Tight at the top as hot Donald puts pressure on Westwood

World No 1 heads for Korea this week with his compatriot in pursuit in the rankings. James Corrigan reports on an intriguing race
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The Independent Online

The reaction in certain sections of the American media was depressingly inevitable, but when Lee Westwood flies into Korea today he is guaranteed a hero's welcome. The Englishman will be the first incumbent world No 1 ever to play in the country.

Yet such is the claustrophobia at the top of the rankings, Westwood will realise this week's Ballantine's Championship in Seoul will be far more than a hand-shaking, back-slapping exercise. Indeed, if he is to retain the mantle he prised back off Martin Kaymer on Sunday he will likely have to figure highly in the European Tour event.

Luke Donald certainly has his countryman in his sights after coming so close to becoming Britain's fourth world No 1. Only an inspired performance by Brandt Snedeker denied the 33-year-old on the third play-off hole at The Heritage at Hilton Head, South Carolina, on Sunday and Donald headed for this week's New Orleans Classic in the finest form of his career.

"Second sucks, but I'm going to allow myself 24 hours to be disappointed," said Donald, who spent most of that time in a South Carolina airport after his private jet to Louisiana was cancelled.

"There was a lot at stake out there and as disappointing as it was, I'm going to take a lot of positives forward to New Orleans. I'll be back. I know I've got a lot more left in the tank. If I keep sticking to what I'm doing the victories will come and hopefully, so will that No 1 ranking."

The stats back up Donald's confidence. This was his fourth top five in his past six events and his 10th top 10 in his past 11. As he said, there is "a lot at stake" in reaching No 1 – Donald's sponsorship bonuses are believed to run into millions. But as the calendar heads into major season this will not be his primary focus.

"No, No 1 is not the final goal," said Donald. "It's a constant travel. You're constantly moving forward in this game. To be No 1 would be great, but it's not everything. It would be a tick in the box and would be something great to tell the grandkids about in 30 years – and say you were the best in the world."

For now, Westwood holds that honour, but he knows that he will need to build on his Indonesian Masters win. With the likes of Dustin Johnson, Ian Poulter, Ernie Els and Y E Yang in Korea the challenge starts now.

"I'm delighted to be going to the Ballantine's Championship as world No 1," said Westwood yesterday. "It makes me very proud being top of the rankings and I'm sure Korea's knowledgeable golf fans are aware of the hard work and dedication it takes to reach that position."

If only every American journalist could boast the same. They seem to think the rankings are worked out over one week, not two years, and that Westwood owes his re-elevation purely to winning what was described a "C-list" event in Asia. No doubt the Jakarta field was not the strongest, but some of the criticism verged on the racist as they discounted his opponents and ridiculed their names.

The worst culprit called Westwood "charisma-starved". The 38-year-old is many things, but as one of the more candid players his charisma happens to be plentiful. Westwood also happens to be world No 1. The only question being posed should not be "why?", but "for how long?"

Kaymer is not playing this week, so the least English golf fans should hope for is that on Sunday evening, for the first time in the 25-year history of the rankings, the country can boast the world Nos 1 and 2. How would America feel about that?