Why all the fuss about being world number one?
To much fanfare, Lee Westwood has ended the 281-week reign of Tiger Woods as golf’s world number one yet the fact the Briton has not won a major raises a couple of questions — Do rankings reward consistency rather than great achievement? And how much do they really matter?
According to former world number one and six-times major winner Nick Faldo, the answer is not as much as the big tournaments.
“It’s interesting how times have changed, how you can get to be number one without winning a major,” Faldo said. “I never understood the points scoring system, even in my day.
“But I wanted to be number one. It is a nice one to win. But majors are the one, because you have to go and win them and finish them off.”
There is a similar situation in women’s tennis where Denmark’s Caroline Wozniacki is the year-end number one without a grand slam to her name. The 20-year-old last month dethroned American Serena Williams, who has not played since winning her 13th grand slam title at Wimbledon in July.
With such obvious talents as 14-times major winner Tiger and Serena it seems bizarre that golf and tennis set such importance on the vagaries of a ranking system, when other sports set less store by them.
Spain top the FIFA soccer rankings, yet you are unlikely to see them tagged as world number one in the media or referred to as such by fans. Rightly, the World Cup win is considered their ultimate achievement.
The All Blacks head the rugby world rankings and have a history of consistently doing so in the run up to a World Cup. Yet in the build-up to next year’s tournament in New Zealand they will undoubtedly come under the spotlight again for only having won the title once, the inaugural edition in 1987.
There is some interest in the test cricket team rankings, currently headed by India, but less so in the lists for batsman, bowler and all-rounder. Most sports fans could make an educated guess at the top batsman — Sachin Tendulkar, acknowledged as one of greatest of all time, but surprisingly he made number one spot last month for the first time since August 2002.
Cycling’s world number one is not Tour de France winner and one of the sport’s biggest names, Alberto Contador, but fellow Spaniard Joaquim Rodriguez, who had a consistent season and rode in twice as many ranking races as his compatriot.
Perhaps Serena had it right when, after being toppled as women’s tennis number one by grand slam-less Russian Dinara Safina in April 2009, she told reporters. “We all know who the real number one is. Quite frankly, I’m the best in the world.”
PHOTO: Tiger Woods of the U.S. walks on the third hole during an exhibition golf match with Japan’s Ryo Ishikawa in Yokohama, south of Tokyo November 1, 2010. REUTERS/Toru Hanai