Golf: Westwood quells European fears

LEE WESTWOOD and Darren Clarke are urging European Ryder Cup fans not to panic with the match in Boston only three weeks away.

The two stablemates, who are likely to be key men in the eagerly-awaited showdown with the United States from 24-26 September, were part of a dismal showing by Mark James' team in last week's World Championship event, the NEC Invitational, in Akron, Ohio.

Now, back on "home" soil again for the Canon European Masters, which starts in Switzerland today, Westwood and Clarke are not prepared to give Tiger Woods and company the trophy just yet. "The Americans are all right when they are playing for themselves, but when you get the European team spirit going it will be a different kettle of fish," said Westwood, the world No 5.

Clarke added: "I don't think you can read anything into last week at all. That was strokeplay and the Ryder Cup is matchplay. They are completely different games and what happened last week is completely irrelevant."

While Woods just beat Phil Mickelson on Sunday and three more of Ben Crenshaw's line-up finished in the top 10, the only European to break par was the 19-year-old Spaniard Sergio Garcia in joint seventh spot. Collectively the 12 Americans finished seven under par and the 12 Europeans 71 over.

Miguel Angel Jimenez is the only other Ryder Cup man taking part this week, and Westwood and Clarke - 33rd and 36th respectively of the 41 starters in Ohio - have a golden opportunity to give their confidence a timely boost.

Despite the $1m (pounds 625,000) first prize at each of the three World Championship tournaments introduced this season, the competitions have yet to capture the imagination, and according to Westwood they are already in need of a rethink.

The next is at Valderrama on 4-7 November, straight after the Volvo Masters at nearby Montecastillo, and Westwood describes that as "a terrible date". The 25-year-old from Worksop said: "It will devalue the Volvo Masters. You can be pounds 300,000 or pounds 400,000 behind, win the World Championship event and win the Order of Merit. Last year was very exciting [his duel with Colin Montgomerie and Clarke went right to the final few holes]. It won't be like that this year. I think they've got it completely wrong."

A bigger headache for golf's hierarchy is the World Championship matchplay event scheduled for Australia in the first week of 2001. "What sort of date is that?" said Westwood. "A lot of Americans won't pitch up."

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