Lee Westwood has never won three successive tournaments before, but he has the opportunity here at the Volvo World Match Play Championship. The Englishman is aware it might very well take such a feat to ensure he tees it up next week in his homeland still as the world No 1.
Such is the form of Luke Donald, the world No 2, that the match play's propensity for volatility can surely be dismissed. Even this far out it is eminently possible to envisage a Sunday final featuring the top two seeds. It would be a climax deserving of a grand 54-year-old tournament which makes such a welcome return to the golfing calendar after a one-year absence.
Certainly the field is a credit to the organisers, who give the former Wentworth spectacular a second visit to this dramatic course on the Costa del Sol. With only Phil Mickelson missing, there are five of the world's top six in attendance, which is actually one more than was at last week's "fifth major", the Players Championship. As Westwood pointed out, that says much about the strength of European golf, although he was keen to narrow down the excellence. "Luke said 'England should be proud' and he's quite right," said the 38-year-old. "It's the first time a country other than America has had one-two in the world. If that was the case in tennis, it would probably get more publicity than golf."
Westwood is optimistic his countryfolk will come out to show their appreciation at next week's PGA Championship at Wentworth. "Hopefully, we'll have a typically balmy spring and there will be 100,000 there. Next week's going to be one of the strongest fields the PGA will ever have. If that doesn't get them out, nothing will."
A win here for either Donald or Westwood would help. The pair must negotiate not only a challenging course but also a somewhat complex format which sees the 24 players split into eight groups of three. The eight bottom-placed players will not advance to the weekend, in which the 16 remaining pros will play knock-out. It means the victor could play 72 holes, or more, in two days, and stamina will be a factor.
Westwood will look to translate his peerless Ryder Cup play into the individual match-play arena and continue the run that has seen him prevail in Indonesia and Korea. First up is Denmark's Anders Hansen today.
World Match Play draw
A L Westwood, A Hansen, A Baddeley
B L Donald, R Moore, R Fisher
C M Kaymer, YE Yang, Noh Seung-yul
D G McDowell, L Oosthuizen, J Vegas
E R McIlroy, R Goosen, N Colsaerts
F P Casey, A Quiros, S Kjeldsen
G C Schwartzel, M A Jimenez, J Edfors
H F Molinari, I Poulter, P Lawrie
Round robin top two qualify from each group. Last 16 & quarter-finals Saturday. Semi-finals & final Sunday.
Today's group matches (GB & Irl unless stated): F Molinari (It) v I Poulter C Schwartzel (SA) v M A Jimenez (Sp) P Casey v A Quiros (SP) R McIlroy v R Goosen (SA) G McDowell v L Oosthuizen (SA) M Kaymer (Ger) v Y E Yang (Kor) L Donald v R Moore (US) L Westwood v A Hansen (Den).