03 November 2010
At this week's HSBC Champions Golf event in Shanghai, China, three players will battle to dethrone newly-minted world number one, Lee Westwood of England. All hot on the Englishman's trail are Tiger Woods of the United States - who lost the top ranking to Westwood after a record five-year run - third-ranked German Martin Kaymer and American Phil Mickelson at number four.
The elite field of 78 golfers from around the globe includes 15 of the top 20 ranked players in the world. But when the tournament ends, a victory by Woods, Kaymer or Mickelson would end Westwood's reign after just one week.
Westwood, who along with Woods was idle last week, talks about being number-one. "It's the pinnacle of the sport, really. It was very exciting to get there. It's one thing getting there, but it's another thing staying there. It's obviously a very close thing at the moment. It's going to be tough this week and I'll have to play well, which may not be easy because I'm bound to be a bit rusty as I have not played a lot just recently."
Westwood has been able to play just a limited amount of late because he has been resting nagging calf and ankle injuries.
In falling to number two, Woods has gone 51 weeks and 12 tournaments without a victory, which is the longest drought of his career. With a win this week, though, he can not only reclaim the number one ranking, but also avoid getting shut out in a season on the PGA Tour for the first time in his career.
"I come to every event with the same intention - that's winning the golf tournament," said Woods. "Whether I'm ranked number one or not, it hasn't changed, and it never will. That's why I come to events - to try to get the "W" (win). It's a hell of a field this week and it's going to be a lot of fun going out there and competing and try to win the event."
Many believe Kaymer has a good shot at taking over as number one after winning three of his last four tournaments. He won the PGA Championship and three times on the European Tour to compile the most victories this season.
Mickelson has won the HSBC Champions twice in the last three years and is the defending champion. He is finally feeling better again after being diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis. He has been on medication, which he said has taken eight weeks to fully work. But now the fourth-ranked American says he is finally feeling back to normal.
However, you can never count out a player like Woods. It's been nearly a year since a vehicle accident last Thanksgiving night sent Woods' life into a tailspin. The ensuing revelations of multiple affairs resulted in the loss of endorsements, a sabbatical from the game, poor play when he returned - and eventually, a divorce from his wife Elin.
But after everything he has gone through, Woods said he is much more balance now. "Certainly, I've had a more introspective look at myself and where I was and where I wanted to go. And trying to understand all that and trying to become better as a person, I think, is not an easy process. But it is a process in which when you come out the other side, you feel so much better."
Regardless of who wins and earns the number-one ranking, one thing is certain about this year's HSBC Champions. It will be a real treat for golf fans everywhere.