By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM Chief of Correspondents
MARANA, Ariz. -- Lee Westwood has played on seven European Ryder Cup teams, posting an impressive 16-11-6 record.
But he's never gotten past the second round of the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship. Westwood has played in the tournament 10 times and owns a 6-11 record.
"Yeah, I'm wondering what Friday looks like in this tournament," Westwood acknowledged with a wry grin. "I played pretty well here, and (someone) had one of those hot days against me. That's the kind of luck I'm talking about. You occasionally run up against people that are playing well."
Few have played as well or better than Westwood over the last two years, though, and he comes to Dove Mountain this year as the No. 1 player in the world. He was scheduled to face Japan's Toru Taniguchi, who withdrew due to a neck injury, in the first round. Now his opponent on Wednesday is Henrik Stenson, who has tumbled in the rankings but still owns a victory and third-place finish in this event.
"There are no easy games," Westwood said philosophically. "You have the top 64 players in the world. … You get lucky in this format, but you also know you have to play well."
Westwood enters the Accenture Match Play Championship after a week off where he hit the gym hard. He spent Sunday in Los Angeles, doing a photo shoot for his equipment sponsor, PING, and then headed over to Los Angeles. He hit balls on Monday but was to play his first practice round on Tuesday after his interview session.
"I don't think it's changed much," Westwood said. "Good conditions, and I'm looking forward to the week. It's a nice week, different from your usual stroke play. It's exciting, you don't know what to expect, throws up some surprises.
"And the first day is probably one of the most exciting days of the year as far as golf spectators are concerned, watching all the different matches going on."
Westwood said he's not feeling pressure to live up to his lofty new world ranking. But he is having to learn to manage his time better -- and say no, "a lot." He's one of six Europeans ranked among the top 10 in the world, and he likes to new world order.
"I think time moves on, doesn't it?" Westwood said. "The world rankings aren't going to be the same forever. You've got lots of great young players coming through and I like the volatility. ... You tend to see that now that if you put a good run together, you move up. If you stay in that run, you obviously stay very high."
Even so, Westwood's No. 1 ranking is under assault virtually every time he and Martin Kaymer, the 25-year-old who is ranked No. 2, tee it up as they will this week at Dove Mountain. And both Westwood and the reigning PGA champ know there are a host of other younger with their eyes set on that prize -- not to mention, someone named Tiger Woods who wants it back.
"You've got five, six, seven players younger than (Martin) making him look like an old man," Westwood said. "Rory (McIlroy), Matteo (Manassero), Ryo (Ishikawa), all those guys in the top 64 in the world cueing up and pretty fierce and wanting more. So I think the world rankings are very good and they'll make the game of golf look healthy."
Westwood, who won the FedEx St. Jude Classic a year ago, doesn't put a lot of stock into the us-versus-them mentality that has been created with international players winning three of the four majors last year and making such big strides in the rankings. He
"No, not at all, I don't know who's driving that along,' Westwood said. "We're all out there as individuals, trying to win golf tournaments. And European golf is very strong, but it goes in cycles. ...
"You look back at the Ryder Cup last year, and we only just won that, the Ryder Cup, so often American golf is very strong, as well, and so is the rest of the world. You've got lots of good young players coming from all over. I think it's great. It's a world game."