Made for TV special: World's top three 'drawn' together in the desert
Westwood, Kaymer and Woods break fresh ground on European Tour with their glamour three-ball
Wednesday 09 February 2011
one, two, three is as easy as abc for the Desert Classic organisers. For the first time in European Tour history, the top trio in the world rankings will play alongside each other here. So, tomorrow and Friday, Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer will go eye to eye with Tiger.
Of course, this showdown of the current golfing trinity provides further evidence – if anybody out there is naive enough to still require some – that the "draws" in professional golf events aren't completely random. And it also adds more weight to the suspicion that television is the game's master.
The Independent understands this veritable big top of a marquee three-ball was fixed at the behest of Sky Sports. Indeed, the powers that already decided were kind enough to eventually let the tournament officials know of the historic grouping. There were an absurd few hours yesterday when everybody knew it, but nobody in authority could confirm it. Perhaps they were just checking Woods was OK sharing the fairways with the two Euros who have dared leapfrog him while his head has been buried in his hands.
"It would be fantastic for the tournament and for people watching – if that draw were to happen," said Westwood with a wink. "It's what people would like to see. And for the European Tour, itself, having the top two in the rankings against the player who's dominated the game over the last 15 years would be great. We want to be making our game look as attractive and glitzy as possible. This is the ideal way."
With his No 1 spot up for grabs for both of his rivals, Westwood is correct in that regard. And it is hardly a surprise or a sin that TV broadcasters have issued their demands. No regular event on the European Tour has boasted the world's top three in 17 years and Europe haven't had the world's top two since Nick Faldo and Bernhard Langer in 1993. Again there is an English-German battle for the summit; yet now there also happens to be the greatest-ever desperate to replant his flag. It is a delicious situation given yet more spice by Woods' form.
He arrived at the Majlis Course yesterday on the back of a seasonal opener at his beloved Torrey Pines, which saw him start so promisingly (69-69) and finish so miserably (74-75). If his life has been a work in progress since the sex scandal, then so too has his game, which he somewhat bizarrely vowed to overhaul in the grand remaking of Tiger Woods. It is the current state of his professional existence that every tournament – if not every round, every shot – has assumed critical importance. Naturally it is an illusion, but the illusion will inevitably seem more real than ever in this desert.
Westwood and Kaymer both deny wanting to kick sand in Tiger's face. Don't believe it. But do believe that Woods would love to show his supposed superiors exactly who remains boss. "I still know Tiger as a player who does not like failure," said his close friend Mark O'Meara, one of the 135 other golfers helping make up the numbers. "He wants it as bad as anybody. But is he going to dominate like he once did? Maybe yes, but probably not. Because other players have all stepped up their games a lot."
While Kaymer has indeed proceeded to leap forward this year (the USPGA champion's eight-shot win in Abu Dhabi three weeks ago was, dare we say, "Tigeresque") Westwood's game has seemingly taken a few steps backwards – 64th in Abu Dhabi, missed cut in Qatar last week. The 37-year-old claims to have relocated his rhythm. "My game feels like it's almost ready to go this week," he said.
If it is, Westwood will fancy pulling further away from Woods, the man whose five-year reign he ended last October. Certainly he will not feel overawed by his playing partner. Well, not Woods anyway. In the last two campaigns he has been paired with him in two majors and in those four rounds outscored him in three and tied him in the other.
It is rather different for Kaymer. Remarkably the 26-year-old has yet to enjoy the pleasure of Woods' competitive company. But he has every right to be looking forward to the experience with expectancy rather than trepidation.
"I've wanted to play with him since I watched him on TV win the 1997 Masters," said Kaymer. "But I don't know why I should be nervous. He's a human being. We just hope that he comes back to his form, because, yes, now Lee and me are Nos 1 and 2, but in every golfer's mind, he's the best in the world. It would be fantastic if he can go back to where he was and then we can challenge him."
Fairways' finest: How the top three match up
Date of birth 24 April 1973
Place of birth Worksop, Nottinghamshire
Turned professional 1993
Current world ranking 1
Weeks at No 1 15
Professional wins 32
Majors won 0
Wins in last 12 months 2
Career prize money £22.5m
Best Desert Classic finish 2nd (2010)
Hobbies Nottingham Forest FC, snooker, cars
Date of birth 28 December 1984
Place of birth Düsseldorf, Germany
Nickname The Germanator
Turned professional 2005
Current world ranking 2
Weeks at No 1 0
Professional wins 9
Majors won 1
Wins in last 12 months4
Career prize money £8.8m
Best Desert Classic finish 2nd (2008)
Hobbies Bayern Munich FC, go-karting
Date of birth 30 December 1975
Place of birth Cypress, California
Turned professional 1996
Current world ranking 3
Weeks at No 1 623
Professional wins 82
Majors won 14
Wins in last 12 months 0
Career prize money £70.6m
Best Desert Classic finish 1st (2008, 2006)
Hobbies Undecided due to lifestyle changes
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