Lee Westwood (Left) and Phil Mickelson (Getty Images)
Lee Westwood will spend his first week as World Number One competing with the finest golfers on the planet as a world-class field assembles for the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai.
Among his rivals at Sheshan International Golf Club is American Tiger Woods, the man he deposed on Sunday after a reign of nearly five and a half years, and the player who almost made it to the top spot following a sublime run of form, US PGA Champion Martin Kaymer.
The German needed to win or finish second at the Andalucia Valderrama Masters to ascend to the summit but came up just short, leaving Westwood, who did not play as he continued his recovery from a calf injury, to become World Number One for the first time in his career with Kaymer at Number Three.
“The World Ranking is about consistency over a certain period and that’s why I am up there at the moment” said Westwood as he reflected on his superb achievement. “It is a huge boost for my confidence and I hope I can play well enough to stay up there for a while.
“To be able to sit down and say that I am the best player on the planet has got to be the most satisfying moment of my career so far.”
The fourth and final WGC event of 2010 will feature a star-studded line-up, with all four Major Champions from this year – Phil Mickelson, Graeme McDowell, Louis Oosthuizen and Kaymer – eight of the top ten from the Official World Golf Ranking, and the ten leading players in The Race to Dubai all taking part.
Kaymer may have missed out on officially becoming the best player in the world but he still has a sizeable lead in The Race to Dubai and McDowell, Westwood and Charl Schwartzel, the German’s three closest challengers, will need a stunning finish to the season to stand a realistic chance of catching him.
Mickelson is aiming for his third HSBC Champions title but a host of European Tour players will be out to make 2010 the first season when three WGC titles have been claimed by a European Tour Member, following Ian Poulter’s victory in the WGC-Accenture Match Play in February and Ernie Els’ win in the WGC-CA Championship in March.
Els finished second in Shanghai 12 months ago after a spectacular final round of 63, and is fine form following his victory in the PGA Grand Glam of Golf in Bermuda, where Kaymer and McDowell finished in a tie for third place.
“I’m getting on that plane to China with the aim of finishing one place higher than last year,” said the South African. “If I finish the year with a second WGC title (of 2010), four wins in total and back into the world’s top ten, I’ll be more than happy.”
In addition to golf’s ‘big guns’, a number of young pretenders will attempt to steal the show, with 19 year olds Ryo Ishikawa and Noh Seung-yul hoping to become the first Asian champion of the event since YE Yang four years ago.
Italy’s 17 year old sensation Matteo Manassero, who recently became
The European Tour’s youngest winner when he clinched the CASTELLO MASTERS Costa Azahar, is also in the field after a successful race to secure his Chinese visa.