Category archive: Lee Westwood
Each week of the season, our experts will share their insights into which players fit the criteria for our four categories: Horse for the Course (a golfer who knows the track inside and out), Birdie Buster (a guy who could take it low this week), Super Sleeper (a player who could unexpectedly contend) and Winner.
This week's tournament: Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, N.C.
Horse for the Course
Michael Collins, ESPN.com senior golf analyst: Sergio Garcia. Other than his W/D from the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Sergio has yet to finish outside the top 17 in the five events he's played all four rounds. Bet you didn't know he's ranked 17th in all-time money won at this event.
Farrell Evans, ESPN.com senior golf writer: Rory McIlroy. Famous but not yet a global superstar, McIlroy claimed his first PGA Tour title here in 2010 with a final-round 62. Last year, he lost in a playoff at Quail Hollow to Rickie Fowler.
Bob Harig, ESPN.com senior golf writer: Webb Simpson. The reigning U.S. Open champion lives at Quail Hollow and has plenty of home-course knowledge. He was the 54-hole leader a year ago before fading on Sunday.
Michael Collins: Nicolas Colsaerts. This is going to be an eye-opening experience for the Belgian first-timer, but in a good way. He's going to average better than 65 percent of his greens in regulation and then easily get a top-10.
Farrell Evans: Lucas Glover. Injuries and a divorce have been distractions for Glover since he won the 2009 U.S. Open, but perhaps he's rounding into good form after a tie for fourth last week in New Orleans.
Bob Harig: D.A. Points. He didn't win in New Orleans, but came close again, following up on his victory from the previous week in Houston. After a terrible start to the year, Points has a victory and a runner-up finish. He also lost at Quail Hollow in a playoff to Rickie Fowler a year ago.
Michael Collins: Rory Sabbatini. Fifty percent of cuts made, one top-10 (T-9) and four finishes outside the top 25. And you thought Tiger was the only one impacted by a messy divorce? So, at this course, he's either going to finish third or miss the cut.
Farrell Evans: John Peterson. The 24-year-old Web.com tour player got into the Wells Fargo field because of his tie for eighth in New Orleans. Don't be surprised to see him do well this week. He had a tie for fourth at the U.S. Open last year after qualifying through sectionals.
Bob Harig: Phil Mickelson. Lefty loves the tournament, and has six top-10 finishes in nine appearances, but no victories. Still, it is impossible to know how he will perform after such a poor performance at the Masters and a subsequent two-week break.
Michael Collins: Kevin Streelman. This will be win No. 2 for the Wheaton, Ill., native who grew up playing courses that didn't always have pristine greens. He'll have the patience that will be needed on the stressed-out greens of Quail Hollow's back nine to win.
Farrell Evans: Lee Westwood. The 40-year-old Englishman has had top-10s in his past two starts on the PGA Tour, including a tie for eighth in the Masters, his ninth top-10 in his past 17 major championships. Last year, he had a tie for fifth at Wells Fargo.
Bob Harig: McIlroy. It is somewhat amazing how quiet things have gotten for the No. 2-ranked player in the world. Perhaps that is a good thing. He did win at Quail Hollow three years ago, and lost in a playoff last year.
"When I walk on 17 and they say I'm from Palm Beach Gardens, a bigger cheer goes up than when it's from Worksop [England], for sure," Westwood quipped. "I've got support in the States as it is, but probably even more so now that I've moved here."
Westwood, 39, is 2 shots behind leaders Luke Guthrie and Michael Thompson. For all of his worldwide success -- Westwood is ranked ninth in the world with 35 international victories -- he has just two PGA Tour titles, the last coming at the 2010 St. Jude Classic.
Thompson is an unlikely third-round leader this week. A runner-up at last year's U.S. Open, Thompson, 27, came into the Honda Classic having missed four cuts in five starts, with his only 72-hole finish a tie for 78th at the Farmers Insurance Open.
