If Lee Westwood was hoping for some encouraging words on his Masters chances from his caddie Billy Foster – back on the bag after being unceremoniously dumped 18 months ago – then he would be sorely disappointed.
Foster, who speaks in a gruff Yorkshire accent, does not strike you as one for soothing platitudes. He is good friends with Westwood and insists “things are just the same” on the course as they were prior to Foster receiving the phone call in November 2012 serving notice of the termination of his employment, six months into a year-long lay-off with a cruciate ligament injury. But he freely acknowledges that Westwood “hasn’t started [the year] that great”, owing in part to the reconstruction of his swing.
And on whether Westwood can break his duck in majors at Augusta next week, Foster said: “This year could be a little bit early for him, but you can never say never. He has been working with Mike Walker, his new right-hand man and things might click. He hasn’t started that great because he has made a lot of changes. We’re just trying to get things together and, hopefully, things will improve.”
That’s not to say that Foster has no hope whatsoever for his player. His last walk on the pristine Augusta fairways was in 2012, when Westwood finished an agonising two shots shy of forcing a three-way play-off with Louis Oosthuizen and Bubba Watson.
“In 2012 he played some unbelievable golf but he struggled with the putter,” Foster said. “He missed a three-foot shot and a one-foot one on the Saturday and he ended up losing the tournament by two shots. He has been there or thereabouts the last three or four years. But the course suits his game.”
Foster is looking forward to another Masters but he admits the four days in Georgia are hard work. “It is a tough course and you can’t switch off for a minute,” he said. “It is undulating so it is physically demanding, but above that it is incredibly demanding mentally. As a caddie, if you put the flagstick in on the 72nd hole and you still have a job, you have done all right.”
And as for where the particularly knotty parts of the course are, Foster is unequivocal: you have to be on your game from the start, or you can forget any pipe dreams of a Green Jacket. Then if you negotiate the first hole, there is the third. And the fourth. And the seventh. Then of course Amen Corner, which takes in the ninth, 10th and 11th holes.
“The start is very important – right from the very first hole,” Foster said. “They have lengthened it by 40 or 50 yards and it goes on to a severe green. It is very easy to start your round off with a double-bogey and ruin your day. The third hole is tough – and so is the fourth. It is a par-three on to a very small green.
“The seventh used to be a couple of iron shots, but now it is a drive and a couple of six-irons on to a very small green. It is only 17 yards wide at one end and 11 yards on the right. To make an iron shot on to that is very difficult indeed. Then soon after that you are into Amen Corner.” Hear that, Lee? It’s tough.
“At least the 17th hole will be easier this year, because they have got rid of the trees.” At last, a word of comfort for Westwood.
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