his jailhouse telly the other night.

I'm also attempting to forget the horror of my last tee shot, so perhaps you've come to the wrong golf-writing clinic. This much I know: If you think the chant for ''We're No. 1'' builds as March Madness descends, wait until you hear the escalating kibitzing over who is golf's king of swing.

Tiger Woods, say the rankings. Au contraire, says Dean Knuth, 52, the high-tech software programmer and mathematics wizard from San Diego. David Duval should be numero uno, according to a revised system designed by Knuth. No doubt Duval, the snowboarding Gen-Xer with the stealth-like game, is the top choice among many of us.

Many, apparently, except IMG and the PGA Tour. International Management Group and the Tour oversee the official-sounding Official World Golf Ranking. Woods is first, Duval second. Despite Duval's nine wins since 1997, Woods' stirring triumph at The Masters in '97 carries enough weight to vault him to the No. 1 spot.

To which we say: balderdash.

Supporting my highly unscientific hunch is Knuth, who ranks Duval ahead of Woods. Knuth actually knows something about two subjects that have long eluded me: golf and math. He worked 16 years for the U.S. Golf Association, devising its course and slope rating systems. He also scored an 800 on his SAT. In math. Out of 800.

Knuth says the rankings are full of fertilizer and need more than tweaking. In the April Golf Digest, he suggests eight inherent flaws in the IMG-created rankings, such as: they aren't current enough; inequity of points distribution, particularly in Japan; and points disparity below fifth place.

The debate more adversely affects the lower spectrum of scrambling golfers. Now, you might say, who cares if a golfer is 64th or 65th? This week, No. 65 cares: Nick Faldo. Only the top 64 qualify for the Match Play Championships, the big-moolah event that starts today in Carlsbad, Calif. Faldo moved up a notch when Jumbo Ozaki opted out. That enabled the faltering Brit, a match-play master, to get a crack at Tiger and, potentially, the $1 million first prize.

The rankings used to be window-dressing. No longer. They determine who plays in the majors and in two new lucrative World Golf Championships. While IMG developed them when no one cared, isn't it time the International Federation of PGA Tours conducts an independent ranking? IMG represents Woods, Duval and other top golfers. It's as if General Motors published a list of the industry's ''Ten Best Cars,'' then named Cadillac, Pontiac, Buick 1-2-3.

''Nothing will happen through IMG,'' Knuth says. ''The PGA Tour will have to force it. There's certainly enough complaints by players. But, no, I don't have an ax to grind.''

Truth be told, I don't think there is a No. 1 bet-the-mortgage player in the world right now. For all of Duval's successes, how many majors has he won? (Answer: zero)

And how can any golfer claim the throne, mythical or skewed, if he was 147th in putting in '98? Tiger, my putt-putt course doesn't have undulating greens, but I can get it down the clown's mouth in two (maybe with a mulligan). Then again, what in the name of Dow Finsterwald do I know?

The last time I teed it up was on a Florida driving range. The 100-acre man-made lake sported a green that didn't look big enough to park Arnold Palmer's tractor. I was buoyed when I noticed duffers plopping their shots into the drink.

Finally, I mused, it's OK to lose my ball. There was so much water, I thought I saw Jacques Cousteau, Peter Benchley, Leonardo DiCaprio and Lloyd Bridges in a foursome.

''See the ball, be the ball.''

Uh, locate the ball. I missed the ocean.

My errant tee shot wickedly sliced onto an adjacent fairway. The last thing I heard from some poor scurrying, knickered soul sounded something like ''!*&**!&!**!''

I forgot to yell ''Fore!'' Sorry about that.

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