Tiger Woods' gained 1 stroke on the lead with a third-round 70 and could have gotten closer had he not played the back nine in 3 over.
He is 8 strokes back, in a tie for 32nd. He will tee off at 11:05 a.m. ET on Sunday along with Robert Streb. Compared to last year, he is a stroke closer to the lead but will have more people to pass.
Last year, Woods was tied for 18th, shot a final-round 62 and ended up finishing 2 strokes behind winner Rory McIlroy in a tie for second. It was his low round of the year.
How tough was PGA National on Saturday? During the first round, there were six bogey-free rounds. On Friday, there were seven.
On Saturday, just one, from Y.E. Yang, who shot the day's lowest score, a 67. Only eight players shot in the 60s, and more of the same blustery, cool weather is promised for Sunday.
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- Ah, youth.
"I'll have a word with Rory later," Westwood quipped.
Here is part of what McIlroy wrote.
"I'm not sure we are going to see him dominate again the way he did," McIlroy said of Woods. "It's not that he's playing badly. He's playing badly by Tiger's standards. He's playing like an ordinary golfer."
Woods is enduring the longest stretch of his career without a victory, and his game has been under immense scrutiny, even more so in the wake of a one-and-done appearance at last week's WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.
McIlroy, 21, also said that he "wasn't playing against Tiger when he had that aura."
"That's the answer that a 21-year-old would give," Westwood said. "A 37-year-old is a little wiser. ... I've been playing with Tiger since 1997.
"There's an old saying that class is permanent and form is fickle. He's the classiest player I've ever played with, and I'm wise enough to know not to write him off. I've seen him play poorly and win tournaments."
Westwood replaced Woods late last year atop the Official World Golf Rankings. After 17 weeks, Westwood relinquished the No. 1 spot this week to Germany's Martin Kaymer. Woods has dropped to No. 5, tying his lowest standing since after his historic victory at the 1997 Masters.
Westwood and McIlroy are playing in this week's Honda Classic.
Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.
There are plenty of topics the current top three players in the Official World Golf Ranking -- Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer and Tiger Woods -- might discuss during their opening 36 holes together at the Dubai Desert Classic.
Such as recent results. The trio has totaled six victories in the past 12 months, but four of those have come from Kaymer, including the recent Abu Dhabi Championship. Westwood and Woods, on the other hand, have combined for finishes of T-44, T-64 and MC so far this season.
Or maybe major championships. Woods remains stuck on 14 for his career and Kaymer won the most recent one, but Westwood is one of four players to have reached the top spot in the rankings without first claiming a major. The other three each did so within two years.
Or even the OWGR itself. In this week's edition of "As the World [Ranking] Turns," it's worth noting that Kaymer can ascend to No. 1 with a victory, but Woods can only climb as high as No. 2. Meanwhile, the latter joins Phil Mickelson as the only non-European players currently inside the top seven on the list.
Or -- ahem -- failed business ventures. Note to Westwood and Kaymer: If Woods starts talking about a "great investment opportunity in Dubai," just nod your head politely.
Chances are, though, each player will simply be concentrating on his own game for the first two rounds, trying to outduel his fellow superstars. While none of the three will fess up publicly to wanting to prove himself in this ultimate litmus test, they all know the eyes of the world will be focused directly on their threesome.
Not that they'll admit to having any extra motivation.
"I think we shouldn't really see it as a rivalry," Kaymer said Tuesday. "We are out here to have fun and play good golf and show the people that we do our job with passion and love. It's not about winning or losing in the end of the day. It's about challenging each other and having fun."
If the grouping will be fun for the players, it should be downright enthralling for fans, who will get an opportunity to watch the world's three top-ranked players in the same threesome for the first time since Woods drew Mickelson and Adam Scott during the early rounds of the 2008 U.S. Open.
Already this season the PGA Tour has revised a long-standing policy and attempted to produce a handful of "featured groups" at its tournaments. It's nice to see the European Tour -- which never alluded to any such rule -- also see the benefit of creating attractive groups for on-course observers and television viewers.
