Newly-crowned World Number One Lee Westwood, Tiger Woods and their closest rivals Phil Mickelson and Martin Kaymer touched swords on Shanghai’s famous riverfront signalling the start of what could be an epic battle to decide who tops the World Rankings by the end of this week.
The encounter between the top golfers on the planet to launch the 2010 WGC-HSBC Champions marks the first time since the 1997 – the year the Official World Golf Rankings were recognised by all five of the world’s principal men’s golf tours – that as many as four players have entered an event with the chance to take the number one spot.
Woods has dominated the rankings since July 1997, when he finally ended Greg Norman’s reign. Since then the American has only briefly ceded the Number One position in 2004 and 2005 to Vijay Singh and Ernie Els and in April 1999 to David Duval.
Since winning the Masters Tournament on April 10, 2005, he held an iron grip on the top spot for 281 consecutive weeks, until Westwood overtook him last Sunday (October 31, 2010). But as he and the other three contenders for top spot met on the Bund for a Tai Chi lesson, Woods stated a win this week would be gratifying.
”To be Number One in the world you have to win regularly, and I haven’t done that lately,” Woods said.
“As in every event I play, I’m here trying to win. If ever there was an event that deserved to be the first Asian tournament to impact the top of the World Rankings this is the one. I’ve referred to it before as the crowning jewel of Asian golf.”
Westwood said he knew the moment that his status as the new Number One was confirmed, that Tiger would have him in his sights.
“It’s an honour in itself, to be the one who ended Tiger’s five years as the top golfer on the planet and of course we all know him well enough to know he’ll respond,” the 37 year old Englishman.
“It’s all very new and I suspect the only approach is to just focus on what’s in front of me, that old golf adage of concentrating on one shot at a time, rather than getting distracted by what may or may not happen afterwards.”
Meanwhile the 2009 WGC-HSBC Champions winner Phil Mickelson warned against ignoring the rest of the field for the US$7million event.
“There are very, very few events each year that have the strength-in-depth of the HSBC Champions. Every player in the field has the talent and the experience to win; it’s a field of winners,” said the American.
“Everyone wants to be Number One in the world but the only way to get there is to win tournaments and the HSBC is a big tournament, a great opportunity to advance," Mickelson added.
“It’s only the sixth HSBC Champions, but once again the tournament is setting new highs for golf in the region,” said Giles Morgan, HSBC Group Head of Sponsorship.
“No event in Asia has ever impacted the top of the World Rankings; having Sergio go to Number Two when he won in 2008 was a huge first in itself.
Now, after one year as a World Golf Championships tournament, we’re looking at deciding who the best player in the world is.”
The WGC-HSBC Champions, which brings together the winners of the highest-ranked tournaments from all over the world, will be held at the Sheshan International Golf Club from November 4-7.