Lee Westwood will defend his No. 1 world ranking against Martin Kaymer when they tee off in the Commercialbank Qatar Masters on Thursday.
Westwood, who in October replaced Tiger Woods at the top, needs to finish second if the No. 2-ranked Kaymer wins the third event in the European Tour’s four-week Middle East Swing.
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The Qatar Masters marks the first time since 1993 that the world's top two golfers have gone head-to-head in a European Tour event.
Kaymer, who won last month’s Abu Dhabi Golf Championship, could still claim No. 1 for the first time with a second-place finish as long as Westwood finishes no higher than 22nd.
It will be the first time since 1993 that the world’s top two golfers go head-to-head in a European Tour event, a fact that Westwood said was the latest sign of just how good European golf was at the moment.
“It’s obviously nice for us and for European golf that, you know, that 1 and 2 in the world are here at this tournament and both European,” Westwood said. “That just shows the strength of the European Tour now, the kind of fields that we have attracted in the first few weeks of the year.”
After his 64th in Abu Dhabi, Westwood said he wants a better showing, along with an improvement on third place in Qatar last year.
“The rough is up, and the greens certainly are very firm this year. So I think they have set it up well and it looks like a tough test ahead,” he said. “Obviously, I played well last year. I have to contend with a few different things. Smashed my driver on Saturday when I was just in the lead. Hopefully it will all go to plan this week and I’ll do better than third.”
Kaymer downplayed the tussle for No. 1, insisting he was looking only to play well in Doha and continue the good form that saw him win Abu Dhabi by eight shots. That win propelled the German to No. 2, replacing Tiger Woods, who dropped to third.
“You know, to be honest, it doesn’t really change anything,” he said. “My goal is not to become the No. 1 in the world right now. For me it’s just important to play tournaments, to play as good as I can in those tournaments, winning those tournaments, and then you know, if I take care of that, then yes, I will become No. 1, one day.”
Still, the understated Kaymer admitted it would feel great to become the world’s top-ranked golfer.
“It would make me proud to be No. 1, because yes, you can say what Lee can say nowadays, no one in the world, no one is better than you,” he said. “And not a lot of people can say that about themselves. Of course it would be a proud moment, but that is not … the biggest goal that I have in my career. … At the moment, I just play and enjoy.”
Westwood and Kaymer will also be keeping an eye on PGA Tour player Steve Stricker, who is making his Middle East debut, along with defending champion Robert Karlsson, who has played some of his best golf of late in the Gulf. The Swede won the European Tour’s season-ending Dubai World Championship and was fifth in Abu Dhabi.
“If you have a look at previous winners on most of the desert courses it is definitely set up for the longer hitters in general,” Karlsson said. “If you look at Abu Dhabi, a lot of long hitters won there. I don’t know if it’s the special setup of the golf courses or what it is, but the greens usually play pretty firm; so it’s good to be closer to the greens.”