Notes: Little time left for Tour players to find top 50

Padraig Harrington reads a putt during The Barclays at Bethpage State Park in Farmingdale, N.Y.

Padraig Harrington reads a putt during The Barclays at Bethpage State Park in Farmingdale, N.Y.

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Though he’s firmly entrenched as No. 1 in the world order, Rory McIlroy doesn’t need to look that far back to see his nearest competitor, none other than Tiger Woods. McIlroy’s lead is 3.39 over Woods, but at the start of the year, Woods was 23rd and 6.44 behind then-No. 1 Luke Donald.

So clearly, Woods has enjoyed a positive season in the Official World Golf Ranking, if not in the major championships.

But as glitzy as the McIlroy-Woods battle is for the penthouse, it doesn’t reflect the most intriguing aspect to the world rankings. That is, the fight to be inside the top 50.

“That’s the bonus,” said Padraig Harrington, who began 2012 at No. 85 and has moved into the 57th position. “Once you’re in (the top 50), you can work the system (and stay there).”

Acknowledging that he had no basis for criticism at not being a captain’s pick for the European Ryder Cup team, the Irishman said his quest to qualify in 2014, when the competition is held in Scotland, “starts now” and is built around his goal of getting back into the top 50. The blueprint is simple: Harrington knows he needs to win or put together a string of very high finishes in quality events. His rationale is understood by just about every player. A top-50 player earns invites to the season’s first three majors and assures a spot in the World Golf Championship events, and those are the tournaments that provide access to mega world-ranking points.

When he slipped in the rankings, Harrington wasn’t eligible for any of the WGCs in 2012 and said he “left a lot of points on the table.”

It’s refreshing, though, that Harrington isn’t one of those guys who sits and rails against the Official World Golf Ranking. Quite the opposite.

“It reflects quite well on who are the top 100 players in the world, so you can’t say it’s a bad system in that regard,” he said. “The top 100 reflects form.”

But it’s the top 50 that brings the greatest reward and as evidence, consider Ernie Els. He, too, had slipped badly in the world order, so much so that he failed to qualify for the Masters for the first time since 1993. But he ran off a series of top-5 finishes, played beautifully at the U.S. Open, then won the Open Championship. Els, who began the season 56th and now is 22nd, can enjoy the luxury of not having to chase world-ranking points in the fall. He’ll play the Dunhill Links and the Frys.com, but said no to trips to Asia and the Middle East, knowing his world ranking has set him up for the tournaments he wants to play in 2013.

No such comfort for Harrington, who will pick global tournaments to help improve his ranking. Sitting somewhere in between is Geoff Ogilvy.

He began the year 36th in the rankings, and though he has played a lot of consistent golf, the Aussie has tumbled a bit. He’s now 43rd, and because he didn’t qualify for the Tour Championship, Ogilvy is in that gray area, left to wonder if he needs to play to keep his ranking or will his standing fall if he doesn’t?

“It’s more fluid than it used to be,” Ogilvy said of top-50 status. “(In the past) if you got up there (high in the rankings), it would take you a year to drop out, if you didn’t play at all. Now . . . I’m 43rd and I won’t drop out of the top 5 until Australia (tournaments in December) – or maybe I won’t. I probably won’t plummet too much.”

Ogilvy seconds Harrington’s contention that it’s tougher to get back into the top 50 than it is to remain there, mostly for the chances you have or don’t have at earning points in big-time tournaments.

“But you still have to perform (in the majors and WGCs) when you get there. The WGCs are top-heavy in points and money, and if you play well in them, they’re fantastic; you rocket up. But if you don’t, they’re not that big of an advantage.

“(Still), the deck is definitely loaded in your favor if you start the year well entrenched in the top 50. There are a lot of guys out here who are into working the system in their favor.”

• • •

MOVING IN, MOVING OUT: For the record, here are the players who began the year outside the top 50 and have moved in: Rafael Cabrera Bello: 118th to 46th; Carl Pettersson: 110th to 34th; Robert Garrigus: 105th to 45th; David Lynn: 91st to 39th; Jamie Donaldson: 86th to 50th; Paul Lawrie: 83rd to 27th; Nicolas Colsaerts: 72nd to 35th; Ernie Els: 56th to 22nd.

And those who made room by starting the year inside the top 50 and falling out: Paul Casey: 20th to 114th; Alvaro Quiros: 22nd to 56th; Robert Karlsson: 24th to 74th; K.T. Kim: 25th to 69th; Anders Hansen: 34th to 52nd; Miguel Angel Jimenez: 44th to 83rd; Y.E. Yang: 45th to 93rd; Darren Clarke: 48th to 102nd.

• • •

THE AGONY OF THE GAME: How fine is the line out on the PGA Tour? Consider Ogilvy, a former U.S. Open champ and three-time WGC winner.

He has made the cut in 15 of his last 16 stroke-play events, shot higher than 72 in just four of his last 24 rounds and his final-round scoring average is a solid 70.47. Yet there has been just one top-10 finish despite being inside the top 25 on 10 occasions.

“I’ve never been happier with my golf game and more frustrated with the results. That’s kind of where I’m at,” Ogilvy said.

There are two reasons why he might just go on hiatus until the series of November-December tournaments in his native Australia.

One, “every time I come off a big break, I play well.”

And two, “next year won’t be the year to take a big break,” so he might as well take advantage now.

To Ogilvy’s point about next year, it’s worth remembering as the Tour Championship gets under way that at this point next year, when the final 30 gather in Atlanta for the conclusion of the FedEx Cup finale, we also will be at the end of the 2013 season. The 2014 season will then commence at the Frys.com Open on Oct. 10, 2013.

• • •

TOP NAMES PRESENT AND ACCOUNTED FOR: It’s hard not to be amazed at just how deep the rosters are for the upcoming Ryder Cup. Eight of the top 10? Seventeen of the top 20? The lowest-ranked competitor coming in at No. 35 (Nicolas Colsaerts)?

Not since the Official World Golf Ranking began in 1986 has there been a Ryder Cup with such wall-to-wall depth. Consider that the lowest-ranked American is Jim Furyk, at No. 27, and you get an even greater understanding of the wealth of talent that will be on display next week at Medinah (Ill.) Country Club.

Or, to look at it another way, consider 2006, when the Americans seemed overmatched as soon as they set foot on the K Club in Ireland. At the time, Nos. 1, 2 and 3 in the world rankings (Tiger Woods, Furyk and Phil Mickelson, respectively) donned red, white and blue, but only three of their teammates were ranked within the top 20 (David Toms, 14th; Chris DiMarco, 15th; Chad Campbell, 20th).

So curious a lineup of players was it that four of the players ranked worse in the world order than their captain, Tom Lehman, who was 39th. (Zach Johnson was 40th, Vaughn Taylor 59th, J.J. Henry 62nd and Brett Wetterich, 65th.)

• • •

WILL HE BE READY FOR THE RYDER CUP? No, he won’t be in the arena, but it’s likely that Colin Montgomerie still is ferociously excited about next week’s competition at Medinah. Having built much of his fame upon a hugely successful career as a Ryder Cup competitor, Montgomerie is scheduled to be in Chicago to speak his mind for Sky Sports.

Just last week, the eight-time Order of Merit winner and all-world Ryder Cupper failed miserably to keep his competitive career going.

Blame it on a left-calf injury that just hasn’t healed.

“I just tried to play too soon and I just couldn’t swing the club,” Montgomerie told reporters last week at the BMW Italian Open. “I’m in a lot of pain. I tried, but now what it needs is rest.”

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