'I am the best on the planet. It is so satisfying to say that' - Westwood
Britain and Europe awake today atop of the golfing world for the first time in 16 years as Lee Westwood officially displaces Tiger Woods from the No 1 position he has held for 281 weeks.
Westwood's accession was assured yesterday when Martin Kaymer failed to finish in the top two of the Andalucia Masters. The German – who had won his three previous tournaments including his first major, the USPGA – trailed in outside the top 20. This means Westwood, who has only played two events in the last three months because of a calf injury, becomes only the third Briton, after Nick Faldo and Ian Woosnam to head the order.
Westwood discovered his career-feat while shopping in a supermarket for "rubber gloves and mashed potatoes". When he learned of his rise on the European Tour website it was hardly a basket-dropper as Kaymer had never really been a factor in the Valderrama event won by the US Open champion, Graeme McDowell. But that did not stop the afternoon party, as Westwood was joined by 20 guests including his parents at his home in Worksop.
"This is the most satisfying moment in my career," he said last night. "When you are growing up and people say what do you want to achieve, everyone says I want to be the best in the world. Right at this moment I can show people the world rankings and say I am the best on the planet. It is a fairly large achievement when you look at people who have gone before me. The last Brit to do it was Nick – definitely the best Englishman and arguably the best European there has ever been. It's a fairly exclusive category."
The new status is understood to be worth millions in sponsorship bonuses to the 37-year-old, who experienced a nose-pinching slump eight years ago when he fell from being fourth in the world to outside top 250. Of course, his story is not only unlikely because of that comeback from plus-foured oblivion but also because of the identity of the sportsman he happens to be usurping. Since relinquishing No 1 to Vijay Singh in 2005, Woods has retained the coveted tag for a record period. Westwood's achievement in overhauling the 14-time major winner will inevitably be downplayed in some quarters because of the Woods extra-marital scandal, which reduced the most acclaimed athlete on the planet to the most ridiculed.
Yet Westwood's credentials are absolutely worthy, despite the absence of a major on his CV. In the last 18 months, Westwood has notched up two major runner-up placings as wells as two thirds. Furthermore he has lifted his second European Order of Merit and his first US title in over a decade in Memphis in June. But it is his consistency which ultimately rubber-stamps his validity. Westwood has collected more than 20 top-10s in the past two years.
There will inevitably be raised eyebrows at his elevation, especially as he has spent most of his time on the treatment table these last few months. But the overwhelming likelihood is he would have already have demoted Woods if he hadn't suffered the ruptured calf muscle in July. For so long it seemed that, while Woods was struggling to recover his swing and his psyche, it would be Phil Mickelson who would relegate Woods but the left-hander wasted more than 10 chances to do so.
When Kaymer then won last month's Dunhill Links Championship, a week after he and Westwood had proved so influential in regaining the Ryder Cup, it became clear that one of them would fill the European void which stretched back to Nick Faldo in 1994. Kaymer was the first peer to send a congratulatory text yesterday, something that Westwood said "means a lot to me". He had yet to hear from Woods, although will be seeing him at the WGC-HSBC Champions event in Shanghai this week.
Westwood flies out to China knowing that Woods, Kaymer and Mickelson have the chance of toppling his reign in the very first week. "This event is going to be very exciting for the game of golf with four people having the chance to get to No 1," he said. "It's all very well getting to No 1 but it is actually hanging in there and holding on to it. My ankle is a good as it has felt for three or four months, although it's still not quite right. I am going to be very rusty but I have been hitting balls and hitting them well. Being world No 1 and defending that will give me that extra incentive."
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