Golf: Westwood a fast learner

Ken Jones watches a young pupil benefit from a tough Augusta education
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The Independent Online
IF odds of 14-1 against Lee Westwood adding the Masters title to his victory in New Orleans last week always looked more like niggardly bookmaking than realistic appraisal, he was not expected to be in danger of missing the final two rounds.

The pounds 1 million in tournament winnings Westwood has accumulated world- wide since making his debut in the Ryder Cup a little more than six months ago suggests that he is indeed the natural successor to the ageing heroes of British golf. But when the 24-year-old from Worksop approached the 18th green at Augusta National, the Friday evening shadows lengthening, he needed to make a 10ft birdie putt to avoid the fate that had befallen Nick Faldo and Sandy Lyle who were already checking the airline timetables.

Of course, Westwood was no less frustrated by difficulties caused by wind on the opening two days, but after shooting 76 in the second round he expressed disappointment. In fact, four bogeys on the back nine, including a double at the normally benign 15th which has claimed many victims this week, almost did for him.

Relieved to be still in the field, Westwood said: "I've been hitting the ball well enough but I must have made eight wrong club selections. I always seem to be between clubs although I should have played the par- fives a lot better."

It has proved to be a learning process for Westwood, chastening too because he went into his second Masters high on confidence. Golf is a humbling game and Westwood will be better for this week's experience.

Before going off with Steve Elkington in yesterday's two-balls Westwood thought seriously about changing to a shorter putter but then decided that it was not time to be fiddling around with his equipment.

Trailing the leaders by 11 shots, Westwood also had a think about his strategy, accounting for the reward of returning automatically next year if he figures in the top 24 finishers. A bold approach might have moved Westwood up the field, on the other hand it could have led to irretrievable calamities. "I decided to play the course as it was and see what happened," he said.

On a glorious spring day, the tall pines still, things happened quickly for Westwood, his supporters encouraged by the two birdies he made on the opening three holes. Two putts for the regulation par at the first, then a flash of real form.

The pin at the second was set tight against a bunker. Chipping from around about 100 feet, Westwood left the ball dead for a tap-in birdie. A smile crossed his callow face. The smile was there again at the next when Westwood holed from a bunker, suggesting some relief this time because, had the ball not dropped, it would have run well past. This was better but not good enough. Instead of the wind it was the hardening greens with which Westwood now had to contend.

With Amen Corner in his sights, the pin at 11 set back and dangerously close to water, Westwood chose a route that often figured in Ben Hogan's thinking. He went to the right of the green and almost sank a 50ft putt to make par a formality.

Even in ideal conditions, the par three 12th holds plenty of terrors and Westwood, pulling his tee-shot left, had to come from the back of the green. A delicate downhill chip. Another par saved.

The back nine got to Westwood again, bogeys at 14 and 17 bringing him back to a level par round, still six over for the tournament. "I needed a few decent breaks," he said. "I didn't get any in the first two rounds, none today. Maybe I used them up all last week."

Westwood conceded that it has been an uphill battle. "I just couldn't get on a roll," he said. "It just wasn't happening. I've got to keep plugging away to try and make the top 24 and I think that's still achievable. The greens are getting a lot harder, making things more difficult," he added. Westwood paused in conversation. "Still, I prefer that to the wind," he added ruefully.