Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 December 2014

Lee Westwood a worthy number one

Lee Westwood and Tiger Woods' first encounter since they switched spots at the top of the world ranking was not exactly the momentous occasion some thought it might be here yesterday.

A pair of photographers crouched into position on the far end of the range at Sheshan International Golf Club, where Westwood was quietly hitting wedges and Woods was quickly approaching from the putting green.

“Westy... Billy,” Woods said to the new No 1 and his caddie, Billy Foster. Woods never stopped walking. “Tiger,” Westwood responded, turning his head briefly before settling over his next shot.

They have been friends for as long as they have been on their respective tours, and the exchange was similar to countless others. The only difference was the pecking order in the world rankings.

There has been much talk since Westwood ended 281-week reign on Monday, with Woods' former coach Butch Harmon, particularly scathing about the England's ascension.

Harmon said the ranking system “sucked”, before adding: “Did Westwood win a major this year or any year? I think not.”

In contrast, when asked whether Westwood was a worthy No 1, Woods said yesterday: “Absolutely. Look at well he's finished in the majors. He hasn't one won but he's come so close. He's been by the far the most consistent of the players in the majors the last two years and it's just a matter of time [until he wins a major] for Lee. He's made enormous leaps in his game.”

However, Woods is just one four who could ensure Westwood takes a leap backwards on Sunday. The top of golf is so congested at the moment that four players — Westwood, Woods, Martin Kaymer and Phil Mickelson — could end the week at No 1 without even winning this HSBC Championship.

If Steve Stricker and Jim Furyk had travelled over to China for this WGC event, they also would have had a shot at No 1.

It's possible that the highest finisher among Westwood, Woods and Kaymer will be crowned No 1, provided they are in the top 20.

Meanwhile, Mickelson needs to finish in the top two. Golf is no longer about birdies and bogeys these days, it requires a calculator as the maths is hellishly complex.

To kick off the festivities this week, the latest version of the “Fab Four” gathered on Shanghai's riverfront yesterday and touched swords in a photo opportunity to depict what organisers hope will be an epic battle for the summit.

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