UK well placed for matchplay success
Is there another sport at which UK sportsmen excel more than golf? It's a question worth posing, as is one that asks whether our leading golfers receive due credit at home for their success on the world stage?
This is thrown into sharp focus given the make-up of this week's WGC Accenture Match Play, which is supposed to throw into head-to-head combat the world's top 64 players.
Unfortunately the continued absence of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson's decision to take a re-scheduled holiday robs the event of the top two players in the world.
But in their absence the stage is set for home players to prosper in the Arizona sunshine. There are no fewer than 11 UK hopefuls in the 64-man field, a reflection of the extraordinary strength in depth we can boast at the moment.
Westwood is one of nine Englishmen in the Tucson field. Photograph: Getty
And do these golfers get due respect for their standing in such a global game?The answer is an emphatic no according to the man who leads the home pack, Lee Westwood, the world number four and second seed here.
"We have something like 15% of the field here which is staggering," Westwood said. "I think sometimes people don't appreciate how good English golf is at the moment and it probably doesn't get the credit in the general sports media either.
"You know, they highlight players in other sports where we might get one player in the top hundred, but in golf we get overlooked a bit and I don't think we should."
Westwood is one of nine Englishmen in a field that also includes Northern Ireland stars Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell and faces an all-English first-round clash with Chris Wood.
"He's only just out the amateur game," Westwood says of his young opponent. "He's played a lot more matchplay than me recently because that's the way they do it in the amateur game and he's a good player. He's shown that at the Open Championship and with his constant improvement and being rookie of the year last year.
"There are no mugs playing this week and whoever you face you have got to be on the ball."
Another Englishman, Ross McGowan, could take a big step towards a Ryder Cup debut were he to have a big week. He would add to an already impressive tally of points in the qualifying table and send skipper Colin Montgomerie a big reminder of his matchplay credentials in the process.
But the 27-year-old from Surrey faces the toughest first-round test as he takes on the in-form top seed Steve Stricker of the United States.
There are no guarantees in 18 hole head-to-head sprints, though. Upsets can leap out, a bit like one of those "Jumping Cholla" cactus plants, so prevalent in these parts, that painfully shed their barbed spikes into unsuspecting passers-by.
But sheer weight of numbers says this should be a week where the UK is entitled to be optimistic it can celebrate success and further enhance the country's golfing reputation on the global stage.
Let's hope that if such hopes are realised they are appropriately recognised. This isn't just a British problem - Martin Kaymer has pointed out that his native Germany has yet to fully realise the giant steps he has taken in the game in the last year.
The 25-year-old has risen to number six in the world after victories last year at the French and Scottish Opens and then against a quality field in Abu Dhabi to start 2010.
"I can still walk the streets," Kaymer says of his returns to his Dusseldorf roots. "There are not a lot of people coming up and say can I have this, can I have that, can I have a photograph.
"Of course it's nice to be in Germany sometimes and when people recognise your face, that's nice.
"The main sport we have is obviously soccer. Handball got really big with the World Cup that we had. I think golf is probably third or fourth. But I'm there to get it up there," he laughed.
Kaymer's reputation for success in desert surroundings makes him a decent bet for this week and his record of turning the occasions he's in contention into victories suggests he's well equipped for the demands of matchplay golf.
He opens up against the American Chad Campbell and is in the same "Hogan" quarter of the draw as McIlroy and Oliver Wilson as well as Luke Donald and McDowell who face each other in the first round.
It promises to be a fascinating week, a break from the strokeplay norm and an opportunity for UK players to perhaps set the tone for the year.
Victories at WGC level would represent another step up the ladder and Westwood places this tier of tournament just below the majors and money list honours.
But the fact is it is the majors - the Masters, US Open, Open and US PGA - that confer true glory and we haven't had a British winner of one of those since Paul Lawrie's Open win of 1999.
Once that duck is broken, these players are less likely to struggle for recognition. Success this week offers the chance of taking a useful step in that direction as well.