Rory McIlroy has defended the controversial changes to the world rankings despite knowing that he would now be world No 1 in the old system.
The alterations have been overshadowed by the row triggered by the Saudi-funded LIV Golf Series, but they have provoked a dramatic reaction, particularly on the DP World Tour. “These changes are going to hammer the European Tour – they really are,” Padraig Harrington said.
In layman’s terms, the “minimum tournament value” has been scrapped, with the amount of ranking points at each event dictated by measuring every competitor’s performance over the past two years. So, instead of giving 64 ranking points to the winner, the BMW PGA Championship this month earned Shane Lowry fewer than 32.
“I was surprised,” Lowry said. “I thought I’d go up more than four spots [from 23rd to 19th]. I beat Rory and [Jon] Rahm down the stretch and I saw that the winner on the PGA Tour the following week got more than me, because of the strength in depth of that field, but without having any top-10 players in the field.
"But I’m not going to moan, because I’ll be in plenty of those big fields in the US next year.”
McIlroy would say “amen” to that. After completing his opening 68 in the Dunhill Links here at Carnoustie, the Northern Irishman dismissed the criticisms of the detractors – “the European Tour has been shafted in this,” Lee Westwood said – and pleaded for patience.
“Look, I’d be No 1 in the world right now if it was the old system, above Scottie [Scheffler], but it is a fairer system,” McIlroy said.
“There were tournaments on this Tour, and on the Asian Tour, that just were getting too many points compared to their strength of field. I saw someone complaining about the Asian Tour last week that there were only two points to the winner, but the highest-ranked player in that field was 285th.
“Overall, there’s about a 15 to 20 per cent drop in ranking points across the board. Everyone is playing the same system so it’s just going to take a while for it to settle down. I won The Tour Championship in 2019 and got 60 points, and this year I got 37.
"But it’s good because people can’t play the system any more. There was a big reason that I came back and played Wentworth every year. There were 64 points to the winner when the strength of field really should only be getting 34 or 36.
"The tweaks were not decided overnight. It all took about five years and a lot of smart people put their heads together to come up with it. Yeah, it’s working to my detriment at the minute but as everything evens out, I think everybody will be happier with it.”
It is nothing but a coincidence that LIV has applied for official world-ranking status just as the system is going through a seismic transformation. There are rumblings that the circuit is ready to take legal recourse to gain the quick recognition it craves, although on Wednesday it was the PGA Tour countersuing Greg Norman’s enterprise, as Sawgrass HQ claimed that LIV convinced players to breach their Tour contracts by paying signing-on fees of up to $200 million.
That lawsuit might not be heard until 2024, which does not bode well for McIlroy’s plea here for the warring factions to “get around a table and try to figure something out”.
McIlroy is seven behind the first-round leader, Frenchman Romain Langasque, who shot a course-record equalling 61 at St Andrews in the wonderfully benign conditions. The forecast is so vile for the second round that the tee-times have been brought forward to 8.30am at the three courses – Kingsbarns being the other – and there will a shotgun start.
McIlroy was quick to spot the irony. “Yeah, we went down to 54 holes at Wentworth and are now doing a shotgun start here – both two of the main features of the LIV format,” he said with a smirk.
“I bet a blond-haired Aussie is laughing somewhere [referring to Norman]. But we’ve got to do whatever we can to try to get it in.”