Lee Westwood doesn't feel urgency to be No. 1
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- For a man who made no secret of his delight in ascending to golf's No. 1 ranking last fall, perhaps it is no surprise that Lee Westwood made no effort to find the Official World Golf Ranking this week.
"I didn't check this Monday," Westwood said, tongue firmly planted in cheek. "I tend to look when I'm going up."
Of course, this week the Englishman went down, dropping from the top spot after a 17-week run, replaced by Germany's Martin Kaymer after the PGA champion made it to the finals of last week's WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.
That set up a European foursome atop the rankings, with England's Luke Donald moving to No. 3 after his Match Play win, followed by Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell at No. 4. Only Kaymer is missing from this week's Honda Classic.
It's an impressive group of players who could very well jockey among themselves for the top spot all year.
"The world rankings do reflect who is the best in the world over a particular period," said Westwood, 37. "I don't think there is any doubt that over the last few weeks, Martin probably has been the best player in the world. He won at Abu Dhabi and played well again last week.
"It's good that it swings about. If you don't play well I haven't started up this year very good by the high standards you have to have when you're No. 1 in the world. Then you deserve to drop down.
"But I'm not too worried about that. I'm never too fast out of the blocks at the beginning of the year. It's just one of those things. It's how I am."
Westwood's rise to No. 1 came with some skepticism simply because he failed to win with frequency. He captured just one tournament in 2010, the St. Jude Classic, but had runner-up finishes at the Masters and British Open.
A calf injury knocked him out of the PGA Championship and kept him sidelined until the Ryder Cup in October. Late that month, he moved to No. 1, more because of Tiger Woods' slide than his own gain.
Still, the ranking system awards consistency, and Westwood has been among the top contenders in the world for several years. He won the unofficial Nedbank Challenge in December in South Africa, but is off to a slow start this year.
Yet with Kaymer taking the week off, he could regain his No. 1 ranking by finishing third or better.
"It's great to be No. 1, but it's not something I keep an eye on. My primary concern this week is to play and try to win the Honda," Westwood said. "That's first and foremost in my mind. If I'm successful in doing that, then everything else takes care of itself. There's no point in worrying about it."
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Westwood, who lost in the second round last week at the Match Play, will follow this week's event with another appearance down the road in Miami for the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral.
He'll then return to England for two weeks before coming back to the PGA Tour the week before the Masters.
So far this year, Westwood has a tie for 64th at the Abu Dhabi Championship, missed the cut at the Qatar Masters and was 15th at the Dubai Desert Classic before last week's result.
It would seem to suggest some urgency in these two weeks, but Westwood does not look at it that way.
"I don't put that kind of pressure on myself any more," said Westwood, who has 30 international victories. "If I play well, I play well. I know my game is in really good shape at the moment. I'm hitting the ball as good as I've hit it in a long time. I'm looking forward to playing well this week."
Westwood endured some questions about being the No. 1-ranked player in the world because of his lack of victories, but that has not been the case with Martin Kaymer.
He has won six times over the past two seasons, including a win at the PGA Championship in a playoff over Bubba Watson. That was the first of three consecutive wins on the European Tour. His victory earlier this year at the Abu Dhabi Championship by eight strokes was his eighth win on the European Tour overall.
Although Kaymer could be passed by Westwood this week, he is in a strong position to remain a No. 1 factor all year.
One of the big misconceptions on the PGA Tour is that earning your PGA Tour card through the qualifying tournament or the Nationwide Tour makes you fully exempt. Not quite.
Those players have tour status, but it is well down the pecking order of eligibility. And then, those players are ranked in order of the finish at Q-School and Nationwide Tour, alternating all the way down the list.
So Billy Mayfair, who was the Q-School medalist, was first, followed by Chris Kirk, who was second on the Nationwide money list. (Jamie Lovemark, who won the Nationwide money title, is fully exempt as leading money winner).
But four times during the year, those players' spots on the priority list are reshuffled based on money earnings. And the first of those reshuffles occurred after last weekend's play. So Mayfair, who was first, is now ninth. That means if a tournament field only goes eight deep into this category, Mayfair won't get in.
The biggest winner so far was Gary Woodland, based on his playoff loss at the Bob Hope Classic and a tie for fifth at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Woodland tied for 11th at the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament, giving him the 21st spot in this category. But having earned $675,526, he now heads the list.
