CASARES, Spain -- The weekly race for the top ranking in world golf has been engrossing for European golf fans if not for the players involved.
With Tiger Woods slipping down the rankings, the field has closed at the top.Very little separates the new leader, Lee Westwood, from pursuers Luke Donald and Martin Kaymer.
Second-ranked Donald, who could leapfrog fellow Englishman Westwood by winning the World Match Play Championship this week, says "it's certainly different to the days when Tiger had such a big lead ... but we're less fussed about it than everyone else."
The 38-year-old Westwood is taking it all in stride.
"Everything I read is, 'So-and-so could go past Lee Westwood.' Unfortunately that's how it is when you're No. 1," he said. "You can only go one way. There is never a line where it says, 'Lee Westwood can go past ...' because there is nobody in front of me.
"I just have to live with it and I'm not really worried about it. We are all out here with the purpose of trying to win golf tournaments, really."
Westwood, who spent 17 weeks at No. 1 from October until February, fell back, then regained it from Kaymer last month, knows he'll keep the top spot if he makes the final at the Finca Cortesin course in southern Spain.
If Westwood is eliminated in the semifinals, Donald can move to No. 1 by winning the tournament. Third-ranked Kaymer of Germany will go to No. 1 if he wins the event and Westwood doesn't qualify for the last four.
With all three players part of Europe's Ryder Cup-winning team of 2010, it's very much the friendliest of rivalries.
"It's obviously a great accolade to be No. 1 -- I would love to be No. 1 -- but certainly it's something I'm not really thinking about," said Donald, who has never topped the rankings. "I think No. 1 is more up for grabs now for many people. Obviously week to week, it seems like it's between the three of us the last couple of months, but certainly there's people lurking behind who can get in the mix as well. It's just something added to the mix, something to shoot for. Just something to be interested in for the fans."
Donald said he'd prefer to meet Westwood in Sunday's final, even if such a scenario meant he'd stay below his compatriot in the rankings.
"I'd love to play Lee in the final," Donald said. "It's more satisfaction when you can take down the best player in the world."
Both players got off to impressive starts at the World Match Play on Thursday. Westwood routed Anders Hansen of Denmark 6 and 5, while Donald beat Ryan Moore of the United States 4 and 3.
Kaymer didn't have it all his own way against Y.E. Yang, but came through a 2-and-1 winner.