PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Luke Donald and Lee Westwood will tee off together in the first round of the Players Championship to begin a quest to become the first Englishman to win the PGA Tour's biggest event in its 38-year history.
Scotland's Sandy Lyle in 1987 remains the only Brit to claim victory here. Both Donald and Westwood ranked it just one level below the majors and admitted victory here would be the biggest of their already impressive careers.
The British bookmakers have them as 14-1 joint second favorites behind Rory McIlroy at 10-1. Tiger Woods is a 25-1 housewives' choice (or maybe not) in this 144-horse race. Gone are the days when he was a 5-2 favorite almost every week.
Donald and Westwood, the world's No. 2 and No. 3 golfers, will be joined by No. 19 Bill Haas in a group that, despite their world rankings, will draw more tumbleweed than crowd as the galleries stampede across Ponte Vedra to stalk the stellar pairings of McIlroy, Phil Mickelson and Steve Stricker, or Tiger Woods, Hunter Mahan and Rickie Fowler.
While Donald and Westwood are respected by galleries all across the world, they both know that in the States they have to embrace their roles as co-stars.
"Well, you know, two English guys in Sawgrass, I'm not sure that's going to produce a huge crowd or not," Donald said diplomatically. "Bill Haas might bring more people than us," he added to much laughter.
Westwood chose to skip this event last year and Donald expressed surprise at that decision.
"I don't really know the politics behind why not," Donald said. "Perhaps it was a stand against, well, if you're not going to play Wentworth [London venue for the BMW PGA Championship, the equivalent event on the European Tour], we are not going to play the Players Championship. I haven't spoken to him about it," he said. "That's just me guessing."
Donald might just get the answer he's not particularly looking for when they meet on the first tee. The handshake might be of the finger-crushing vice variety. Westwood got to hear about Donald's comments and offered up his reasons, and regret, for not playing last year.
"I'm a little bit puzzled why people are still asking why I wasn't here last year," Westwood said. "I don't see everybody playing this year. I haven't heard that hardly mentioned. I sat and watched it on TV and missed not being here," he said explaining that he had committed to playing in Indonesia and Korea. "You have to do what you feel is right at the time," he said.
At least Westwood and Donald are both here this week, which is more than can be said for the top American players, who will be noticeable by their absence at Wentworth in two weeks' time. Donald challenged them to venture across the Atlantic to Surrey to compete in the BMW PGA Championship.
"It's considered our Players Championship. I would have thought that would incite some interest in some of the big Americans that would be exempt for it," Donald said. "I've always been a proponent of to get the most out of your game, it's important to travel and experience new places. I think at least go try it once, and if you don't like it, fair enough."
But just as he was beginning to sound like he was brow beating his American peers, Donald explained he understood why it is easy for Americans to stay at home.
"I can see why there are reasons not to play it," he said. "You don't have to travel far to play in a $6 million event (in the States) at a great course at Colonial."
Westwood has Fred Couples's caddie Cayce Kerr carrying his bag again this week as his regular bagman Billy Foster recovers from an operation to his knee after a soccer injury.
"I'm a bit busier out there," Westwood said on getting used to a new relationship. "It's making me think and focus a bit more. Not that Cayce's not a good caddie. It's not his first rodeo. He's caddied for some great players – Fred, Fuzzy Zoeller and Hubert Green. While I'd rather have Billy here, it's refreshing to hear different stories."
Westwood said Foster will be out for three to six months but promised to take him back when he was fit again. It would just be Foster's rotten luck if Westwood wins that first elusive major this summer while he sits at home on the couch. Foster has caddied for Seve Ballesteros, Darren Clarke, Sergio Garcia, and even looped for Woods for one tournament, but he has never won a major with any of his players.
"He would think 'Yeah, that's just about right,'" Westwood said.