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Best player in the world? Why Jon Rahm thinks he is (and the OWGR is wrong)

Jon Rahm bites into trophy at 2023 Tournament of Champions

At the beginning of last week, Jon Rahm was ranked No. 5 in the Official World Golf Ranking, a rating even at the time he felt did not accurately represent his recent dominant form, highlighted by wins at the Spanish Open and DP World Tour Championship late last year.

In the ensuing days, the 28-year-old Spanish star and former No. 1 went out and won the Sentry Tournament of Champions at Kapalua, the PGA Tour’s first-ever “designated event,” beating nearly all of the Tour’s finest in the process. His OWGR rank after the victory? Still No. 5.

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If you find it hard to understand why Rahm’s rank didn’t improve at all after such a big win, you’re not alone. Rahm is mystified and a little miffed, too, as he revealed in an interview with Sky Sports this week.

Sitting directly in front of Rahm in the OWGR standings, as was the case last week, is Patrick Cantlay, who finished T16 at Kapalua. That doesn’t sit well with Rahm.

“Since the playoffs… I’ve won three times and I don’t even get close to [Cantlay],” Rahm told Sky Sports. “So I’m trying to understand what’s going on.”

Cantlay, for the record, captured only one victory that awarded OWGR points in 2022. But it came at a playoff event, the BMW Championship, that featured a stellar field and, therefore, provided a huge boost in terms of his rank, moving him from No. 4 to No. 3 at the time. He also tacked on three runner-up finishes among 12 top-10s last year, further solidifying his ranking.

Rahm, on the other hand, saw two of his recent victories come in DP World Tour events, which offer far fewer OWGR points given the poor depth of fields relative to the Tour. That happens to be a sticking point Rahm previously voiced concern over last year.

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“I’m going to be as blunt as I can,” Rahm said in November ahead of the DP World Tour Championship. “I think the OWGR right now is laughable. Laughable. Laughable.”

What Rahm found “laughable” was the fact that DP World Tour’s premier event, which featured other stars like Rory McIlroy and Matt Fitzpatrick, awarded fewer OWGR points than that week’s PGA Tour event, the RSM Classic.

Making matters worse, Rahm ended up winning the event following his comments, but as with this week, his OWGR rank stayed put at No. 5.

Then and now, Rahm blamed recent changes to the OWGR system for his unfortunate ranking situation.

“Had they not changed the world ranking points I would have been pretty damn close [to world No. 1] right now,” Rahm told Sky Sports. “But in my mind, I feel like since August I’ve been the best player in the world.”

Adam Scott shared similar concerns during his pre-tournament press conference at this week’s Sony Open in Hawaii.

“What I don’t like is when things get changed and it’s not right, you know what I mean?” Scott said about the recent OWGR changes on Tuesday. “I don’t think it’s correct. Well, I don’t think [Rahm] winning last week is getting awarded potentially enough.”

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“I beat about four people last week, so I shouldn’t get a lot of points. But Jon Rahm beat a field of champion players on the PGA Tour and apparently the best 30 players on the tour for the year, so I think that’s worthy of some points,” Scott said, adding, “There isn’t a great solution, but I don’t like it when things are put in place and then it’s immediately debunked. Not great for us.”

But as GOLF’s resident OWGR Sean Zak expert pointed out last year with the help of statistician Mark Broadie, these OWGR criticisms ignore one important detail: It will take time for the recent changes to take full effect.

The OWGR system is based on a two-year window. In general with last year’s updates, most individual tournaments will have less impact on a player’s ranking, especially tournaments will small fields like the Tournament of Champions. Players ahead of Rahm in the ranking, like Cantlay and No. 2 Scottie Scheffler, are benefitting from wins secured under the old points system. Unfortunately for Rahm, his three most recent wins have come after the OWGR update occurred in August.

But as time goes on, performances recorded before the changes will fall out of the two-year window, and the ranking will adjust to reflect recent performance more accurately.

And if Rahm keeps winning, he’ll re-take the No. 1 spot soon enough, with or without the changes.

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