Sports : Westwood tops as Woods is unseated

Lee Westwood's consecration on Sunday as the world's top golfer bears testament to the consistency and sheer perseverance of the popular and down-to-earth Englishman.

Typically, his capture of the world No 1 spot from Tiger Woods was a low-key affair, with Westwood not even playing this week as he recovers from a calf muscle injury that has dogged him for the last two months.

Ideally he would have wanted to take the top spot on the course, but the vagaries of the rolling two-year system operated by the world rankings meant he did not have to wait until then.

"I'll take it any way," the 37-year-old commented last week on the prospect of topping the rankings while not actually playing. "I've had a great year up until getting injured (even after that he came second at The Open).

"Look at all of the world ranking points I've won – I was leading that by a mile before I got my injury.

"It's something I've always dreamed of and it would be great if it happened."

DRAMATIC SLUMP IN FORM

Such dizzy heights are all a long way from nine years ago when Westwood's form had slumped so dramatically that his world ranking had fallen outside the top 250.

Many golf observers were left puzzled by this abrupt about-turn in the fortunes of a golfer who had signalled his precocious talent by ending Colin Montgomerie's seven-year run as European Order of Merit winner in 2000 and rising to world No 4.

Westwood took an extended break from the game in late 2001 following the birth of his first son and underwent a drastic overhaul of his swing, employing the talents of golfing guru David Leadbetter.

It took a while though for him to reap the benefits of all his hard work and, despite playing a starring role every two years in the Ryder Cup clashes with the United States, Westwood had to wait until 2007 to establish himself back inside the world top 50, largely due to a crucial win in the British Masters.

Since then, Westwood has gone from strength to strength. looking fitter and more confident with each year.

ELUSIVE MAJOR

Climbing back into the world top 10, he looked set to finally win a major, but that milestone has agonisingly eluded him over the last two years as he tied for third at both the British Open and US PGA in 2009 before taking the runner-up spot at this year's Masters and British Open.

Westwood's Ryder Cup skipper Montgomerie though scoffed at suggestions that Westwood was unworthy of the No 1 spot because he has not yet won a major.

"There's a lot of talk about Lee not having won a major so how can he be No 1, but that didn't interest me when I was No 2 in the world and I was trying to get to Greg Norman who was No 1 at the time."

Holding on to the top spot though, could be a tough task, Montgomerie believes.

"Once you are No 1 you want to stay there, and you've got to improve because the standard behind you is improving," he said.

"It might be the end of Tiger's reign for a limited period, but I don't think he will be very happy about being two or three in the world."

Westwood's reign as world No 1, the first for a European golfer since Nick Faldo in 1994, could be short-lived.

Both he and Woods will be in action at next week's star-studded HSBC Champions Trophy in Shanghai with Germany's Martin Kaymer and Phil Mickelson also in the hunt to top the rankings.

Previous golf world number ones prior to Lee Westwood:

Tiger Woods (USA) 623 weeks
Greg Norman (AUS) 331 weeks
Nick Faldo (ENG) 98 weeks
Seve Ballesteros (ESP) 61 weeks
Ian Woosnam (WAL) 50 weeks
Nick Price (ZIM) 44 weeks
Vijay Singh (FIJ) 32 weeks
Fred Couples (USA) 16 weeks
David Duval (USA) 15 weeks
Ernie Els (RSA) 9 weeks
Bernhard Langer (GER) 3 weeks
Tom Lehman (USA) 1 week


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