Westwood unsure how long he can stay No. 1

Lee Westwood (file photo)

Lee Westwood (file photo)

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SHANGHAI – It took Lee Westwood more than 16 years to reach the top of the world ranking, yet he has no great expectations of hanging onto the No. 1 spot for the rest of this year.

Westwood enters the HSBC Champions, starting Thursday, as the No. 1 golfer in the world but with hardly any margin of error.

He is narrowly ahead of the man he replaced, Tiger Woods, with Martin Kaymer not far behind and defending champion Phil Mickelson still as much a threat as ever.

Of greater concern than his competition, however, is the injury that has kept Westwood out of action. He has completed only one tournament since his runner-up finish at the British Open in July, although he did play four matches over 64 holes at the Ryder Cup. He has been slowed by a calf injury that mostly affects his ankle.

“It’s one thing getting there,” Westwood said of his new ranking, “it’s another thing staying there.

“It’s going to be tough this week. I have to play well, which may not be easy. I’m bound to be a bit rusty because I’ve not played a lot recently.”

Westwood said his injury is taking longer to recover and is still “not right.” What brings him to Shanghai is a report from doctors that he can’t do any more damage to his leg, and that walking around instead of lying on the couch might do him some good.

“But I’m taking it gently,” he said. “Just this one week.”

He has scrapped plans to play in the Singapore Open next week, instead taking more time off until the Dubai World Championship, then the Nedbank Challenge in South Africa if he feels up to it.

“That’s not ideal because I would like to play a run of tournaments to get a bit of form together,” Westwood said. “But the end of this year ... I’m not going to say is a write-off, but I’m not too worried about the way I play. This part of the year is really just a gauge toward being right for the start of next season.”

Westwood is the 13th player to be No. 1 in the world since the ranking system began in 1986, and the fourth who got there without winning a major.

He at least has ended arguments about who’s the best player without a major. He certainly has come close, losing a 54-hole lead at the Masters and finishing second to Mickelson, and missing playoffs at the 2009 British Open and 2008 U.S. Open by one putt.

Nick Faldo, a six-time major champion and former No. 1, said in Hainan over the weekend that the best way for Westwood to establish himself at the top of the ranking is to win a major.

“I didn’t need Nick to tell me that. That’s fairly obvious,” Westwood said. “I’ve had quite a good career so far, but a major has been missing and I have performed well in the majors over the last couple of years. All I can do is keep putting myself in position and giving myself chances at winning.”

Westwood also repeated that he will not be taking up membership on the U.S. tour next year. He said playing primarily on the European Tour has enabled him to compete at his best, and there’s no reason to change.

He suspects he might come under some pressure from his sponsor to play more in America, although he hasn’t heard from them.

“I’ve only been world No. 1 for two days,” he said with a laugh.

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