Golf: Down to earth and upwardly mobile; LEE WESTWOOD; FIRST NIGHT

After wowing Wentworth, Britain's young pretender aims for Monty's throne. By Tim Glover
Click to follow
Lee Westwood was on the practice putting green at Wentworth when his mobile phone, which he had just switched on, demanded his attention. Almost inevitably, it was his manager, Chubby Chandler. "No," Westwood said, "Cancel that appointment. I'm absolutely knackered. I need a day off."

During the conversation he carried on putting, rolling in a succession of 10-footers, one-handed. Westwood can't switch off. This was on the eve of the World Match Play Championship and the wealthiest person to emerge from Worksop had completed a marathon pro-am followed by a long stint on the driving range. He has trotted the globe, winning eight tournaments in the last 11 months.

"I'm shattered," he told a couple of reporters. "It's hard to get away from the game because you tossers keep ringing me at home. Put that in the paper. Ask me an interesting question. Why don't you ask me what I'm going to treat myself to." The question is duly asked. "Two weeks off," came the answer. "This is the most tired I've ever felt. Scuba diving would be good. Total silence."

Westwood's every move is filmed by his coach, Peter Cowen, on a miniature video camera which provides instant replays. "If I get my left shoulder higher would it help me turn more?" he asks the coach.

Westwood is 25 but he still looks like a teenager. This is the freshest- faced case of exhaustion you've ever seen. They call Ernie Els "The Big Easy" because of his temperament and Westwood is similarly reclined. They have invited each other to their weddings in the New Year.

On the practice range on Wednesday, Westwood spent a few minutes watching the South African hit balls. "Are you going to the cocktail party?" Westwood asked Els who replied that indeed he was going to the players' soiree at the clubhouse that night, adding: "I don't know about you but I'm going to get pissed."

Westwood: "It's all right for you. I'm playing tomorrow."

The following day, while Els, who has pillaged this tournament in recent years, had a bye, Westwood beat Stuart Appleby 8 and 7 following a 64 in the morning over the West Course. It set up a second-round match against Els on Friday which Westwood (he was in bed at 9.15pm on Thursday) won 2 and 1, thus earning yesterday's semi-final against the world number one Tiger Woods. Had it been strokeplay, Westwood would have been 21 under par for four rounds.

This is Westwood's debut at the Autumn classic which he first saw on television as a 14-year-old in 1987. It coincided with the Great Storm which caused the final to be played on the Monday instead of the Sunday. Westwood didn't attend school, preferring to watch the golf. "I feigned illness," he said.

This is a red-carpet week, with extra shagpile, for the select few. They are put up in the grand houses on the Wentworth estate and chauffeured the short journey to and from the course. Westwood, his fiancee and his parents have been occupying the distinctive residence that overlooks the 17th green. It is designed like an ocean liner. He would have seen it on TV in 1987. On Friday his match against Els conveniently finished at the 17th and Westwood could have nipped through the garden gate for a cup of tea with the family.

Westwood has been so successful over the last couple of seasons, he could retire tomorrow, buy a yacht, a big one, and swim with the fishes to his heart's content. He has won $1,776,561 worldwide this season, pounds 714,811 in Europe, and has advanced to eighth in the world ranking, 60 places higher than Nick Faldo whom he dovetailed with successfully in the Ryder Cup last year, beating, among others, Woods and Mark O'Meara.

The only European above Westwood is Colin Montgomerie, the perennial winner of the European Tour's Volvo ranking. Monty won it for a fifth successive time last year and goes into the end-of-tour showpiece, the Volvo Masters in Jerez later this month, the leader by pounds 45,266 - from Westwood. "I have given myself a good chance of ending Monty's monopoly," Westwood said. "If I don't do it..." His mobile rang. "Where were we?" Westwood said. "Right. If I don't win I won't be distraught."

It is worth recalling how Westwood, who also won in New Orleans, got himself into this position. He had won in Hamburg, at Hanbury Manor (back to back) and at Loch Lomond but after Montgomerie won the German Masters last month, Westwood picked up the gauntlet by playing in the Belgian Open. The son of a maths teacher, he had done his homework: the first prize was a modest pounds 66,660 but he was aware of its greater significance. "My aim was to win in Belgium so that I could go to the Volvo Masters knowing that whatever Monty did it would have no effect on me if I won." The first prize in Spain is pounds 166,660, the second pounds 110,000. If either Westwood or Montgomerie win the tournament they will receive a further pounds 170,000 from the bonus pool.

Money only burns a hole in the consciousness when you don't have any. "If players were only interested in the money I wouldn't have anything to do with them," Cowen said. "Go on," Westwood said again, "give me an interesting question." "Do you believe in God?" somebody asked. "There's a line in the Bible that says money answereth everything," Westwood said. "It makes life comfortable, helps you to support your family but it doesn't answereth everything. If you get attacked by a shark you can't pay it off. If somebody said to me I'll give you pounds 100,000 if you shoot under 100 and I then shot 98 I wouldn't be happy. Beating people and winning tournaments is what makes me happy. I want to achieve something, I want to be the best in my time. Why does everybody want to beat Tiger Woods? Because he's the best in the world. He's got two arms and two legs and there's no reason why I can't be the number one in the world."

Cowen said: "He's pushing himself to the next level. He's got to do what he's doing now but a little bit better so he can challenge in the majors. It's not like changing an engine in a Formula One car but we can improve the performance. The really great players exploit their advantages and it's not just about talent. Why is Pete Sampras the best tennis player in the world? If you look at all the facets of the game he is by no means the best at each of them but he has a fire for it, a wonderful head and a strong heart. Lee's great strength is his attitude."

It's a subject Cowen knows something about. The Yorkshireman was on the European Tour for 10 years and the only thing he won was the Zambian Open. "I was a great ball-hitter but never a great scorer," Cowen said. "I had a lousy attitude. I would throw clubs, smash clubs. I got mad with myself because I was a perfectionist. I practised relentlessly and I couldn't understand why my scores were less than perfect. I failed in my career. A bad attitude will overcome the most talented player."

Neither Cowen nor Chandler were surprised at Westwood's progress in the World Matchplay Championship. "Nothing bothers him," Chandler said. "Add that to the fact that he's in great form and putting well and you have something special. The best thing of all is that he's still the same kid."

It's not true that nothing bothers Westwood. The first thing he should dispose of is his mobile.