And there isn't a more intriguing one right now than the Westwood-Kaymer-Woods group we'll see in Dubai for the opening two rounds.
Jason Sobel is a golf writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn.com.
As the top of the world rankings have featured a progressively more European flair over the past several months, events on the European Tour schedule have looked more and more attractive to golf fans.
Trivia questionDustin Johnson goes for his third straight AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am win this week. Who is the last player not named Tiger Woods to win a tour event three straight times? (Answer below.)
This week, the European Tour will have something the PGA Tour did not feature a single time in 2010. The Omega Dubai Desert Classic will feature the top three players in the world: Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer and Tiger Woods.
Take all the non-major, non-WGC events out of the equation, since these are events sanctioned by both the PGA and European Tour. Amazingly, the PGA Tour -- almost universally regarded as the premier pro golf circuit on the planet -- did not feature a single event in 2010 that had all three of the current top-three players in the Official World Golf Rankings.
According to the European Tour itself, this marks the first time since 1994 that each of the top three have been in the same European Tour event -- including those same qualifiers (non-major, non-WGC).
Six of the top 10 players in the world are Europeans playing predominantly on the European Tour. A win this week for Kaymer, and we'll have a new European as No. 1 in the world.
A win by a non-American at Augusta this April would make it four straight majors won by players from outside the U.S., and five of the past six. The only time that we've seen four straight non-American major champions since World War II was in 1994, when no American player won a major. Never in that span have we seen five straight majors played without an American winner.
And yet, with all this European power, it isn't hard for many golf fans to imagine that scenario taking place in 2011.
The old No. 1 in the world, Tiger Woods, has had a great deal of success in Dubai throughout his career. Tiger has played the event five times, won it twice, and never finished outside the top-5; he's played just one round worse than par out of 20 in his career. His scoring average is 67.9 in the event, and he won the tournament the last time he played it in 2008.
Woods has enjoyed enormous success in smaller worldwide events like this one over the course of his career. Since 2000, Tiger has started 19 events held outside the United States that were not major championships or WGC tournaments. Tiger has won nine of them, finished in the top-5 16 of 19 times, and finished outside the top-10 just twice.
Of course, this isn't the Tiger Woods of old. The last comparable event to this one (played outside the U.S., not a major) was last year's JBWere Australian Masters, in an admittedly less daunting field. That was also the last time Tiger teed it up in an event and was the defending champion. Woods surged on Sunday there with a 65, but finished three shots back of winner Stuart Appleby.
Two weeks ago at Woods' home course/ATM machine Torrey Pines, Tiger 2.0 looked like the Woods we've come to expect the past 14 months during the weekend. After firing back-to-back 69s to start the event, Tiger was over par on both Saturday and Sunday. To put that into perspective: In Woods' first 45 career rounds at the now-named Farmers Insurance Open, Woods had just 1 round over par.
Winning an event three straight times on the PGA Tour is apparently as difficult as it sounds.
Dustin Johnson will try to do that this week at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. The back-to-back winner almost won his first major championship at last summer's U.S. Open there, too. Johnson held a 3-shot lead heading into the final round before famously evaporating before our eyes with a front-nine 42 on Sunday.
Let's try to put winning a PGA Tour event three straight times into perspective. It's been done 25 different times throughout the history of the PGA Tour, dating back to Young Tom Morris winning the British Open four straight times starting in 1868.
But since the 1980s, it's been a far less frequent occurrence, especially if you consider that basically one name appears in the record book next to the feat during that time frame -- repeatedly.
Tiger Woods has won an event three or more straight times on six different occasions in his career. Since 1981, Woods is one of only two players to do it even once. The other: Stuart Appleby, who won 3 straight at Kapalua from 2004 to 2006. Appleby's accomplishment is absent from the PGA Tour record book -- an earlier version of Numbers Game reflected that mistake.
