Golf: Westwood conquers America

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The Independent Online
ENGLISH TURN was named after an inglorious day in British military history when the troops turned back fearing the French were round the next bend in the river. But Lee Westwood did exactly the opposite, never backing off to win for the first time in America at only his eighth attempt.

Westwood confirmed he was the class act on the Freeport McDermott leaderboard as he beat Steve Flesch by three strokes with a final round 69 for a 15 under total of 273. The 24-year-old from Worksop, who has now won seven times on four different continents, is the youngest Briton to win on the US tour since Tony Jacklin 30 years ago. He also became the first non- member of the tour to win since Tiger Woods in 1996. Westwood collected $306,000 (pounds 204,000) and in the last three weeks has earned $489,500 to be 11th on the US money list.

His thrilling victory, something Colin Montgomerie has not managed to achieve in 48 US tour events, could not have been better timed as he heads to Augusta for the US Masters. The only thing seeming to slow Westwood's determined progress was the glacial pace of play with threeballs in operation. But the Ryder Cup player was not worried as he gradually extended his one-shot overnight lead.

With Flesch, his nearest challenger, not picking up his first birdie until the 15th, Westwood soon put daylight between himself and the rest of the field. He went to the turn in 34 with birdies at the second and the fourth, and then immediately added two more with putts of eight and 25 feet at the next two holes.

His round was not without incident, however. He had to get up and down three times at the end of the front nine, just where he had dropped two shots in his third round 67, and at the 14th had a double hit on his first putt from the fringe. Westwood called the penalty on himself, then holed from 18 feet to score no worse than a bogey and birdied the next to recover the dropped shot.

His only other blemish was a three-putt bogey at the 17th which he almost regained at the last. "I'd like to win on every continent,'' said Westwood, who only admits Antarctica is beyond his clutches. "Look at all the good players. They not only travel the world but they win all over the world.''

Westwood has become a firm favourite with the local galleries. "Everyone gets into it,'' he said. "They appreciate good shots and it is nice to have people cheer when you hit a good shot. As long as they don't shout `you the man' at the top of my back swing I enjoy it.''

Off the course, too, Westwood's dry sense of humour has gone down well. Asked why a vitamin company wanted to sponsor him, Westwood replied: "They are looking long term. I think they want to bring out a weight loss pill in the future.''

With his quarter century to be toasted at the end of the month, Westwood is just older than when Jose Maria Olazabal won the World Series in 1990. Both Nick Faldo and Sandy Lyle were 26 when they gained the first wins in America but Jacklin was 23 when he won the 1968 Greater Jacksonville Open and Seve Ballesteros was 21 when he won the Greater Greensboro Open ten years later.

Ian Woosnam was 31 when he won the USF&G Classic at English Turn seven years ago. The victory, then three weeks before the Masters, meant he arrived at Augusta as the world No 1. Woosnam, who had a 71 yesterday, went on to win the Masters, as did Olazabal, who closed with a 70, after coming second here in 1994.

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