Lee Westwood’s ousting of American superstar Tiger Woods as world number one has injected new excitement into a suddenly wide-open golf landscape, players said on Wednesday.
England’s Westwood dethroned the struggling Woods earlier this week, ending the latter’s latest half-decade at the top a year after sex scandals threw his personal life and golf career into turmoil.
Woods has been hailed throughout his career as the saviour of golf through his sublime skills and the rock-star excitement he generates, but today’s more level playing field also is good for the game, Westwood said.
“Yeah, I think it’s an interesting time for golf,” he told reporters in Shanghai a day ahead of the $7-million HSBC Champions.
“You know, it is, I think, a lot more interesting when it’s more volatile with who can become world number one,” he said.
Westwood and Woods lead a power-packed field featuring eight of the world’s top-ranked players at the HSBC Champions, including defending champ Phil Mickelson and in-form US PGA champion Martin Kaymer of Germany.
All four have a shot at the top ranking based on their performance this week in the tournament at Sheshan golf club, which was elevated last year to one of the four World Golf Championships events.
“You know, Martin has obviously played very consistently just recently. Phil and Tiger have been at the top of the world rankings for a while, I suppose, as I have myself, as well,” Westwood said.
“I think for the neutral who doesn’t normally watch golf, it’s captured their imagination.
Even Woods, while shrugging off his loss of the top ranking, acknowledged the buzz.
“I think it’s exciting for, I’m sure, the public,” he said.
‘Work in progress’
Adding to golf’s new competitive feeling has been the surging form of budding European stars such as Kaymer, US Open winner Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland and his countryman, 20-year-old Rory McIlroy.
All were key members of the victorious Ryder Cup squad that defeated Woods and the United States last month. “I think the next five or 10 years you will see the same five, 10 guys fighting against each other a lot of the time. There are a lot of young guys playing well at the moment,” he said.
Westwood also said he was impressed by the recent European showings.
“You look at the performances just recently, it’s incredibly strong,” he said. “It’s a strong time for Europe. I don’t know the reason. It goes in cycles like that. We have a lot of good players at the moment,” he said.
Kaymer said even with the achievements of Westwood and other Europeans, Woods remains the gold standard in the sport despite playing some of the worst golf of his career this year and not winning a tournament.
“I think in everybody’s head, he is still the best player in the world. And even for us, we play against him every week, and it’s always a fantastic challenge to play against him,” Kaymer said.
Woods said on Wednesday his bid to rebuild his swing with new coach Sean Foley remained a “work in progress”.
“Of course he’s playing not so good at the moment, but he has some reasons obviously,” Kaymer said. “But everybody hopes that he will come back to the way he was before.” — Sapa-AFP