Westwood makes case for No. 1 in match with Woods

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Lee Westwood doesn't need to make a statement for himself by passing Tiger Woods to become the No. 1 player in the world. The way he played against Woods on Saturday in the Ryder Cup was more than enough evidence of his lofty place in the game.

Westwood teamed with Luke Donald to take a commanding lead in alternate-shot play over Woods and Steve Stricker before darkness halted their match after nine holes, capping a big day that began with him helping score the first point of the Ryder Cup.

Impressive, sure. But pretty much what European captain Colin Montgomerie expected when he sent out the British player against America's best.

"Quite simply, Lee Westwood is my top-ranked player and has proved it. Simple as that," Montgomerie said. "He's been unbelievable, in the team room, in the locker room, on the range, on the course, some of the shots he hits. He's my best-ranked player, and has proved it so far."

On a long day on a soggy course, Westwood put to rest any worries he might be rusty after seven weeks off with a leg injury with the kind of Ryder Cup performance that has come to be expected from him. Before being benched and then taking a loss two years ago, he had gone 12 straight matches without a defeat. He's clearly the star of his star-studded team.

Montgomerie trusted Westwood so much he put him on the tee Friday to lead things off for the European team, and a day later he and Martin Kaymer brought home the first weather-delayed point for Europe in best ball. They added a half point with a draw in alternate shot against Rickie Fowler and Jim Furyk, and he and Donald have a 4-up lead they will take into the final nine holes Sunday against Woods and Stricker.

Three matches against four American stars. And Europe will end up surely cashing in points in each.

The only question Montgomerie will have about Westwood is whether to send him off early in the singles to give Europe a quick boost, or hold him off to the end to try and seal the matches for the home team.

Padraig Harrington likes him out front.

"He's a fantastic player and he's a great player for us to lead out," Harrington said. "He's proven it so far in his first three matches, and you know he's a great partner for anybody and a great leader on the team. So far this week, our players have trusted in Lee being out in front."

Winning Ryder Cup matches won't do anything for Westwood's world ranking, but he's knocking on the door to be No. 1. Currently third, he will move up to No. 2 on Monday and needs only respectable performances in his next few tournaments to supplant Woods at the top.

The way he played late Saturday against a Woods and Stricker pairing that came into the match unbeaten, the crown will fit well.

Playing alternate shots with Donald, the two were conceded a birdie putt on the first hole and Westwood sank a 12-footer on the second to go 2 up. They stretched the lead to 5 up at one point, rallying the other European teams to turn around a Ryder Cup that hadn't been going that well for the home team until then.

His partners seemed grateful just to be along for the ride.

"He played so solid, especially after his injury, he couldn't play golf for a while," Kaymer said. "And mentally, he's so strong. He made important, great shots in the foursomes that we played. I mean, I don't know what to say. For me, he's No. 1 in the world at the moment."

Like his captain, Westwood is becoming more known for his play in the Ryder Cup than in major championships, though he finished second at both the Masters and British Open last year before a nagging calf injury affected his play.

Like his captain, he's not afraid to lead.

I don't know whether I'm the backbone," Westwood said. "The strength of this European team I think is its strength in depth, more than one man. But I'm quite willing to stand up there and lead if anybody needs to be led."

So far he's done just that. And it would surprise no one if Westwood led his teammates all the way to another Ryder Cup win.