Westwood, now ranked No. 2, faces two shots to dethrone No. 1 Woods

lee westwood
Getty Images
Lee Westwood was once ranked fourth in the world, then fell outside the top 250, and now is all the way back into second with the No. 1 spot within his reach.
By
Mark Garrod
PA Sport

Series:

How do you follow up a Ryder Cup win like that?

Well, for Lee Westwood the options available include going to sleep for three weeks and waking up as world No. 1.

That's right. If the 37-year-old Englishman doesn’t play a tournament between now and Oct. 24, he would end Woods's latest five-year reign.

The Official World Golf Ranking system has always baffled some since it was introduced in 1986, but the bottom line is that it is based on a player's performances over a two-year rolling cycle.

So, as results from 2008 drop off, the points average changes and Westwood is so close now -- he went to No. 2 for the first time on Sunday night even though the Ryder Cup did not count -- that they can easily switch spots when neither is playing.

But that is not the Westwood way. As his father John said just before Westwood teed off in his singles against Steve Stricker at Celtic Manor on Monday: "Lee wants to go out and win it."

And the chance will come at this week's Alfred Dunhill Championship in Scotland. A top-2 finish and golf will have a new top dog.

If he does not manage it at St. Andrews, where he was runner-up at the British Open in July, Westwood -- keen to play after his torn calf muscle kept him out of action for seven weeks prior to the Ryder Cup -- will defend the Portugal Masters next week with another opportunity.

It is a remarkable turnaround for a player who almost a decade ago fell from European No. 1 and world No. 4 to outside the game's top 250. And to be poised to dethrone Woods is something he did not envisage happening even 11 months ago.

Last November, Westwood took stock of where he stood after his Dubai World Championship triumph and accepted that it would be "unbelievably difficult" to take the world No. 1 spot from Tiger Woods.

"You think I can out-stay him? Maybe when I'm 60." he said. "I think anything is attainable, but you've just got to watch him play to see how good he is. But I think second is definitely achievable."

What he did not know then, of course, was what was about to happen to Woods.

Phil Mickelson has had no fewer than 12 chances this season to take over th top spot for the first time in his career, but not once has he managed it -- and not once has he even come to the last few holes of a tournament with it there for the taking. Many suspect a mental barrier to overcome there, but while Westwood still has not been able to land that first major yet, it would surprise nobody if he achieves this particular goal.

Twelve players have topped the rankings since they started in 1986 and should Westwood add his name to the list he will be the fourth to get there without winning a major.

The good news for Westwood is that Ian Woosnam, Fred Couples and David Duval went on to put that right.

In 1991 Woosnam became Masters champion just one week later, while the following year Fred Couples ended the Welshman's reign and three weeks later succeeded him at Augusta.

As for Duval, he had two spells at No. 1 in 1999, but had to wait two more years for his first -- and only -- major victory in the British Open at Royal Lytham.

No European has topped the world rankings since Nick Faldo in 1994. Colin Montgomerie got to No. 2 three years later, but Greg Norman denied him the ultimate achievement -- and he could never get a major, either.

As a result, the Ryder Cup has always taken pride of place amongst the Scot's accomplishments and this week's victory as captain was the icing on the cake.

For Westwood, on the other hand, that might be still to come.