One man chases the #1 ranking, a major championship and legitimacy/vindication. The other wants a spot on his continent’s Ryder Cup team. Lee Westwood and Martin Laird will both benefit from a victory today, but in very different terms.
For Westwood, a win over the Scottish Laird represents another step toward a win (and only a win will do) at the WGC Match Play championship. The English player has never won a second-tier event on US soil (like the Players or a WGC) although he has triumphed at the European PGA Championship and on numerous continents and tours. Now a holder of the OBE, Westwood seeks golfing royalty, first as the world number one. Eclipsing countryman Luke Donald (an eerily similar competitor, a money-maker but not a tournament winner) as the world’s best will be a nice dollop of icing for Westwood and will serve as a springboard toward a victory in one of the four recognized majors.
In complete contrast, Martin Laird stated that his goal was to make the European Ryder Cup squad in 2012. He admitted that the competition is so strong that he will have to be at his best to have a shot. Of the dozen members in 2010, the Molinari brothers are the most vulnerable. Neither has been at his best since that event in Wales and both sort of sneaked onto the team. Padraig Harrington and Peter Hanson are also not iron-clad, although Hanson, like Laird, is in the quarters at Dove Mountain this week. Finally, Ross Fisher and Ian Poulter have also played not quite up to form, leaving an extra-wide door for Laird to enter.
What better way to catch the eyes of the team selectors than with a match play victory over de-facto team leader (and certain qualifier/selection) Westwood? For Laird, today is everything; for Westwood, the third step from the stage.