No. 1 in sight

Lee Westwood of England on the final day of the 2010 Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor in Wales. Europe beat the United States by one point to regain the Cup.

Alfred Dunhill Links Championship

Oct. 7-10

Courses: St. Andrews, Old Course (7,279 yards, par 72), Carnoustie, Championship Course (7,412 yards, par 72) and Kingsbarns Golf Links (7,160 yards, par 72).

Purse: $4.8 million. Winner's share: $800,000.

Last year: England's Simon Dyson won the rain-delayed tournament in a Monday finish at the Old Course, closing with a 6-under 66 for a three-stroke victory.

Lee Westwood could soon find himself on top of the world. Not bad for a guy who was at rock bottom not so long ago.

A top-2 finish this week in the Alfred Dunhill Links will propel Westwood to dethrone Tiger Woods as world No. 1.

Chances of that happening are pretty good. Westwood, currently world No. 2, has had success at St. Andrews. He finished second over the Old Course in this year’s Open Championship. He also won the Alfred Dunhill Links in 2003.

Ironically, Westwood doesn’t need to play at this weekend to reach No. 1. If he and Woods do not play for the next three weeks, then Westwood would top the Official World Golf Ranking on Oct. 24.

The system works over a rolling two-year cycle. So with 2008 results being wiped off a player’s record, Westwood automatically becomes No. 1 if he does not play.

That’s not Westwood’s style.

“All credit to him for actually playing, and risking that position,” Colin Montgomerie said. “But I’m sure that the way Lee Westwood is playing golf right now, you would have to say he’s right up there with Phil (Mickelson) and Tiger as one of the best players in the world.”

Westwood’s recent success is remarkable considering how low he had fallen. He became European No. 1 in 2000 and reached world No. 3. However, the Englishman’s game deserted him and he fell outside the world top 250.

His comeback seemed complete last year when be became Europe’s top golfer again after winning the Dubai World Championship. Then, he did not think that he would dethrone Woods.

“You think I can out-stay him? Maybe when I’m 60,” Westwood joked in Dubai. “I think anything is attainable, but you’ve just got to watch him play to see how good he is. But I think second is definitely achievable.”

Like the rest of the world, Westwood did not foresee Wood’s off-course problems. Woods is a shadow of the player he was before his life turned upside down. Westwood, meanwhile, kept improving.

Westwood is one of 10 players at St. Andrews this week who helped Europe win the Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor. Montgomerie, Rory McIlroy, Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell, Francesco and Edoardo Molinari, Peter Hanson, Ross Fisher and Padraig Harrington all tee it up alongside Westwood in the $5 million event. Other notables include Ernie Els, Retief Goosen and John Daly.

The strong field guarantees valuable world ranking points. Even if Westwood doesn’t reach the top of the world this week, the Englishman can do so next when he plays in the Portugal Masters.

It’s only a matter of time before Westwood becomes the 13th player – and second Englishman after Nick Faldo – to head the world rankings since they were inaugurated in 1986.

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