Golf: Westwood poised for breakthrough

Golf: Britain's most promising player is using this week's Buick Classic to hone his challenge for a first Major title
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The Independent Online
ABOUT the only thing that Lee Westwood has got wrong this year, and there has not been much, is his timing. Outside of his actual golf swing, which has timing, rhythm and power in perfect unison, it has been ever so slightly off. Even when he took a swipe at a bush at Wentworth, a rare indiscretion from someone who is mature beyond his 25 years, it was caught on television and he got a telling off from his granny.

Then, after the first of the two tournaments he won last week, the Deutsche Bank Open in Hamburg last Monday, Westwood bought himself a Rolex watch. "I had never won a watch for anything," he said.

On Sunday, he was handed an Omega timepiece as part of his prize for winning the English Open at Hanbury Manor. The back-to-back victories, and the confident manner in which he achieved them, only went to emphasise the star quality of the youngster from Worksop. Only one thing remains to be ticked off his list and that is to win a major championship. And that, Colin Montgomerie can remind him, is as much to do with timing as talent.

It is hard to believe, given that over the last 23 months Westwood has won nine times in eight countries and on every continent barring Africa, that this is only his second year playing in a full set of majors. Last year, only his fourth as a professional, Westwood impressed by finishing no worse than 29th, especially as he had never played in America before. But following a global winning spree of six titles in seven months, victory in a major is a realistic expectation.

It is the next step for a man whose career has been less about giant leaps than determined strides in the same direction. Others may wonder if he will eclipse Nick Faldo's six majors but Westwood's focus is on the US Open, which tees off at the Olympic club in San Francisco a week today. Can he win? The few words that Westwood uses to answer the question speaks volumes. "There is no reason why not," he replied. Not brashly arrogant, just the right sort of cockiness.

Westwood finished 44th at the US Masters and now accepts his preparation was thrown by winning, with unfortunate timing, the previous week in New Orleans. But another of Westwood's qualities is to learn from such experiences. At Hanbury, he said: "I knew how to approach this week after the experience I had in winning at New Orleans. It took a lot out of me. There were a lot of things to cope with and the media attention was huge. I'm still looking for the right way to prepare for majors and next year I'll probably take the week before off."

But not this week. Westwood is playing in the Buick Classic at the Westchester club outside New York. Some might want to freewheel given the challenge to come next week, but Westwood is not backing away from what would be an astonishing treble. "I am not treating the Buick as practice for the US Open," he said. "I'm not the sort who can do that. I don't believe in playing in tournaments and using them as practice rounds."

Westwood faces strong opposition from the likes of Ernie Els, Davis Love, Jose Maria Olazabal, Ian Woosnam, Bernhard Langer and Nick Faldo. Els himself is attempting a treble as he has won the Buick Classic for the last two years, which makes last year's US Open winner the defending champion for the next two weeks.

He is also the official No 1 on the world rankings, where Westwood is 13th, but Els has his own view of the standings. "I'd like to think they are correct but in my opinion Fred Couples has been the No 1 recently and Lee Westwood was certainly the No 1 last week with his back-to-back wins," the South African said. "Lee is a very underrated player."

Only in America, maybe. In Europe, Westwood has just completed 10 consecutive rounds in the 60s and was 40 under par for his last two tournaments. It is fair to say he is in a confident frame of mind. The thick rough and the narrow fairways of any US Open course - and Olympic will conform to the usual format - is not something he lies awake at night worrying about.

"When you are hitting the ball straight, any course suits your game," he said. As for Olympic's ultra fast greens, just bring them on. "I like them as fast as possible so you have to use your imagination."

Westwood and his friend, Darren Clarke, made the fastest possible trip across the Atlantic on Concorde on Sunday evening, arriving in New York at about the same hour he had holed the winning putt at Hanbury Manor. It was a stylish victory celebration but not an act of ostentation.

"It sounds flashy but it is just the right thing to do because the stakes are so high," said Andrew Chandler, Westwood's manager. "Hopefully, the extra night's sleep will make a difference. Last year, when Darren and Lee went out on a Monday for a tournament in America, they found they were still tired when it started on the Thursday."

It is all about timing and Westwood was awry again yesterday. In switching his Pro-Am tee-time to the morning he managed to miss the World Cup opener in Paris, the very thing he was trying to avoid.

Rise and

rise Of

Westwood

IN THE last eight months since making his debut in Europe's winning Ryder Cup team at Valderrama (won 2 lost 3), Lee Westwood has won six tournaments and earned just over pounds 1.3m. He has played his last 10 rounds in the 60s and was 40 under par for his last two tournaments.

Alfred Dunhill Cup

winnings pounds 8,500

Volvo Masters Win

pounds 166,000

Money-list bonus 3rd

pounds 78,000

Sarazen World Open 2nd

pounds 144,000

Visa Taiheiyo Win

pounds 130,000

Dunlop Phoenix 21st

pounds 7,800

Australian Open Win

pounds 90,000

Johnnie Wlkr Classic 4th

pounds 31,470

Australian Masters 13th

pounds 6,040

Malaysian Open 2nd

pounds 19,640

Dubai Classic 6th

pounds 23,000

Qatar Masters 21st

pounds 6,636

Bay Hill Invitational 13th

pounds 23,006

US Players' C'ship 5th

pounds 89,570

Freep't McDermott Win

pounds 187,730

US Masters 44th

pounds 7,400

Italian Open 6th

pounds 13,788

B&H International 65th

pounds 1,500

PGA Championship 16th

pounds 15,564

Deutsche Bk Open Win

pounds 183,340

English Open Win

pounds 108,330

Total winnings

pounds 1,341,314

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