Tiger is the only player since Gene Sarazen in the 1920s to win an event four straight times -- and he's done it twice.
Question: Dustin Johnson goes for his third straight AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am win this week. Who is the last player not named Tiger Woods to win a tour event three straight times?
Answer: Stuart Appleby, who won at Kapalua 3 straight times from 2004-06.
Since 1960 to 2000, the list of players to have won an event three straight times looks like the register from the World Golf Hall of Fame. Arnold Palmer won the Texas Open from 1960-62 and the Phoenix Open from 1961-63. Jack Nicklaus, Johnny Miller and Tom Watson are the other three to pull it off, in addition to the six times Tiger has accomplished the feat.
A win by Dustin Johnson this weekend would put him in some heady company. It would also be another precursor to what golf fans expect will be a fantastic professional career.
Justin Ray has been a studio researcher for ESPN since June 2008 and is the lead researcher for "The Scott Van Pelt Show." Send comments and suggestions to Justin.Ray@espn.com.
The Official World Golf Rankings are simple to understand, yet difficult to explain.
Trivia questionThere's a possibility that after one week, Lee Westwood will lose his No. 1 ranking. Before this week, Westwood's first week atop the rankings, who was the only player to hold the No. 1 ranking for a single week? (Answer below.)
They rely upon a complicated, rolling two-year formula that evaluates tournaments around the world based on field strength, and in turn, grades a golfer's performance in said tournament. A golfer's average performance, weighted chronologically, is given a numerical value and compared to his peers.
And as convoluted as that attempt at an explanation sounds, it's actually more complicated than that.
While team sports annually crown their best team, golf merely declares who was the best in the world that particular week -- whether it be at Augusta, Whistling Straits, or Bay Hill. One can make evaluations about who the best golfer of the year was (Martin Kaymer or Jim Furyk, for example), but there's no definitive, undeniable champion. Yet for five and a half years, one man was the best in his sport, based on this aggregating, long-winded system: Woods.
Since June of 2005, we've seen six different World Series Champions, four different teams win the NBA Finals, four different Super Bowl champions, five different teams hoist the Stanley Cup, and 14 different major champions in men's golf. And before Sunday, a single world No. 1 in men's golf.
That consistency atop the sport made Woods' descent from his perch newsworthy this week. Yet, in the coming months, there could be a battle for that top ranking essentially every week, all around the world. It can change in China this week at the HSBC, where four different men control their own destiny in terms of the world No. 1 ranking: Westwood, Woods, Kaymer and defending champion Phil Mickelson can all be ranked first in the world with a victory.
There are literally a countless number of different scenarios this weekend where these men can attain that distinction, but for now, let's break down the contenders of the moment for the world's top ranking.
World rank: 1
Worldwide wins last 18 months: 3
Career major victories: 0
Westwood (who was 266th just 7 years ago) and his ascent to No. 1 is a testament to several things. One, of course, is consistency. Westwood is the only player in the world to have finished in the top three in four of the last six majors -- and one of those, he didn't even tee it up (missed the PGA Championship this year due to injury). He has four official wins on the European Tour since the beginning of 2007, and an additional one on the PGA Tour. No one is questioning whether or not the Englishman belongs among the world's elite.->
But is he the elite player on Earth? His rise to No. 1 is also a testament to what some golf fans and analysts see as a flawed system. Westwood is the top-ranked player in the world despite having just one victory on the PGA Tour, which is universally regarded as the top circuit on the planet. And that event he did win in Tennessee, held a week before the U.S. Open, didn't have Woods, Mickelson, future U.S. Open winner Graeme McDowell, Ernie Els or Furyk in its field.
In a sport most recognized during its four biggest annual events, a man who has never won any of them is now regarded as the game's best golfer at the moment. A fantastic accomplishment, clearly, but how long will he stay there?