But it's no time to get complacent. The next reshuffle occurs after the Shell Houston Open, or just five tournament weeks from now. And it will be based on money earned by players in that category. What it points out is how important the early part of the season is to those who qualify for the tour in this manner.
if there might be a format change for the WGC-Accenture Match Play along with a venue change. The tournament is contracted with Accenture through 2014, but the deal to play it at Dove Mountain in Arizona expired on Sunday. Rumors abound about a potential move.
Along with that, perhaps the powers that be would consider tweaking the format. The Match Play format has been wildly successful in such a limited dose, but the biggest drawback is seeing so many stars depart early.
Maybe a double elimination format would help?
There would be logistical issues to work out for sure, but if you had such a scenario last week in Arizona, Tiger Woods and Padraig Harrington would have played each other in a loser's bracket match on Thursday, meaning at least one of those players would still be around on Friday. That means there would still be 32 competitors on site Friday, and 16 --instead of only 8 -- on Saturday.
Short of that, why not allow for matches to play off for third (the consolation match), fifth and seventh places? It would give spectators more to watch on the weekend, and while the players might not be thrilled, there would be a lot of money at stake.
Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.
Honda Classic gets top-notch field
Birdies And Bogeys
1. Luke Donald. The Englishman got a long-overdue victory on the PGA Tour at the WGC-Accenture Match Play and is now No. 3 in the world.
2. Martin Kaymer. Despite the disappointment of his finals loss at the Match Play, Kaymer is now the No. 1-ranked player in the world.
3. Karrie Webb. The LPGA Hall of Famer helped stop red-hot Yani Tseng's winning streak by winning the HSBC Women's Championship, her 37th career title.
1. Tiger Woods. A first-round exit at the Match Play -- especially after seizing all the momentum with his clutch birdie on the 18th hole against Thomas Bjorn -- is not what was needed to heal an ailing game.
2. Phil Mickelson. It is hard to believe that Lefty has never made it to the weekend of the WGC-Match Play Championship.
• The Florida Swing begins at the Honda Classic, where a strong field is fortified by several international players who are playing in the event between last week's Match Play and next week's WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral. The tournament has seven of the top 13 players in the world and 22 of the top 50.
• Both PGA Tour winners from last week, Luke Donald and Johnson Wagner, are in the Honda field.
• In 2010, the Champions Course at PGA National at ranked as the toughest on the PGA Tour among non-major venues -- in relation to par. The course is a par-70 and it played to an average of 71.64.
• Tiger Woods is skipping the Honda Classic, which he has never played as a pro. There had been speculation he might add the tournament after getting knocked out of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in the first round. Woods has played just nine competitive rounds this year.
• The world rankings boast four Europeans at the top for the first time since 1992: Martin Kaymer, Lee Westwood, Luke Donald and Graeme McDowell. Tiger Woods is fifth followed by Phil Mickelson. Woods' ranking is his lowest since the start of the 1997 season.
• John Cook said Tiger Woods' game "clicked" when they played together at Isleworth two weeks ago. Cook's game did the same at the Mayakoba Classic, where at age 53 he finished third, his highest finish at a PGA Tour event since a tie for second in 2002 at the Memorial. Cook won the season opener on the Champions Tour.
• The Honda Classic is the first to implement the PGA Tour's new mobile device policy, which will allow spectators to carry them on the course with the volume set on silent.
• Hall of Famer Nick Price is making a rare appearance on the PGA Tour. Price, who won three majors in his career, has not played on the PGA Tour since 2008 but is using a one-time exemption this year for the top 50 all-time money winners and said he will play a handful of events.
"I have played with Phil Mickelson a few times and his short game is unbelievable. But what Luke is doing at the moment is a joke. Wherever he is, you know he will make the up-and-down, and that's if he doesn't hole the chip shot. It's really impressive." -- Martin Kaymer, the new No. 1-ranked player in the world, on Luke Donald, the new No. 3 after Donald's victory over Kaymer in the WGC-Accenture Match Play final.
Catching up with 2010's champ
Camilo Villegas won the 2010 Honda Classic for his third career PGA Tour victory, one of seven top-10 finishes in a year that saw him finish 20th in the final FedEx Cup standings. Villegas made the cut at all four majors, including a tie for eighth at the PGA, and ended up earning more than $3 million.
So far this year, things have not gone as smoothly. Villegas had a high-profile disqualification from the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, then missed the cut at the Sony Open in Hawaii.
After a tie for 44th at the Farmers Insurance Open, Villegas withdrew with a back injury from the Phoenix Open and then was a first-round casualty last week at the Accenture Match Play Championship. So far, he has earned just $63,000.