Europeans take aim at World No. 1
VIRGINIA WATER, England – Chances are there will be a European winner of the 4.5 million euro BMW PGA Championship. What are chances, though, of a European becoming World No. 1 in the near future?
The buzz on the eve of the European Tour’s flagship event is on when and which European Tour player might replace Tiger Woods on the Official World Golf Ranking.
England’s Nick Faldo is the last European to be ranked No. 1. He was the world’s best player for a long spell in the early 1990s, only relinquishing his crown to Australia’s Greg Norman in February 1994.
Scotland’s Colin Montgomerie is the closest European to top the world ranking since then. He reached No. 2 in 1996.
Now Europe could be on the verge of the No. 1 spot again.
No. 3 Lee Westwood of England is the highest-ranked European, followed by countrymen Ian Poulter (6) and Paul Casey (8). Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy is ninth, Germany’s Martin Kaymer is 11th and Ireland’s Padraig Harrington is 13th.
With scandal-marred Tiger Woods out of golf indefinitely with a neck injury, Europe’s big names think it might be only a matter of time before he is overtaken. No. 2 Phil Mickelson of the U.S. is heir apparent, but he’ll have a number of European challengers queuing up behind him.
“It’s closer now than it ever was because, obviously, of the points that Tiger has dropped over the last 12 months,” Poulter said. He says he has a good chance of improving his own position in the coming months.
“Phil has pushed himself closer to Tiger’s position, but certainly No. 3 is not that far. It’s a win and a top-5 away from getting into third spot. Lee is in that position now. If he wins this week and has a couple of big finishes, then he will be pushing Phil pretty hard.
“I can see anybody in the top 10 in the world – if they play great for a spell of three, four months, have a couple of wins and couple of big finishes then, yeah, certainly – get to the points that Tiger is at now.”
Two years ago, the flamboyant Englishman caused a bit of controversy when he was quoted as saying he could see a scenario where he was World No. 2 to Woods. He wasn’t even inside the world top 20 at that point.
Poulter reached No. 5 in the world after winning the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. Now talk of him getting to No. 2, or even 1, isn’t so controversial.
Westwood is the man most likely to reach the top spot. Although he tried to stick to the safe line of saying he was here at Wentworth to try and win a tournament, he did concede that getting higher on the world pecking order was a possibility.
“Tiger’s performance and schedule and things like that are unpredictable at the moment,” Westwood said. “Phil is obviously a world-class player and has already won a major this year, but his performances are very much up and down. World rankings are all about consistency. So I suppose No. 2 and No. 1 are more achievable than they have been in the last few years.”
A rib injury has hampered Casey’s progress in the past few months. He arrived at Wentworth as defending champion. Although he did not think he had a chance of getting to World No. 1 any time soon, he said it is a real possibility for Mickelson and Westwood.
“I would have to say, based on performances we’ve seen from Tiger in the last couple of outings, I agree,” Casey said.
“If Phil continues to put in performances like he put in at Augusta, and Westy puts in performances like we have seen for the last six months, both guys are in with a shot.”
Who knows? The European Ryder Cup team could show up at this year’s match with the World No. 1 in the side. That hasn’t happened since 1993, when Faldo was king.
Now that would be a big change in the world order.