Lee Westwood began life as world No 1 with a sparkling 66 in the HSBC Champions first round yesterday. The 37-year-old Briton, who ended Tiger Woods' 281-week reign at the summit last weekend, played through thepain of ankle and calf injuries to sit just one shot behind Italian Francesco Molinari at the top of the leader board.
Westwood, Woods, who started with a 68, Martin Kaymer and Phil Mickelson occupy the top four places in the rankings and a win for any one of them this week would guarantee the No 1 spot.
"I think the world rankings are reflective of how competitive world golf is at the moment. Nobody is out-and-out world No 1," said Westwood after playing his first competitive round since last month's Dunhill Links Championship. "I think that's partly to do with Tiger not having played quite so well this year and partly to do with Tiger having made everybody else elevate their game. Tiger's a victim almost of his own brilliance. We have all had to work harder and we have closed the gap, I guess."
Westwood said he was still not 100 per cent fit and applies iced cold packs to his ankle every night to aid the healing process. "As the round goes on, it starts to ache and I lose control and power a bit," he said. "I have to continually remind myself when I'm swinging out there to sort of reinforce it," he said.
"I like to go out there and just sort of freewheel and play with a clear mind and I have to sort of consciously think about it all the time."
Westwood, who offset a lone bogey with seven birdies, said he did not feel under any extra pressure to defend his new position as the man to beat. "I don't think I need to reinforce why I'm world No 1. I didn't really go out there with any particular thought to perform like the world No 1," he said. "I think you get there as a result of good performances but it's nice to show everybody there is a particular reason why I got to this stage. I think I did that today."
Woods shot a solid 68 to sit three shots behind Molinari in a tie for sixth, a stroke ahead of American compatriot and defending champion Mickelson and four clear of Germany's Kaymer. Woods overcame a first-hole bogey with five birdies.
"It felt good today. The things that I've been working on felt good. I hit a lot of good shots," Woods said.