Who Will Win This Year's U.S. Open? Probably Someone You've Never Heard Of

Illustration for article titled Who Will Win This Year's U.S. Open? Probably Someone You've Never Heard Of

Golf's major tournaments just haven't been that interesting lately. Over the last 17 majors, there have been 16 winners. In theory, this could be nice! A little diversity, a little surprise. But since Tiger's sabbatical, we've lost any hope of narrative. Individual sports thrive on story lines, rivalries and dominance by the few (Rafa, Roger and Novak have won 28 of the last 29 major tennis tournaments—this is appropriately regarded as a golden era).


The New Yorker's John Cassidy offers an explanation on what's happening in golf, and it does not necessarily have to do with the beauty of parity:

A mathematical way to put it would be to say that the outcomes of big tournaments are essentially random; reputation and official rankings don't matter. If over a series of tournaments you used a random-number generator, or a roulette wheel, to pick the winner rather than allowing the players to compete, Woods included, the outcomes wouldn't appear very different, if at all.

That might sound ridiculous, but look at this list of the last seventeen major winners, tagged by their world ranking in the week before they won: 29, 1, 3, 3, 69, 72, 33, 110, 4, 37, 54, 13, 29, 8, 111, 108, 16. Ignore, for a moment, what these figures represent and think of them simply as a sequence of numbers selected from one to a hundred and twenty-five. Do they look like they could have been chosen at random?

Cassidy concedes that yes…those numbers are not quite random. Nine of those 17 rankings are better than 30. But! Eight of them are not. This is something very nearly random. And golf's plot line woes is like an extreme case of what we're dealing with in women's tennis where parity has been running amok for several years now.

So today, as we make final picks between Tiger and Phil and Rory and Luke Donald, just remember: Olympic is a tight, temperamental course (it's in San Francisco for God's sake) and the randomness of the roulette wheel (though tilted a bit toward the better players) will be at play. There's an excellent chance that come Sunday night, you'll only have a passing familiarity—at best—with who's walking up 18, getting ready to clinch the Open.

Tiger Woods: Force of Nature or Random Number? [The New Yorker]