Golf Betting: Wentworth glory for Rory?
Mathematically, Donald is the only one who can overtake McIlroy with a win this week...
Romilly Evans looks at the race for top spot among the world's three brightest golfing stars and feels Rory McIlroy will be hoping he shines brightest at the BMW PGA Championship.
For so long in the shadow of the PGA Tour stateside, the European Tour has closed the gap in the past decade. Much of that success can be attributed to its CEO, George O'Grady, who recognised the growing golfing opportunities on the Middle and Far East, while the US circuit continued to suffer from an acute case of self-involved myopia.
But the other big change has been the seismic shift in player power across the pond. European golfers have ascended the rankings and begun to dominate, leaving their American rivals seeing stars and stripes. That trend is neatly evidenced at Wentworth's BMW PGA Championship this week, where the European Tour can proudly boast the top three in the world rankings at its flagship event. Of course, it doesn't hurt that they're all UK golfers too.
Last year's event even saw Luke Donald and Lee Westwood go down to the wire in a play-off for the championship and World No.1 honours. It was a marketing man's dream, surely never to be repeated. Until this year. Both Donald and Westwood return, looking to oust the game's new top dog, Rory McIlroy, from the highest berth. Two's company, three's a crowd-pleaser.
It's a sideshow that could potentially divert attention away from the tournament winner. But if any or all of this triumvirate are in contention come the weekend, it will only enhance a thrilling tournament.
Mathematically, Donald is the only one who can overtake McIlroy with a win this week - or even with eighth place, should the Northern Irishman bomb. However, Westwood knows that victory would provide him with a psychological edge over his two main rivals ahead of the approaching US Open - perhaps his best chance of capturing that first elusive major.
It all makes for an engaging game of musical chairs. Round and round they go, when will the music stop? Nobody knows. Donald and McIlroy have traded seats at golf's high table six times over the last 11 events, a volatility not seen since 1997 Tiger Woods and Ernie Els played pass-the-premier-parcel seven times in three months with the old guard of Tom Lehman and Greg Norman.
Setting aside childish pursuits, these fickle fluctuations in golf's world order do demonstrate a more mature truth. No-one is dominating the game. McIlroy has added an enviable consistency to his swashbuckling style, but the anticipated production line of trophies is jammed (still only six sanctioned wins to date). Even his breakthrough major success at Congressional last June didn't open the floodgates. And when everyone talked him up at the Players Championship, McIlroy promptly missed the cut.
This 23-year-old isn't going anywhere, though. He resembles a precocious general who is simply refining his abilities on the battlefield. Once he works out how best to deploy the dazzling array of talents he has at his disposal, the Roman Empire may get a run for influence and longevity. In the meantime, however, he remains susceptible.
All of which will give Donald and Westwood renewed heart as they set out the thwart him along the Burma Road this week. After the season plays out, Donald will struggle to keep tabs on McIlroy in the rankings as he attempts to back up a career campaign when he holed every putt he looked at. A substantial slide seems assured, therefore, but a successful defence of his title this week will remind everyone that this Luke can still sky-walk with the highflyers.
As for Westwood, he only needs a few days where his imperious ball-striking is allied to a hot putter. True, this particularly troublesome twain rivals an AGM for occasional get-togethers. But the Worksop Wonder is returning to peak form as the season reaches its zenith of importance. Few know Wentworth better.
But no matter how it plays out this week, a glorious summer appears in store, with three great British talents leading the charge for the number one spot. Tiger Woods said the other week: "I preferred it when it was just me." Golf bettors and fans alike must hope he remains alone in that assessment too. After all, competition keeps the race and the markets alive.
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