Yes, Donald did beat Westwood in a playoff to win the BMW PGA Championship late last month. Yes, Donald has been a force in all the tournaments of worldwide significance in 2011—he won the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship, tied for fourth at the Masters and The Players Championship, and sixth at the WGC-Cadillac Championship.
But consider the tournaments that matter most in determining a player’s legacy—majors—and Westwood has been a more consistent contender than anyone the past few years.
Since 2008, Westwood has totaled five top-three finishes in majors, including runner-up finishes at the 2010 Masters and Open Championship and top-three finishes in each of the four majors. The other nine players have combined for eight top-three finishes. Rory McIlroy accounted for three, while Donald has added nothing to that total.
Westwood also has spent 22 weeks in the world No. 1 position, Kaymer eight and the rest none.
“Being No. 1 in the world is a great accolade to have,” he said after his playoff loss to Donald. “When you sit down at the end of your career and say you were the best in the world or for people to say, pretty special to be the best in the world is lovely. But if you don’t finish tournaments off and win tournaments … that is basically what professional golfers try and do, you try and win, and that’s the main, important thing for me.”
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“My next goal is to win a major championship,” said Westwood, 38, who is the reigning champion of this week’s FedEx St. Jude Classic in Memphis. “It’s the dream of all professional golfers to get to No. 1 in the world rankings, and I’ve done that. I haven’t won a major yet and that’s the missing thing.”
Westwood, of Worksop, England, is back in the United States to prepare for next week’s U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club, and he likes the state of his game.
“The game is pretty good since the Masters. Over 72 holes nobody has beat me in stroke play, so I’ve been playing pretty well,” said Westwood, who won the European Tour’s Ballantine’s Championship, placed ninth at the Volvo World Match Play Championship and then lost to Donald in the one-hole playoff. “Confidence is high, and I’m looking forward to playing this week the way I’ve been playing recently. It should be a good couple of weeks.”
Not only is Westwood’s game in good shape, but he is also injury free. After last year’s U.S. Open, Westwood suffered a ruptured right calf muscle that restricted his preparation for the remainder of the season.
Westwood, who has won two European Tour Order of Merits (the most recent in 2009) and been a stalwart of seven European Ryder Cup teams since his debut in 1997, has empathy for Tiger Woods. The former world No. 1 on Tuesday withdrew from the U.S. Open due to a left knee and Achilles injury.
“If you don’t feel you’ve dedicated the right amount of time to your game to get to a stage where you’re competitive enough to be right up there, then there’s no point in really being there unless you can give it 100 percent,” he said. “So I can see why he’s pulled out. I think it’s a mistake to try and play injured. I made that mistake last year at the [WGC-Bridgestone Invitational] and had to pull out after two rounds.”
While Westwood can relate to Woods from an injury standpoint, he would like to join him as a fellow major winner. That next opportunity is just a week away, and no one has been a better contender of late than Westwood.
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Stuart Hall is editor of the Golf Press Association.