Chasing pack is just one summer away from catching Tiger, says Poulter

Outlandish Englishman sets out today with a bold point to prove at PGA Championship

There was a time, not so many burst fire hydrants ago, when Ian Poulter would talk about the possibility of challenging Tiger Woods at the top of the rankings and the golfing world would fall around laughing, screeching how the deluded soul's claims happened to be even more outlandish than his trousers. No longer.

When announcing yesterday that he could become world No 1 this summer, Poulter effected only the odd raised eyebrow in a roomful of agreeing nods. This recognition was in large part down to the forlorn state of Woods at the moment and also because Poulter was not merely referring to himself. This was no rerun of the flamboyant Englishman's famous "when I reach my full potential it will be just me and Tiger" declaration of a few years ago. This was more "just me and eight others and Tiger".

"It's closer at the top of the rankings than it ever was because of all the points Tiger has dropped," said Poulter. "If they play great for three or four months, get a couple of wins and a couple of big finishes, I can see anybody in the top 10 getting to the points that Tiger is at now – including myself."

Poulter was speaking on the eve of the BMW PGA Championship, an event which tees off at the West Course boasting five of the world's top 10. Four of them happen to hail from the United Kingdom (Ernie Els being the other). Yet with respect to Poulter, of this quartet Lee Westwood holds the most realistic chance of usurping Woods. On Monday the 37-year-old awoke to find himself in the career-high position of No 3 and with the tag of "world's best" in tantalising focus. Although Westwood would be oblivious to exactly how tantalising.

Unlike Poulter and many other of his fellow professionals, Westwood does not include an algorithm book as a fixture in his luggage set so will not be aware of the complex calculations. Victory here in the European Tour's flagship tournament will earn him not only £640,000 but more importantly enough ranking points to bring him within a top-two finish at next month's US Open of the No 1 spot. Plainly that is dependent on the form of Woods and Phil Mickelson, but listening to Westwood yesterday it was clear he does not believe that anyone right now can depend on the form of Woods or even of Mickelson.

"Tiger's performance and schedule are unpredictable at the moment, aren't they?" said the man who has finished third, third, second in the last three majors. "We have all seen that the last few weeks. Phil is obviously world class and already has a major this year, but his performances are very much up and down as well. And the world rankings are all about consistency, so I suppose yeah, No 1 and No 2 are more achievable than they have been in the last few years."

Westwood is the most consistent in the world, although his chances of making a few giant strides at Wentworth are belittled by his inconsistency on the West Course. But then are they? As Graeme McDowell said in yesterday's Independent "this is not Wentworth but Wentworth Mark II". "Any changes were going to be good changes for me," said Westwood. "I just always struggled on the greens here for some reason. I could never really figure it out, but some courses just don't fit your eye sometimes."

That was then, this is now. Els has been employed by the Wentworth owner, Richard Caring, to redesign Harry Colt's masterpiece and much of the talk here in the build-up has been the almost complete personality change the 82-year-old course has undergone. Not all of the chat has been positive and yesterday Paul Casey – yet another English member of the top 10 – dared venture the opinion that the sacred layout should be protected from the radical intentions of millionaires.

By his own admission, Caring played a hands-on role in the alterations and many see danger in keen amateurs being let loose with a shovel. It was a subject Casey brought up with the Royal and Ancient chief executive, Peter Dawson, when running into him in the car park on Tuesday. "The idea I suggested was that maybe we should introduce some scheme for courses like we have for historic buildings in this country," he said. "I mean Ernie's beautiful house here on the 16th. He owns it, but it doesn't give him the right to paint it pink and put a tin roof on it. When you're an owner of a Grade II listed building, it's much like you're the caretaker for the next generation."

As the defending champion, he more than anyone may bemoan the total makeover, especially as he and Ross Fisher put on such a show last year. However, Casey is holding back judgement on the overhaul – and, in particular, the new 18th complete with water feature – until he sees it in operation. Perhaps he is wise to display such diplomacy as here this week the assembled pros have already been warned to "get real" and understand the perilous state of global finance and the disastrous effect it could have on their profession. The demand was made by Johann Rupert, one of golf's best-known backers, who was the guest speaker at the European Tour's annual dinner on Tuesday.

