x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Westwood should enjoy it for as long as it lasts

Lee Westwood's time as the world No 1 may be short-lived but he should milk it in Shanghai.

Lee Westwood takes a shot during the pro-am yesterday prior to the start of the HSBC Champions at Sheshan International Golf Club in Shanghai, China.
Lee Westwood takes a shot during the pro-am yesterday prior to the start of the HSBC Champions at Sheshan International Golf Club in Shanghai, China.

It is ironic that Lee Westwood was able to take the world No 1 ranking from Tiger Woods at a time when the Englishman was inactive due to his nagging calf problem.

One wonders whether Westwood would have been up to the task if he had been required to do it on the golf course.

Phil Mickelson, acknowledged as the strongest threat to Woods's throne for longer than he cares to remember, could not deliver on his days of reckoning - a dozen times the big left-handed American was presented with the opportunity and each time he came up short.

Similarly, Martin Kaymer, the German who has gone onwards and upwards since winning the first of his two Abu Dhabi championships nearly three years ago, was also found wanting when his chance to reach the rankings summit arrived last week.

Kaymer, who had got into that position by winning three tournaments in a row, including his first major at the US PGA Championship, suffered in Valderrama, Spain, a repeat of the kind of stage fright that saw him under-achieve in the Ryder Cup.

The aura of Woods might be fading after a winless spell brought about by a loss of form, fitness and personal credibility, but his reputation still somehow manages to influence the performances of those seeking to usurp him during 281 consecutive weeks at the summit.

Westwood was immune from the Woods effect as he sat convalescing, counting the days to the fulfilment of a lifetime ambition which only Kaymer could have wrecked with a top-two finish last weekend.

It is not Westwood's fault that the complexity of the world ranking system brings him a hollow honour of being acclaimed as world No 1 without having won a major championship.

Computerised positions are determined by results attained in two years of tournament play.

During those two years, Westwood has been a model of consistency and his outstanding all-round form indicates that the major triumph that has thus far frustratingly eluded him is not too far away.

Those who saw him rise to a peak in last year's Dubai World Championship with a victory which also clinched the top prize in the year-long Race to Dubai, will have no trouble acclaiming him as world No 1 as he returns to competitive action today in the HSBC Champions tournament.

Westwood will be wise to milk the occasion for all it is worth when he steps on to the tee in Shanghai alongside Mickelson, one of three players - Woods and Kaymer are the others - who are in a position to depose him after only a single week.

Not only will the world rankings occupy the minds of Westwood and Kaymer, the two men are also focusing sharply on what could still be an exciting finish to the Race to Dubai.

Kaymer looked to have that title in the bag until his own collapse last weekend coincided with a return to the winner's enclosure of his closest pursuer and fellow Ryder Cup winner Graeme McDowell, the US Open champion.

McDowell's Spanish success enabled the Northern Irishman to cut Kaymer's lead on the European Tour money list to €529,000 (Dh2.7 million) and extend his own advantage over third-placed Westwood to €760,000.

With big prizes on offer this week and Singapore next week before the richest of the lot takes place at Jumeirah Golf Estates, there is every chance that Kaymer could be caught and overtaken on the closing Golden Mile on Greg Norman's Earth Course on Sunday, November 28.

wjohnson@thenational.ae