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Who will be the best player in 2011

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Who will reign as the best player in the world in 2011? GolfChannel.com senior writers Rex Hoggard and Randall Mell weigh in with their opinions.

By REX HOGGARD

The short if not somewhat convoluted answer to the new year’s most pressing question is Europe, or at least someone from the continent – that is, based on recent history and without the aid of Tarot cards.

Tiger Woods may become the first player to win both the PGA Tour Player and Comeback Player of the Year awards, Dustin Johnson’s first major appears waiting at his next Grand Slam doorstep and Phil Mickelson is due for a rebound quarter; but if we learned anything from 2K10 it is that the Europeans are good at Tweeting, winning, celebrating.

In order, Graeme McDowell won the U.S. Open, Martin Kaymer won the PGA Championship and Lee Westwood won, some would say by default, the top spot in the world ranking. In between, the Euros hoisted another Ryder Cup in dramatic fashion and finished the year holding six of the top 10 spots in the ranking.

Now, which Euro emerges is the more interesting question. Kaymer claimed the European Tour’s Race for Dubai trophy, McDowell finished the year with a toe-to-toe takedown of Woods at the Chevron World Challenge and, when healthy, Paul Casey is infinitely capable.

Based on pure potential, however, it’s Rory McIlroy who is poised to take the next step. He’s at home, he’s happy and, as we learned at Quail Hollow last year, he’s very good.

By RANDALL MELL

Lee Westwood won’t give up the No. 1 ranking easily.

In fact, he’ll end 2011 just where he started, atop the Official World Golf Ranking.

Mark it down. Westwood, who for so long looked like he couldn’t close in the game’s biggest events, will be the ultimate closer this season. He’ll be the world’s Player of the Year in 2011.

Westwood may lack something Tiger Woods possesses in abundance. He may lack a major championship. But Westwood enters 2011 with an abundance of something Woods lacks, a load of confidence. That’s because he’s got a great combination going. He’s become one of the game’s best drivers who is also a very good putter.

Being No. 1 in the world can be a burden, and that’s what made Westwood’s reaction to gaining the title so noteworthy. He was emboldened by it. There were no apologies for claiming the No. 1 ranking without having won a major. In fact, there were no apologies for claiming it with just one victory in all of 2010. Westwood closed out the year winning the Nedbank Challenge knowing Woods was close to taking back the top spot at the Chevron World Challenge. Yeah, sure, they were small-field events, but there were large implications with the No. 1 ranking in the balance.