The Last Word: Accept it, Westwood is best in world

When Worksop's finest ends Woods' 281-week reign as No 1 tomorrow, the whingers from across the pond must eat their words
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The Independent Online

Let's get one thing clear. If and when Lee Westwood displaces Tiger Woods as golf's world No 1 tomorrow, it will have absolutely nothing to do with the "vagaries of the ranking system". It will be the exact opposite.

The dictionary on my desk informs dolts like myself that a "vagary" is "an unexpected and inexplicable change". Westwood's accession has been trailed for weeks, if not months and – if Martin Kaymer does not produce a miracle and finish second at Valderrama today – would be about as unexpected on this particular Monday morning as congestion in Piccadilly Circus. Furthermore, as the ranking system is worked out with calculators and spreadsheets and not with wands and magic dust, it could be considered just as inexplicable.

Of course, none of this would or will stop the doubters trotting out the cliché to demerit Westwood's achievement in becoming Britain's third golfing No 1 and the first since 1994. As it happens, the grumblers are already in full whinge – which sort of disproves the "unexpected" element – and when it comes to the "inexplicable", the fact the biggest noise is coming from the United States is right up there with the two-times table.

Fancy that, the man who refuses to join the US Tour – also known as the centre of the golfing universe – being pilloried for ending the 281-week reign of Woods – also known as the centre of the centre of the golfing universe. No, Westwood will not be overly surprised to discover the odd grimace among the welcoming party waiting to greet him at the summit.

Even now, he has heard quite enough of the "V" word, although he would understandably be more offended with the "C" variety. "Controversial" seems to be the adjective of choice on the other side of the pond to describe Westwood's impending coronation. It's daft, they say, that a golfer who has had the brunt of three months off with an injury can find himself rising to the top spot; what a mockery, they scream, that a golfer who has won only once this year is hailed as the world's best player; "show us your major" they bellow, most vehemently.

Of course, this is just the hysterical view, but even his many admirers over there are damning Westwood, whether unwittingly or not, with the apparently unanimously held opinion that this is essentially all about the fall of Woods rather than the rise of anyone else. What an absurd argument that oh so conveniently disregards the true meaning of "vagary". Sportsmen and sportswomen come and go for a variety of reasons; some of them unexpected, some of them inexplicable. Whether it's age that gets the champion, or injuries, or fatigue, or foibles, none of them lasts forever. Except some experts seem to think Woods' status should be eternal or that, at the very least, the person daring to replace him should soar above him like Superman.

The truth is that the rankings, for whatever reason, were incepted to draw up a pecking order and identify the best player in the world, the second best, etc. The boffins soon realised this was a task almost as tricky as it was thankless and had to decide over what time span the players would be judged. By common consent – yes, even in America – two years is the fairest period to do so in a sport in which form can be so temporary.

Put crudely, that means points have to be taken off as well as put on and as soon as one realises this, one must also realise the hows and whys of Westwood's succession. To understand this, but then also to be baffled by it, is quite frankly disingenuous.

Over the last two years, Westwood has proved himself to be the world's best golfer. Even for all those obsessed with the majors, he has outshone the opposition. No one else can claim a big-stage consistency which has seen him notch up two runner-up placings in the three majors he played this year as well as the two third places which came last season.

In that time, he has also happened to win three titles on three different continents, one of which was America, and compile a staggering record of more than 20 top-10 finishes.

The deserving is in the detail, just where it should be in a system that cannot begin to deal with the emotive. It has nothing to do with Westwood's courageous comeback from a dramatic slump. That does not make him any more deserving in the rankings. And neither is it about 20-foot putts across the 18th green at the majors and victorious jigs or claims of immortality thereafter.

So much of the ranking system is about consistency and that is the "C" word which should be used whenever anyone discusses Westwood these next few days. It has been an inexorable and impressive grind to the top, which would have come a lot quicker but for his injury setback.

If anything can be confidently predicted in life, and certainly in the sporting crapshoot that is golf, then it is that Westwood would have carried on collecting ranking points in the last three months and taken Woods' mantle in what his critics pompously deem to be "the right way".

But there you are; a calf muscle unexpectedly and inexplicably ruptured and he was left to bemoan the vagaries of the human body. That much should be remembered when the rankings are published tomorrow morning. Perhaps it is a system with sentiment after all.