Westwood looks for winning start to 2011 in star-studded Abu Dhabi

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Having risen to No. 1 in the world in 2010, Lee Westwood's goal now is to fully prepare himself for the four 2011 majors.
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PA Sport

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Quality not quantity has worked wonders for Lee Westwood lately -- and the world No. 1 will be happy to keep it that way as he starts his 2011 campaign on Thursday.

Westwood, part of a star-studded field at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, which features all four of last season's major winners, is now in his 12th week as the top-ranked golfer on the planet. Yet in that time, he has played only three tournaments.

Westwood was runner-up to Ryder Cup teammate Francesco Molinari in Shanghai, third at the Dubai World Championship and then a runaway eight-stroke winner of the Nedbank Challenge in South Africa.

The 37-year-old from England has had six weeks off since then, but flew to the Middle East a week ago to "shake the rust off," and it will be a shock if there is a repeat of last year's missed cut, his only one in the past 20 months.

"I'm just trying to continue where I left off last season," he said Wednesday.

That would certainly do nicely -- his last competitive shot was a chip-in birdie to end the Nedbank Challenge at Sun City.

"I know it's a new year, but you don't really think about that as a golfer -- they all blend into each other after a while. This is my 18th year on tour,” he said. "There is a lot of focus on you when you are world No. 1 -- it's quite intense and there's a lot to do -- and it was nice to get away, lock the clubs up for four or five weeks, not think about holing three or four-footers for par and get mentally fresh."

Not that this event is his priority, of course.

"I've got that feeling where it may be a good week, but I'm not putting any pressure on myself -- I'm going out there with no expectations,” he added. "I've got to try to get my preparation right for Augusta in April."

The added ingredient in Abu Dhabi from previous seasons is that the one player to beat Westwood in the Masters last spring -- Phil Mickelson, of course -- is competing.

The American, tied for fourth in the world with Graeme McDowell after failing in more than a dozen attempts to take the No. 1 spot off Tiger Woods last year, is back in action after an even longer break. Mickelson's last event was in Singapore in mid-November, but has not been idle.

"It was my turn to plan our anniversary trip last year and, knowing it's been a dream of Amy's to see the pyramids, we went to Egypt," he said. "We spent time in Cairo and Luxor, went to the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens, saw the tombs of the nobles, the Cairo Museum and the Karnak Temple. We were home for a while and then took the whole family skiing in Montana."

Now he describes it as "time to get back to work" and the fact that this is the start of six events in a row shows that the psoriactic arthritis he began treatment for last summer is not too much of a worry.

"My body feels great and I've been able to practice and work out," he said.