Westwood leading an English charge

Pete and Perry Dye's new track in Guatemala.
Ken May/Courtesy La Reunion Resort

DORAL, Fla. (AP) — Lee Westwood is the leader of an English revolution in the world of golf as the highest-ranked player at No. 4 in the world and a two-time winner of the European Tour money list.

He has been there before, once reaching No. 4 at the turn of the last decade.

Back then, he was alone.

And while it gives him pride to have so much company at the top – Ian Poulter and Paul Casey are stacked up behind him in the world ranking – Westwood is at a stage in his career where he is more interested in looking in front of him.

“I think it’s good for English golf,” Westwood said Wednesday on the eve of the CA Championship, the second World Golf Championship event in the last four weeks. “I don’t really pay attention to what other people do too much. I’m looking at the three people in front me, rather than who is behind me, and hope to keep going.”

Ahead of him are three Americans – Tiger Woods, Steve Stricker and Phil Mickelson.

Westwood could take a big step forward this week at Doral, trailing Stricker by just over a point. Getting all the way to the top? That depends not only on his future, but that of Woods.

Woods remained a topic of chatter two months into the season, especially now that he his practicing at Isleworth and swing coach Hank Haney dropped in for some supervision earlier in the week.

That has ramped up speculation that Woods is close to returning from the fiasco in his personal life brought on by his extramarital affairs, although there continues to be mixed signals, an inordinate amount of gossip and no clear indication.

Westwood isn’t too bothered by when Woods will return. He’s not bothered by much of anything, really.

Even so, he can’t deny the possibilities.

“I kind of go with the flow and do my own thing,” he said. “But when you’re fourth in the world, it’s not that far to No. 1 in the world, and just recently that’s probably come a bit more attainable with Tiger playing less. It’s very close (from) fourth to second, so it’s a goal.

“I think anybody that gets to a high standard – I think four in the world is a pretty high standard – if you’re asked, yeah, of course you would like to be No. 1 in the world,” he added. “You want to be able to say you’re the best at what you do. So it is a goal. But it’s not something I really think about too much.”

Mickelson is the defending champion at Doral, and looking for his first victory of the year.

He was the top candidate to fill the void left by Woods, especially having won the Tour Championship and HSBC Champions in Shanghai at the end of last year. He has yet to win in four starts this year, which most likely has more to do with his struggle at home as his wife recovers from breast cancer than any technical aspect of his game. Without a pro-am this week, Mickelson was to arrive at Doral Wednesday evening, meaning he would not have a practice round.

Camilo Villegas is coming off a victory in the Honda Classic last week and might be the hottest player in golf. In five tournaments, the only time he failed to finish in the top 10 was his season debut in Abu Dhabi, where he tied for 19th.

“Obviously, I’ve had a good start for the year,” Villegas said. “But it’s not the way I think. Just try to keep going. I’ve had a great attitude all year, and I came pretty close in Match Play and I had a chance there at Phoenix. But tomorrow is Thursday, and trust me, every Thursday, we start from zero. It’s time to forget what happened the previous week.”

Ian Poulter is three weeks removed from his first victory in America at the Match Play Championship, while Geoff Ogilvy is a past WGC winner at Doral who opened the year with a victory in Kapalua.

Only two players from the top 50 are missing – Woods and Ryo Ishikawa, who stayed in Japan to graduate from high school.

Woods has dominated these World Golf Championships, winning 15 of them. Six came at Firestone, while he has won this WGC (CA Championship, formerly American Express Championship) on six courses, the last one at Doral in 2007.

His picture was on a billboard, and occasionally flashed on a video screen.

His absence is not bothering Westwood.

“If he’s here and he’s on form, he’s the favorite,” Westwood said. “But he’s not here, and you don’t know what kind of form Tiger is in. But if you look at the strength of the field, it’s still a world-class field, and it will take a strong winner. Phil won last year and Tiger was playing right in front of me. You can’t disrespect the other guys playing or discount them. You still have to be on your top game to win.”

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