- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 8, 2011

PEBBLE BEACH, CALIF. (AP) - His vocation was civil engineering. His passion was sports and statistics.

Tony Greer found enough spare time between the two to devise a world ranking for golfers, and it turned into more than a hobby. His system got the attention of Mark McCormack, the late founder of IMG who had been publishing his own rudimentary rankings in the annual “World of Professional Golf.”

Neither could have imagined how it would shape golf’s growing landscape.

“It’s an exciting time at the moment,” Greer said Tuesday from his home in London.

When he first started to develop a world ranking, Greer said it was far less complicated to figure out the best players in golf.

“You looked at the PGA Tour money list,” he said.

That all has changed now.

First came the emergence of Seve Ballesteros and Nick Faldo, then Greg Norman and Bernhard Langer. And while Tiger Woods has dominated the ranking like no other _ he has been at No. 1 for 85 percent of his pro career _ his recent slump has created opportunity for so many others. And it has put the Official World Golf Ranking at the front of any discussion involving of global golf.

Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer and Woods _ Nos. 1, 2 and 3 in the world ranking _ will be in the same group for the Dubai Desert Classic. It’s the first time since 1994 that a regular European Tour event has had the top three players in the world. On the other side of the world, Phil Mickelson is at Pebble Beach with a chance to move ahead of Woods for the first time since the 1997 Masters.

At both tournaments, players will be jockeying to finish among the top 64 and qualify for the $8 million Match Play Championship.

You can count on some controversy. That hasn’t changed. Questions about the mechanics and methodology of the world ranking will never go away. There is no system to accurately compare the strength of tours around the world.

“How do you know that I’m No. 198, and some guy from Zimbabwe is No. 199?” said Paul Goydos.

For those who don’t like the ranking, they better get used to it.

Paul Azinger once said the only things that ever made him choke were cash or prestige. He never said anything about ranking points.

But that’s the direction golf is going.

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