GOLF: Westwood hampered by injury

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The Independent Online
LEE WESTWOOD'S attempt to catch Colin Montgomerie and claim the European No 1 title may have been hurt by his efforts to keep up with world No 1 Tiger Woods at Wentworth during the World Match Play. The 25- year-old Englishman wore a corset-like support to protect a torn side muscle during his first practice session here, where the season-ending Volvo Masters begins tomorrow.

Westwood, who also underwent ultrasound treatment in the physio unit, said: "It hurts whenever I make a swing but I was hitting the ball well on the range."

The injury occurred on the 12th tee in the afternoon round of his 5 and 4 defeat by Woods in the semi-finals at Wentworth. "I went after my drive a bit too hard," Westwood said. He added, with a smile: "I wanted to be 60 yards behind Tiger rather than 100 yards."

Westwood thought a few days rest would do the trick but had forgotten about the injury when he made a warm up swing on the first tee when playing in a company day last Thursday. "It felt like I had been stabbed in the side," he said.

"But I still played all 18 holes because I needed to test it out. I am not going to make any excuses; if I couldn't swing the club, I would not be playing."

The defending champion after winning the rain-shortened 54-hole event last year, the start of an extraordinary run which has seen him win eight times around the world in the last year, Westwood needs to overcome a pounds 45,265 deficit to deny Montgomerie a sixth successive Order of Merit victory.

While not a priority for much of the season, four wins in Europe, including the Belgian Open at the start of the month, has made Westwood change his view. "It is a fairly prestigious thing and anyone in their right mind would want to win it," he said. "I certainly want to win it pretty badly now I have the chance but if I don't, it won't bother me. Everyone wants to be the best wherever they play and that's my goal every week."

Victory would make Westwood unbeatable and anything down to fourth could be enough depending on Montgomerie's result. Darren Clarke, with a win and other results going his way, still has a mathematical chance but theory and practicality are two different things for the Northern Irishman.

"If it is seen as a shootout between Lee and Monty then that's fine with me," Clarke said. "I've got a new set of irons, a new driver and I'm looking towards next year."

Consistent though Clarke has been, he has only won once this season to Westwood's four and Montgomerie's three victories - and he thinks he knows why. "Their mental attitude is a lot stronger than mine is," he said. "It is getting better but is taking longer than I'd hoped for. Maybe it is being Irish, I look at things a bit differently."

Apart from the money title race, the major topic of conversation at Montecastillo concerns the inclusion of the three new World Golf Championship events on the 1999 European Order of Merit. A players' gathering took place last night ahead of this evening's formal meeting with the Tour executive.

Seve Ballesteros spoke up for the rank and file last week when he stated that "90 per cent" of the tour were against the move to include the pounds 3m events introduced by the Federation of World Tours. The tournaments, which all have different eligibility rules, will feature around a dozen to 20 Europeans.

"There are going to be 12 players delighted by it but the rest of the Tour's card holders are going to be upset," said Westwood. "Does the European Tour cater to the majority or to those at the top of the tree? You won't see me complaining."