x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Lee Westwood would not trade his No 1 ranking for a major title

World's top player happy despite major title continuing to elude him.

Lee Westwood, practising in Abu Dhabi yesterday, believes he will win a major if he deserves one. Jeff Topping / The National
Lee Westwood, practising in Abu Dhabi yesterday, believes he will win a major if he deserves one. Jeff Topping / The National

ABU DHABI // Graeme McDowell, Louis Oosthuizen, Martin Kaymer and Phil Mickelson all arrived in the capital this week with one of the golf's four major prizes adorning their trophy cabinets.

Lee Westwood is not in that group, but he believes he has something better - the world No 1 ranking.

Those five players head a stellar field of 126 that will tee off this morning in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship at the National Course, the opening event in the four-week Desert Swing.

Westwood insisted yesterday he is not concerned that a major title - the US Masters, the British Open, the US Open or the US PGA Championship - continues to elude him. He said he would not swap his top ranking for any of those trophies.

"I have been asked that quite a lot recently and the answer is definitely 'No'," Westwood said. "In sport, and especially golf, you get what you deserve. If I win a major then I will have deserved it.

"The aim is to put yourself in a position to win as often as possible. If I keep doing that then, with a bit of luck, my time will come."

Westwood said the calf injury that troubled him towards the end of the last season is healing as he strives to retain his No 1 status ahead of the US Masters, which Mickelson won last April for this fourth major championship.

Oosthuizen has also been handicapped of late by leg trouble. An ankle injury has kept him out of action for five weeks and he is wearing a protective brace until the end of February.

That problem contributed to a lean spell in the wake of his British Open victory last July, but he claimed his eighth career title in the African Open earlier this month and arrived in Abu Dhabi in a confident mood.

He finished joint second here two years ago and fifth last year. He regards the Desert Swing, the four events that conclude next month with the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, as an excellent lead up to the Masters.

"If somebody told me that I would win just one tournament in my life and it would be the Open, I would take it," Oosthuizen said. "But it would be nice if I could also get a Masters green jacket.

"The mentality definitely changes going into the big events if you have already won one. It's what you work for and you want more."

McDowell, last year's US Open winner, finished third in Hawaii two weeks ago in the opening event of the US PGA Tour. He shot a final-round 62 and just missed a play-off.

He said he plans to take a month-long break after the Abu Dhabi tournament. "I didn't have a whole lot of time off in the winter. Christmas flew by in a blur and then I was in Hawaii," he said. "I'm going to take four weeks off on holiday to recharge and get ready for a big spring and summer. You can play too much and I have played a lot and travelled a lot, so I am going to pace myself.

"I could easily continue right now, but I think I've got to be sensible for the important part of the season from the Masters through to the US PGA."

Kaymer, last year's US PGA winner, said his past success on the National Course will be a big advantage this week. He has won the tournament twice, including last year, and finished second once.

"I don't really have to think about what kind of club I have to hit on this hole, where do I have to place the ball when the pin is here or there," he said. "So, it's a lot of confidence and it's very comfortable for me to play here. It suits my eye."

Last year's major winners can keep a close eye on each other for the first two rounds this weekend. Kaymer and Oosthuizen will play alongside Padraig Harrington, and McDowell and Mickelson are in a group with Retief Goosen.

Westwood will play with Ryder Cup teammates Ian Poulter and Francesco Molinari.

* With agencies