World rank: 2
Worldwide wins last 18 months: 6
Career major victories: 14
With the HSBC Champions being declared an "official" PGA Tour event this year, Woods has one final chance to avoid his first winless season ever on the PGA Tour. Among the all-time victory leaders on the Tour, a winless season before turning 40 is not completely new. Sam Snead, Jack Nicklaus and Billy Casper all went calendar years in which they started 10 or more events on Tour before turning 40 in which they did not win.
With that defense being made, it's impossible to justify Woods remaining atop the rankings if he isn't winning golf tournaments. Because the rankings system is based on a two-year average, Woods has been buoyed in recent months by the fact that he didn't play after the U.S. Open in 2008. Like a hitter on the disabled list who's average isn't affected because he's not getting at-bats, Woods wasn't losing as much ground as someone who just went winless for half-a-year while playing.
In January of 2011, Woods' world ranking will be based on a time period that emphasizes the 13 weeks leading up to that moment, and, overall, accounts for the time period from January 2009 until that point. What this in a nutshell means, is that if Tiger doesn't win soon, he's going to fall further, and fast.
Still, if he wins in China, he's back on top again. With one more week at the top of the world rankings, Woods would have reached 12 full calendar years as the top-ranked player in the world.
World rank: 3
Worldwide wins last 18 months: 6
Career major victories: 1
If the system were ranking, right now, who the best golfer on the planet was, it would be nearly impossible not to deduce that the winner of that title would be Kaymer. Kaymer has won eight times since the beginning of 2008, six times in the last 18 months, and three times since the beginning of August. While the world anxiously anticipated Rory McIlroy's seizure of the title of golf's next young superstar, Kaymer went ahead and won the PGA Championship, and positioned himself to become the No. 1 player on Earth.
Kaymer had a slightly more prolific 2008 on the European Tour, with more total top-10's and one more runner-up finish, but the value of his accomplishments the following year are stronger. This should help him out moving forward in the world rankings by a small amount. With the way he's been playing though, it's not going to matter. No one will be shocked if he wins this week in Shanghai.
World rank: 4
Worldwide wins last 18 months: 3
Career major victories: 4
The recurring storyline seemingly every week on the PGA Tour in 2010 was, "Phil just needs to do blank, and he'll be the No. 1 player in the world." As you know, every week, there was the same result. The idea of Westwood or Kaymer overtaking Woods has to be refreshing for some people fatigued by that same 'what if' that never seems like will happen. Still, Mickelson is right there -- a win, and he's the world's No. 1 for the first time.
Question: There's a possibility that after 1 week, Lee Westwood will lose his No. 1 ranking. Before this week, Westwood's first atop the rankings, who was the only player to hold the No. 1 ranking for a single week?
Answer: Tom Lehman, who had it for one week in 1997.
Mickelson hasn't played since the Ryder Cup one month ago. A bad omen: the last time he took a month or more off was between the U.S. Open and Open Championship, and he finished tied for 48th there. Still, Mickelson is the defending champion at the event this week, and no one should short his chances to win it again.
Lee Westwood took his first steps Thursday toward a return at the Ryder Cup, playing his first round of golf in more than a month due to a calf injury that has plagued him all summer.
The round took place at Lindrick Golf Club in England, near Westwood's home.
"I was a bit rusty, but I had six birdies and an eagle -- in a 30 mph wind,'' Westwood said, according to the Irish Times.
Ranked third in the world, Westwood's status has been of great concern to the European Ryder Cup team's cause.
He finished second to Phil Mickelson at the Masters and was again second to Louis Oosthuizen at the Open Championship but withdrew from the Bridgestone Invitational in early August due to the lingering calf problem. Westwood, 37, also missed the PGA Championship and has not played a competitive round since.
Westwood walked 14 holes of his round and plans to play in a charity event Monday and Tuesday in Scotland. He will put himself through a 36-hole test next Friday -- a week before the Ryder Cup is to begin in Wales.
Westwood has played in every Ryder Cup dating to 1997 and has a 14-10-5 record.
Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.