Golf: Friendly rivalry spurs on Westwood

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The Independent Online
THERE IS a reason Andrew Chandler, otherwise known as "Chubby", walks around with the quietly assured air of a man who knows he cannot lose. Apart from the days when Colin Montgomerie has a good day with the putter, which are more frequent than the Scot thinks, usually Chandler cannot lose.

On Monday, at the K Club in Ireland, the former journeyman-tour-pro-turned- top-manager began the day with one of his clients, Darren Clarke, holding a six-stroke lead in the Smurfit European Open and ended it by offering glasses of champagne around the press room on behalf of another of his clients, Lee Westwood.

The 26-year-old from Worksop produced his second successive come-from- behind win but on a remarkable day, if Chandler was ready for the trappings of victory, he was perhaps not expecting to console a player who lost such a commanding lead in front of his home gallery.

Chandler could set up a special made-for-television exhibition game, like that won 2 and 1 by Tiger Woods over David Duval on Monday, but what is the point? There is nothing artificial about the rivalry between Clarke and Westwood, even without throwing Monty into the melting pot.

"We are good friends," Westwood said after stealing the European Open from Clarke. "It's a healthy rivalry and that's why we are improving so fast.

"I don't think it's any coincidence that Darren won the English Open and spurred me to improve, and that he played much better this week after I won in Holland. I managed to pip him today but we seem to feed off each other.

"It's a healthy relationship and we both realise that we are going to be in this position a lot more in the future. One week he's going to win and one week I'm going to win."

Westwood had every sympathy for a friend, but did not let that get in the way of his reputation of being a ruthless winner - his victory was his 16th in three years around the world, compared to 13 by Woods and 11 by Duval.

Twice Westwood has been on the end of similar last-day charges, by Clarke at the Volvo Masters last year and by Montgomerie at the Irish Open the year before. "I was chatting with Monty on the putting green before the round and said if he could do it then, someone might do it today," Westwood said.

"I know Darren will feel he should have won but it is never as easy as it looks to be that far ahead. When something starts coming at you it is hard to regroup."

Westwood is now second on the Order of Merit, trailing Montgomerie by just under pounds 125,000. With two big money events to come this month - the USPGA Championship next week at Medinah is followed a fortnight later by the NEC Invitational - that differential could disappear rapidly.

Certainly Westwood is running into form at the right time and, having suffered a shoulder injury in May and June, is back to the point where he stood looking down on Amen Corner at Augusta on the final day of the Masters. Then he was leading a major for the first time and admitted to feeling it in his stomach.

"If I get myself into position at the USPGA I should be feeling more comfortable than at the Masters," Westwood said. "Obviously a major is the one thing missing but I am feeling confident. I am hitting quality when it matters. The three-wood into the last wasn't a piece of cake but I feel I can play most shots in most circumstances."

Having played seven weeks in a row, Westwood is skipping the Scandinavian Masters which starts tomorrow. He and Clarke will instead leave early for the States and on the way to Chicago will stop off in Boston to play a practice round at Brookline, the venue for the Ryder Cup in September.

"Whoever Mark [James, the European Ryder Cup team captain] wants to pair us with is fine but deep down I think Darren and I want to partner each other. We could be a formidable combination and we'll certainly make enough birdies in the fourballs. We have been calling each other `partner' for weeks but when one of us has not been playing so well, the other has said, `You know, Sergio [Garcia] is playing well'."

Like Bernhard Langer, who is 11th, Garcia, a place further back, has some work to do over the last three weeks of qualifying to avoid being picked as one of James's wild cards.