Top 3 meet again at BMW PGA, but compelling rivalry remains elusive
VIRGINIA WATER, England -- Wentworth golf club is in full bloom, London is in the throes of a heat wave and the world's top three golfers are all present at the European Tour's flagship event.
What could possibly improve on that? How about adding a bunch of elite Americans to the field at the BMW PGA Championship?
"Not really, to be honest," said Rory McIlroy, the No. 1 player in the World Ranking. "They have got their big events over there. This is a great event for us. It's great if people want to come over and play, but I think it's just fine the way it is."
So, America, how do you like them apples? McIlroy is still only 23, but he is comfortable enough in his own skin to say what he thinks, even when he knows it's not the party line.
It was here last year that Luke Donald (now No. 2) beat Lee Westwood (now No. 3) in a playoff to win the big bucks and rise to No. 1 in the world. Since then, it has mostly been McIlroy and Donald who have been playing tag with the No. 1 pedestal.
This week, McIlroy is "it." But does he truly believe he is the best player in the world? McIlroy possesses humility, but false modesty is not in his make-up.
"Yeah, you have to believe you're better than anyone else," he said. "On my day, I believe I can beat anyone in the world. It's just finding that capability when you're not playing your best to still come out on top. That's the thing that I'm trying to learn how to do. It's just a matter of going out there and showing everyone what I believe."
Sport needs its rivals to fuel the spectacle. It's awe-inspiring when a Haley's Comet player like Tiger Woods comes along, but it's often more interesting to take a side in a classic rivalry. Arnie or Jack? Tom or Jack? Seve or Faldo?
Donald, even when he is No. 1, has never been bold or brassy enough to generate the feel of a serious rivalry with McIlroy or Westwood, even if he quietly believes he is the best player of this European triumvirate.
"I've been one of the most consistent players over the last couple of years," is his consistent and modest reply when asked to name the best player in the world. So how does the 34-year-old compare his game to McIlroy's?
"Rory is one of the most naturally-gifted players there is," Donald said. "He just has that look about him -- free flowing. Just seems really effortless. If I don't work hard and grind it out, I'm not going to be that successful. It's just not that easy for me."
But make no mistake, just because he is admirably honest and not as outgoing as McIlroy, Donald is just as competitive.
"You know, just daily things like chasing my daughter up to the top of the stairs," he said. "I don't like to let my daughter win, and she's a 2-year-old."
Donald seems to be enjoying a friendly rivalry with McIlroy. They even tweet congratulations when one leapfrogs the other to the No. 1 spot. But the more brash-talking Westwood plays down any rivalry, and he was in a cheeky mood at Wentworth.
Would he rather win by 10 shots on Sunday or beat Donald in a playoff.
"I'd rather win by 10, obviously," Westwood said.
How about beating Rory and Luke in a playoff, albatross at the last?
"I really don't care," he said. "Go for the hat-trick on daft questions."
Westwood was enjoying the banter but not taking the bait. A lot of people would like to see a rivalry between you three ...
"You weren't happy with the rivalry last year?" Westwood interrupted. "It was No. 1 and No. 2. You're very greedy. As a player you turn up trying to win the golf tournament. You're not worried about what everybody else does. To be perfectly honest and perfectly ruthless, I would rather I play brilliant this week and everybody else played crap."
That drew a big laugh, and then he offered a review of his so-called rivals' strengths.
"Luke is probably the best in the world from 80 yards in. He's phenomenal from that distance. And, you know, I like the sort of effortless power of Rory."
What about his own game?
"I like all of it," Westwood said smiling.
Westwood tees off Thursday at 8:15 a.m. (3:15 a.m. ET) in the company of 2010 U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell and Thomas Bjorn. McIlroy tees off in the next threesome at 8:25 a.m. along with Ernie Els and Martin Laird. Donald has a lunch date at 12:40 p.m. with Alvaro Quiros and Doral champion Justin Rose.
Donald is a 7-1 favorite to win, Westwood is 11-1 and McIloy is 12-1. The British bookmakers, at least, love a rivalry.