x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Golf's new No 1 is playing the part

Lee Westwood and playing partner Ian Poulter drew a crowd thick enough to have caused a temporary clot between the second green and the third tee.

Lee Westwood, left, shares a light moment with Billie Foster, his caddie, during the second round  in Dubai yesterday.
Lee Westwood, left, shares a light moment with Billie Foster, his caddie, during the second round in Dubai yesterday.

In the old and immovable paradigm just about every living human could recognise the world's No 1 golfer, his name "Tiger" as familiar as that of some extended family members, his expression unmistakable as he navigated fairways and foliage with a cold stare.

Now that we occupy a new and volatile paradigm, the world No 1 player turns out to be that guy from Worksop, England, over there across the fairway with the cream-coloured trousers, the bright-orange shirt and the belt buckle designed to make an understated "W".

In fact, just yesterday at the Dubai World Championship, he is the one marooned off the left side of the third fairway, an aggressive tree all but enveloping a 37-year-old body bulky enough to hint at a rugby past.

Still, even way out in the hinterlands at the Earth Course at Jumeirah Golf Estates, just in front of the houses still draped in scaffolding in one of scaffolding's all-time favourite cities, Lee Westwood and playing partner Ian Poulter drew a crowd thick enough to have caused a temporary clot between the second green and the third tee.

"I'm a bit old at it now," Westwood would say of being ranked No 1. "I've been at it a month."

For now, he is occluded in vegetation as fans eyeball a No 1 player who did not start golf until the age of 13 and who had been recognisable for ages but mostly to real enthusiasts.

One Briton in from Doha looks at Westwood and does not quite see a No 1 player.

He sees an excellent golfer who inherited the perch only because Tiger Woods fumbled it in a torrent of personal drama.

He thinks that if somebody had whooshed upward and swiped the spot from Woods, that player would be No 1.

When he sees Woods, he still sees the No 1 player, and he reckons Woods will resume the roost.

One Briton in from London mulls the question of whether he looks at Westwood and sees the No 1 player and comes up with a carefully reasoned answer: "Almost."

He admires the consistency, that prerequisite for any throne-sitter, but he notes that Westwood's putting has fled the premises in the paramount moments. As with most anyone in possession of a heart and mind, he hopes Westwood will win a major tournament, but he wonders if the golfer's wish to do so might encroach upon too excessive for doing so.

Do two visiting Swedish fans in the sunshine view Westwood and view a No 1 player?

"Absolutely," one says. They react as if there can be no question. They regard the consistency itself as paramount, and they feel glad that the European Tour has a top-ranked player even if their ultimate support tilts toward the Sweden-born.

Viewpoints abound in these still-volatile stages since Woods finally surrendered every fraction of a yawning lead.

It still sounds newfangled to hear the public-address announce Westwood's emergence up the 18th with: ". . . the world No 1 from England, Lee Westwood!"

Whooping cheers ensue. Westwood himself does notice a chunk of fresh difference from galleries.

"It's strange, really," he said. "I don't want to say there's more respect, because I've always felt like I had a lot of respect from all of the galleries and I've always tried to give a lot back.

"But I suppose you get a lot more recognition, and you get people who don't play golf coming up to you that know who you are.

"So I suppose I'm more recognisable now, I guess. It's strange to really quantify it and put it into words, really. It gives you a good feeling, obviously."

One way you know he is No. 1 is he plays like it, shoots 67 even while claiming to have made "a pig's ear" of No. 14, looks a threat for the weekend even as his cantankerous calf has demanded time off during recent months. "He's fresh," Poulter said. "You know what, he's a great player, and if you're going to practise in your off weeks and also rest up, you can come out and pick your tournaments to play fresh, then you can be very dangerous."

And another way you know he is No 1 is that over there across the fairway on the par 4 third, from the impolite clutches of that tree, he has banged it out somehow to a perch on the right side of the green, and next he has chipped that thing in for a birdie and a roar considerable for the hinterlands.

The No 1 player in the world?

 

cculpepper@thenational.ae