The South African, whose company is responsible for the Dunhill Links Championship and who is chairman of the South African PGA Tour, told the players of the responsibilities they have to sponsors. Rupert did so in no uncertain terms, also pleading with Rory McIlroy not to spend his winnings on any more Lamborghinis but to put the money in the bank. The 21-year-old welcomed the advice, as did Westwood.

"We would have to have a very sheltered view as a Tour and as professional golfers to think that sponsors were always going to be around forever and always want to stick money into golf," he said. "It would be great if we all got together in a room as a Tour and let Johann explain what we can give extra. The players coming fresh out here need a bit of education." Westwood is planning to give them a lesson of a different variety these next four days.

*McIlroy has been buoyed by messages of congratulations from three of the biggest names in golf. The 21-year-old Northern Irishman, a winner at Quail Hollow in America earlier this month, was at home when letters arrived on the same morning from Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, to go with one from Seve Ballesteros.

Four from Wentworth with Tiger in their sights

Ian Poulter

World ranking 6 Age 34

Has already exceeded everybody's expectation by entering the world top five, albeit only briefly, with victory in February's World Match Play in Tucson – everybody's but his, that is. Nobody extracts more from his talent than this fantastic short-game player.

Lee Westwood

WR 3 Age 37

The most consistent golfer in the world with top three finishes in the last three majors. The Englishman has only Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson above him in the rankings. A win at Wentworth would bring the "world's best" mantle within one good display.

Paul Casey

WR 8 Age 32

Advanced to the world's top three, himself, last year and but for a rib injury might even still be up there. On his day Casey is capable of anything and this time 12 months ago the days were arriving with giddying haste. Is quietly returning to that form.

Rory McIlroy

WR 9 Age 21

His 62 at the Quail Hollow Championship three weeks ago was the finest final round of this and many other golfing seasons. His maiden American title was so good that Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Seve Ballesteros all wrote him with their congratulations.

Selected first-round tee times at BMW PGA Championship

(GB & Irl unless stated):

0720 D Howell, P Hedblom (Swe), A Wall

0730 G McDowell, E Molinari (It), A Hansen (Den)

0740 A Quiros (Sp), I Poulter, M Kaymer (Ger)

0750 E Els (SA), R Davies, R Fisher

0800 Fr Molinari (Ita, S Hansen (Den), P Harrington

0810 S-Y Noh (S Kor), D Clarke, M Manassero (It)

0820 T Bjorn (Den), M Fraser (Aus), P McGinley

0830 D Horsey, B Rumford (Aus), D Willett

0845 O Fisher, S Gallacher, J Edfors (Swe)

0855 R Gonzalez (Arg), R Rock, R Finch

0905 B Lane, P Lawrie, G Fernandez-Castaño (Sp)

1120 B Dredge, M Erlandsson (Swe), M Foster

1150 L Oosthuizen (SA), T Jaidee (Thai), J Rose

1200 R Karlsson (Swe), R McIlroy, L Donald

1215 L Westwood, O Wilson, H Stenson (Swe)

1225 C Schwartzel (SA), P Casey, M-A Jimenez (Sp)

1235 J Morrison, C Montgomerie, S Kjeldsen (Den)

1245 N Dougherty, F Andersson Hed (Swe), P Hanson (Swe)

1255 R McGowan, S Dyson, G Maybin

1305 S Dodd, C Wood, T Aiken (SA)

1315 I Garrido (Sp), N Fasth (Swe), K Ferrie

1335 R Jacquelin (Fr), P Marksaeng (Thai), P Price

1345 M Siem (Ger), D Lee (NZ), P Martin (Sp)

1400 R Cabrera Bello (Sp), T Levet (Fr), A Kang (US)

1410 J Donaldson, S Webster, G Storm

1420 J-F Lucquin (Fr), S Lowry, M Jonzon (Swe)

1430 T Goya (Arg), D Drysdale, C Nilsson (Swe)

1450 J Randhawa (Ind), A Raitt, M Ilonen (Fin)

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat