x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Westwood gets leg up from 'Lefty'

Phil Mickelson’s inability to depose the world No 1 Tiger Woods paves way for injured rival Lee Westwood

Lee Westwood, pictured feeling his injured calf, is poised to become world No 1.
Lee Westwood, pictured feeling his injured calf, is poised to become world No 1.

Tiger Woods has lost his dignity, his form and some of his aura this year but, somehow, he has kept hold of the world No 1 ranking.

For that we can blame Phil Mickelson, the American who has held the No 2 ranking longer than anyone else in history but failed miserably to take that extra step up the ladder.

Woods's monopoly of the top spot for an unbroken 280 weeks and a career total of 622 weeks will come to an end on Monday week, but it will not be Mickelson who moves to the top of the pack.

On 13 consecutive occasions this season the left-hander, who has demonstrated in winning four major championships and 42 other tournaments during an 18-year career that he is a man for the big occasion, has had a mathematical chance of capturing the top ranking.

Thirteen times he has failed, most spectacularly when posting final rounds of 78 and 76 respectively in the Firestone and TPC events. He now runs the risk of never getting there because a new successor to Woods is finally guaranteed at the end of this month.

Curiously after so many episodes of Mickelson coming up short on the course, Lee Westwood is on the verge of claiming that honour while he lays idle, resting his damaged calf muscle in advance of a reappearance in the WGC Champions tournament in Shanghai on November 4.

The vagaries of the ranking system which takes into account players' averages over a two-year period mean Westwood, who recently rose to No 2 ahead of Mickelson, gains ground on Woods while they are both inactive and will be named only the 13th world No 1 since the rankings were introduced 24 years ago.

Unless, that is, the in-form Martin Kaymer continues a remarkable hot streak of form and wins his fourth successive event - the Andalucia Masters which takes place at Valderrama next week.

Kaymer is capable of doing just that and the German is certainly in the mood after his US PGA triumph propelled him to subsequent victories in Holland and Scotland.

Surely, however, Westwood represents a more fitting and deserving candidate to take the accolade from Woods - even if it turns out to be just for a single week because Woods, Mickelson and Kaymer would all be in a position to overtake him if they take their expected places on the Shanghai tee.

Westwood's performance in last year's inaugural Dubai World Championship (DWC), which he won so emphatically to roar past Rory McIlroy on the final lap of the Race to Dubai, made him unquestionably Europe's top golfer in 2009.

He has enhanced that reputation this year to the point where he was regarded as the on-course leader of Colin Montgomerie's European team who recently regained the Ryder Cup from their American rivals.

Westwood has been frustrated to have been cut down in his prime through injury - just as Woods was when he underwent corrective knee surgery in the aftermath of his 14th and last major title in the summer of 2008.

The Englishman has reacted to adversity by losing a little weight in the gym to get himself into what looks the best shape of his lengthy career and to ease the strain on his calf muscles.

Fitness permitting, Westwood promises to be the man to beat again when Europe's top 60 golfers assemble on Dubai's Earth Course in late November for the second staging of the $7.5m (Dh27.5m) DWC.

Richard Green, the experienced Australian, is the latest to earn the right to have a crack at deposing Westwood in Dubai.

Green, whose first success on the European Tour came in the 1997 Dubai Desert Classic, jumped more than 50 places in list of Race qualifiers after coming from seven strokes off the pace to win the Portugal Masters last weekend.

Green, who profited from the final round collapse of leader Pablo Martin to end a three-year tour drought, is now guaranteed a return trip to the UAE after rising to 22nd in a Race led comfortably by Kaymer.

Green was joined in belated weekend celebrations by Padraig Harrington, the three-time major champion, who went to Malaysia in an attempt to secure a first tournament win for more than two years and duly did so in the Johor Open.

It is good for the game that Harrington is back to winning ways, albeit in less than demanding company and the Irishman, 18th in the Race, will now be looking to figure in the $7.5m share-out which goes to the top 15 finishers in the year-long order of merit.

wjohnson@thenational.ae