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Page last updated at 19:48 GMT, Monday, 4 October 2010 20:48 UK

Westwood set for top spot?

Lee Westwood

By Peter Shuttleworth
BBC Sport Wales at Celtic Manor

Lee Westwood may be closing in on golf's world number one crown - but Europe's talisman needed a little help from his friends on the Ryder Cup's first, memorable Monday.

Captain Colin Montgomerie unleashed Westwood to lead by example in their singles charge to win back the Samuel Ryder Trophy, but Steve Stricker had not read the script.

America's own go-to man sent the previously undefeated European crashing to defeat - his fifth in seven Ryder Cup singles matches - just hours after Westwood moved up to second in the world rankings for the first time.

The 37-year-old will be on his own when he tries to end Tiger Woods' five-year reign as golf's top cat - a quest Westwood will achieve should he finish in the top two of next weekend's Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland.

But fortunately for him at Celtic Manor, the team Westwood had spearheaded with his heroic efforts in the fourballs and foursomes repaid their on-course leader when he needed it most to claim the narrowest of victories.

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Westwood had already been sent out first by Montgomerie in the first and third sessions, sensing his most experienced player would rise to the challenge of striking the first psychological blow that he himself had thrived on as a player.

But after two-and-a-half points out of three in the company of Martin Kaymer and Luke Donald, Europe's pathfinder lost his way on the back nine here in the final act at this magnificent Twenty Ten theatre.

He went behind for the first time in the four days with a bogey at the par-three 3rd but recovered to lead world number four Stricker with winning birdies on the next two.

Westwood missed chances to stretch his advantage but Stricker birdied the 12th to go to all-square before Europe's leading light went in the water at the 13th to fall behind.

The American holed an 18-foot eagle putt to win the 15th and Stricker secured the 2&1 victory that gave the visitors the lift that Monty had hoped Westwood would provide.

Steve Stricker (left) and Lee Westwood
Westwood was beaten by Steve Stricker in Monday's singles

As the score of the leading singles showdown shifted from blue to red, so did the momentum shift from Europe to the US as Dustin Johnson ended the unbeaten record of Martin Kaymer.

Instead it was the other Englishmen in Newport that showed a steely nerve and raw passion in equal measure to light the way for Europe.

The Ryder Cup records of Ian Poulter (who has now won eight of 11 matches, including all three singles) and Luke Donald (W8 H1 L2) were enhanced further when they struck the first blows for Europe - beating Jim Furyk and Matt Kuchar respectively.

The English duo finished joint leading points-scorers for their team with three points, a tally equalled by Americans Stricker and Tiger Woods.

The world number one showed glimpses of his golfing rehabilitation with flashes of genius on the final day to indicate he will not give up his coveted number one spot without a scrap.

"I have been close to playing like way for a little while," said Woods, who was eight under par for his last 10 holes, including a stunning eagle at the 12th. "I am really looking forward to the rest of the year now."

Francesco Molinari was his unfortunate victim as the American superstar, troubled by his high-profile off-the-course misdemeanours, seemed to take his golfing frustrations out on the Italian rookie.

When Westwood and Donald tamed Tiger and Stricker 6&5 in the foursomes, Westwood was virtually handed the number one torch by Woods' former coach Butch Harmon.

"Westwood is the greatest player in the world right now," Harmon said while Westwood was playing down suggestions that he was Europe's backbone.

Despite Woods winning two points alongside Stricker, at Celtic Manor, captain Corey Pavin was accused of having little faith in his wildcard pick by "hiding" him at eighth in the singles order.

But Woods demolished the younger Molinari brother 4&3 with an exhibition of golf that made him look like the 14-time major winner we once knew.

He could reply to any detractor that criticises his Ryder Cup record (now W13 H2 L14) that he has claimed three points in successive matches - both of which have been defeats on enemy soil.

Yet Westwood's impact on his seventh Ryder Cup was more than about gathering points on the scoreboard; he was the old hand and on-course captain who set the tone and found his best form after two months on the sidelines with a calf injury.

His warning that "the Americans would come out hard and fast" was pinned on Europe's locker room door to keep Monty's men - including six rookies - focused after Sunday's crushing 5½-½ victory in the third session, inspired by his and Donald's dismantling of Woods and Stricker.

That was Westwood's sixth win in seven Ryder Cup meetings with Woods, re-inforcing the impression that he is the heir apparent to Montgomerie as the heart and soul of the European team.

His singles record of only two wins from seven may not stand up against Montgomerie's proud unbeaten record, but the Englishman is now sixth in the all-time European points-scoring list with 19.

Only Nick Faldo (25), Bernhard Langer (24), Montgomerie (23½), Seve Ballesteros (22½) and Jose Maria Olazabal (20½) are ahead of him, and he could have a couple more contests to come.

But Westwood hopes to succeed where Montgomerie failed.

The Scot went as close as you can get to the top of the world rankings without making it to the summit, and is arguably the greatest player never to claim a major championship victory.

Westwood is also yet to win a major - finishing in the top three in four of his last five - but may make it to number one very soon.



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see also
Captain Montgomerie tips Olazabal
05 Oct 10 |  Golf
Montgomerie revels in Europe win
04 Oct 10 |  Golf
McDowell seals Cup win for Europe
04 Oct 10 |  Golf
Proud Pavin hails US team spirit
04 Oct 10 |  Golf
Europe reign after the storm
03 Oct 10 |  Golf
Europe launch Ryder Cup fightback
02 Oct 10 |  Golf
The true beauty of Celtic Manor
02 Oct 10 |  Golf
US edge rain-affected first day
01 Oct 10 |  Golf
Ryder Cup A-Z
28 Sep 10 |  Golf


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