x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

A cautious approach from the world No 1 Westwood

Lee Westwood's first thought after finishing the pro-am in advance of making his defence of the Dubai World Championship was "how did I manage to shoot a 23-under round here last year?".

Lee Westwood talks to the press at Jumeirah Golf Estate in Dubai yesterday.
Lee Westwood talks to the press at Jumeirah Golf Estate in Dubai yesterday.

DUBAI // Lee Westwood's first thought after finishing yesterday's pro-am in advance of making his defence of the Dubai World Championship (DWC) was "how did I manage to shoot a 23-under round here last year?".

That blunt observation by the man who started the year as European No 1 and is now the world No 1 emphasised two basic points: he played out of his skin 12 months ago and the Earth Course is not as soft a touch as many observers labelled it.

Westwood confessed to having a lot of good memories of the first DWC, which is hardly surprising considering the manner in which he dominated the tournament on the way to overhauling Rory McIlroy to claim the Race to Dubai.

That big-money double which was worth US$2.75 million (Dh10.1m) is just out of Westwood's reach the second time around as injury has left him too far behind Martin Kaymer going into the concluding $7.5m event.

A retention of his DWC title is well within his sights, however, and Westwood, still not totally fit after his calf muscle problem, has his sights set on more glory.

He was cautious about overstating his case, though. "I have to be careful this week not to get caught up in trying to achieve what I achieved last year, because it was a fairly special tournament and I played near flawless golf, " he said.

"Getting caught up in that, I could really set my expectations too high for this week. Over the next day or so, I've got to formulate another game plan to try and make it as good as last year's."

Westwood knows that he will surrender his top European ranking on Sunday evening to either Kaymer or Graeme McDowell, who occupies second place in the Race to Dubai.

There is also a possibility that he could lose his status as best player on the planet.

For that to happen Kaymer must either win the tournament or finish second. Victory would mean Westwood must finish second or joint second with one other player to retain the top ranking; a runner-up place for Kaymer here would leave Westwood requiring a finish anywhere in the top 27 to stay as No 1.

Westwood made it clear that having been the man who finally toppled Tiger Woods from the perch, he is not going to give it up without a fight.

"Tiger congratulated me in China a couple of weeks ago and said I've deserved to be world No 1 because I've played so consistently and played well in the big events.

"There's a lot more attention. There is a big difference between one of the best in the world and the best in the world. And that brings a lot more responsibility, because I'm representing golf now rather than just myself and the Tour."

The defending DWC champion insists that he "doesn't give a monkey's" about those who consider him an unworthy successor to the all-conquering Woods, who has 14 major championships under his belt and a hunger for more.

"People have come out of nowhere to win majors," said Westwood, who has been close on several occasions to ending his wait for a first. "But you can't come out of nowhere to be No 1. That is all about consistency in being the best player over a prolonged spell."

wjohnson@thenational.ae

What: Dubai World Championship
When: Tomorrow-Sunday
Where: Earth Course, Dubai
Who: Competitors of Race to Dubai
Timing: 7.30am start
Tickets: Register for free admission for the whole event at www.dubaiworldchampionship.com