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No added pressure for Lee Westwood
December 2, 2010

Lee Westwood appeared more interested Wednesday in highlights of Barcelona’s emphatic win over Real Madrid than any questions about toppling Tiger Woods to rise to the top of golf’s world rankings.

“I couldn’t believe the performance that Barcelona put in the other night,” the football-loving Englishman said of the 5-0 victory, stealing glances at a television screen. “It was amazing. It was just like watching Nottingham Forest.”

The 37-year-old Westwood, from near Nottingham in central England—where he supports his beloved Forest, was understated about his year despite ending Woods’ record 281-week stretch at No. 1 and helping Europe win back the Ryder Cup.

“Yes, I’ve had a decent year. I’m pleasantly happy with the way things are going,” he said on the eve of the $5 million Nedbank Golf Challenge, where he will tee off as the favorite.

However, a reporter’s observation that 2010 has been “sweet” when you also add his second-place finishes at the Masters and British Open wasn’t fully supported by Westwood.

“Yes to the world No. 1 part,” he said. “The seconds in the majors don’t sound that sweet, because I finished second a couple of times and obviously I would have liked to have won them.”

Following his rise, Westwood says he is not feeling any added pressure and won’t be changing his casual approach. The challenge for him now, he said, would be managing his time better.

“Right now, five weeks ago, I’d have been out on the range, or on the chipping green practicing.,” Westwood said. “It’s added time in my day to do interviews … people want your opinion a lot more. Not just golf, other sports too, which I’m not sure I’m qualified to talk about.

“I think when you become world No. 1, time management becomes much more important.”

Not qualified maybe. But Westwood still had an opinion on Barcelona’s impressive showing and England’s bid to host the football World Cup when it is decided Thursday.

“I just hope we get it,” he said.

But some things won’t be the same, as he learned at the HSBC Champions tournament in China in early November. He was constantly mobbed by fans wherever he went.

“It was my first week as world No. 1, so it was an added surprise,” he said. “I had a security guard that week, and at the start of the week I wondered why. And at the end of the week, I knew why. Your profile rises and everybody wants something, it seems.”

This week, Westwood leads a field filled with Europeans and South Africans at the Nedbank Challenge.

He will be challenged by, among others, four of his Ryder Cup-winning teammates—Padraig Harrington, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Ross Fisher and Edoardo Molinari—and South African major winners Ernie Els, Retief Goosen and Louis Oosthuizen.

He is favored to collect the $1.25 million first prize, but Westwood is still searching for his first win at Sun City as he prepares for his seventh attempt. In fact, he’s only had one tournament win in 2010—at the St. Jude Classic in June.

Victory at the Nedbank, otherwise known as “Africa’s major,” would be the ideal way to head toward 2011 and his single focus.

“I wouldn’t think next year’s resolutions or goals will be too far off this year’s,” he said. “To try to win a major championship, that will be pretty much everything I gear up for. Those four tournaments.”

Here and now, Westwood appears to be approaching this event with the ease, comfort and confidence of Barcelona’s team.

“Obviously with the tag of world No. 1 comes an awful lot of confidence,” he said. “It’s quite something when people come up and say, ‘The best player in the world.’ It gives you a lot of confidence any week you play, so I don’t think feel like I’m in a position where it’s added any kind of pressure.”

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