Moneybags Lee ready for another pay day

Lee Westwood: Bidding for the �720,000 first prize in Shanghai
Lee Westwood: Bidding for the �720,000 first prize in Shanghai
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LEE Westwood has the chance to achieve another milestone in his career this weekend - biggest earner in European Tour history.

In a sign of the times the opportunity comes not in Europe, but in China at the WGC-HSBC Champions tournament where Westwood finished runner-up last year, one shot behind Francesco Molinari and nine clear of the rest.

For years the top of the career money list was fought out between Colin Montgomerie and Ernie Els. Montgomerie, though, has not had a victory for well four years and Els has not had even a top 10 finish on the circuit since he won the South African Open last December.

The 42-year-old still heads the table with £22.4million, but Westwood is now up to £22.2million and first prize in Shanghai is more than £720,000.

That figure is still dwarfed, of course, by the £1.25million won by Rory McIlroy across town on Sunday, but this event carries world ranking points and counts towards this season’s European money list race.

Luke Donald, already with the PGA Tour number one tag in his pocket, leads by over £1million, but withdrew to stay with his wife Diane. She is expecting their second child at any time.

It was this time last year that Westwood went to world number one for the first time and he told europeantour.com: “I played like world number one in the tournament - unfortunately Francesco played a little bit better.”

The Italian finished 19 under par to his Ryder Cup team-mate’s 18 under, with Donald and Scot Richie Ramsay next best at nine under.

Westwood cannot catch Donald on the world rankings this week, but having McIlroy - now his former stablemate - snapping at his heels ought to act as added incentive.

There are 16 years between them, but the 38-year-old commented: “I think that it’s a game where I guess age is not such a big issue. You can obviously play well into your 40s. The young lads that come out now in their early 20s obviously have a hunger for it and they seem they are almost professional before they come out.

“You have the likes of Tom Lewis, who won his third event on Tour in Portugal a few weeks back and Matteo [Manassero] who’s won a couple of times already and he’s only 18.”

Twenty-year-old Lewis make his World Golf Championships debut alongside last year’s US Open champion Graeme McDowell.

The Ulsterman appeared in crisis with his game at the weekend, though, as he failed to break 80 in the last two rounds of the Andalucia Masters.

“Hit every tree at Valderrama,” he said on his Twitter site. “Good swings are great but bad ones are out of control.”

Westwood plays with USPGA champion Keegan Bradley - one of only a few American stars in a field including just four of the world’s top 10 - and Australian Adam Scott.

McIlroy’s partners are Masters champion Charl Schwartzel and American Nick Watney, who like Scott already has one world championship victory this season.