Golf: Westwood maintains momentum with Augusta on agenda

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The Independent Online
WHILE many leading players are taking a break between the peaks of the Players' Championship and next week's US Masters, Lee Westwood has chosen to keep riding his present wave of form on to Augusta. Justin Leonard, the winner at Sawgrass on Sunday, immediately withdrew from the Freeport McDermott Classic, however.

With only six of the top 20 players on the US money list in attendance, including Tom Lehman and Davis Love, the European contingent, which includes six of the Ryder Cup team plus Seve Ballesteros, should have high hopes at English Turn.

"I always think that I should be a contender every week now," said Westwood, who has finished 13th and fifth in his last two tournaments. In seven American events over the past year, the 24-year-old has yet to finish lower than 29th. "I have every chance. You have to be confident going into each tournament."

Unlike those who have remained in Florida, such as Nick Faldo and Colin Montgomerie, one of whom it is certain will be practising hard while the other takes his family to Disney World, Westwood is happy to play tournament golf.

"Playing competitively is the best preparation for next week for me," he said.

"I get rusty very quickly when I take a week off. I always come out slowly at the start of the year, but now I have got a lot of confidence from the last two weeks and I am happy playing my way into Augusta."

Ian Woosnam, who won here in 1991 a month before going on to his Masters victory, is fit to play after quitting during the first round with back trouble last week.

"I have been working on a new motion in my swing and it stretched some muscles that don't usually get used," said the Welshman.

"I feel a bit stiff in the bottom of my back," he added, "but then if I play darts my arm aches. I couldn't get through the ball with my driver, and if you don't hit the fairways at Sawgrass, it is tough to get round that golf course."

Woosnam was able to practice over the weekend and his coach, Bill Ferguson, reports his iron play and putting are peaking nicely. "I had never lost a putting match to any of my pupils, including Monty, until Woosie beat me yesterday," Ferguson admitted.

For those not already exempt for Augusta, winning here is the last opportunity to earn a place in the Masters. Love, the current USPGA champion, did just that in 1995 and went on to finish second.

Len Mattiace, who has yet to win on the US tour, is one who is still looking for an Augusta invitation. He could have taken care of that last Sunday when he was a shot behind Leonard playing the 17th but twice went in the water and took an eight. "I am going to think about that a lot," he said. "But I'm here to give it another go and get into Augusta."