Donald and Westwood delighted to be out of the spotlight for home game
The English duo head to Royal St George's as one and two in the world yet are being overshadowed by a certain Northern Irishman
Wednesday 13 July 2011
So the Open Championship returns to the south of England for the first time in eight years to find that the best two golfers in the world hail not from Florida or California but from the equally glamorous High Wycombe and Worksop.
Luke Donald and Lee Westwood have earned the right to be heralded into Royal St George's with trumpet and drum, home favourites mobbed by thousands of patriotic fans desperate to cheer on an English winner for the first time since Nick Faldo in 1992. And with Tiger Woods hobbling on crutches at home in Orlando, the oldest major really ought to be a very English affair. And then in blew Hurricane Rory. The Englishmen were bridesmaids to the 22-year-old Northern Irishman. There were seats aplenty in the press conferences for Westwood and Donald.
But for Rory McIlroy it was standing room only. Such was the rush of bums off seats on the announcement of his arrival, that just for a moment a rumour circulated that The Royal and Ancient's catering corps was handing out free beer tokens in the media dining area. All the talk in the golfing world is of McIlroy, US Open champion and the sport's newly anointed superstar. And all this Hollywood attention heaped on the young man from Holywood is perfect for his English rivals.
Westwood had the look of someone who had only recently stopped rubbing the sleep from his eyes after a jolly nice long lie-in. The 38-year old world No 2 is a wily ol' coyote of a campaigner skilled in the art of sporting psychological warfare. In fact there are two Lee Westwoods. Sometimes the cocksure bully turns up with a swagger that says, "I'm the man." But this week he's wearing his Kevin the teenager face: "Do I look bovvered?" Oh, he's bovvered all right. He just wants everyone (and that includes McIlroy) to think that he doesn't really fancy his chances.
It's all smoke and mirrors. He's fooling no one. But he's playing mind games with himself, mostly. Rest assured – he wants this Open championship. And he wants it bad. You get the impression that Westwood is delighted to be under the radar happy to see how McIlroy deals with being caught in the white-hot spotlight for the first time. Westwood's body language? Quietly confident. Actually, not that quiet. "My form is right where I'd like it to be," he said.
Westwood finished runner-up to Louis Oosthuizen last year at St Andrews, and tied third in 2009 at Turnberry behind Tom Watson and champion Stewart Cink. He is desperate to finally stand on the top step of the podium. "It would mean everything to me," he said for an Englishman to win the Open on this Kent links. "It's named after St George. You can't get much more English than that," he said. "It's obviously being played in the south of England, which only happened every now and then, and it's the biggest championship in the world as far as I'm concerned." He's won here before, too. Twice as an amateur in the early 1990s so there's good karma in Kent already.
But as the clock is ticking on Westwood's career as he strives for that elusive first major (he is 0 and 53 now as American stat geeks like to say), the last person he wants to hear criticism from is Colin Montgomerie. The Scot has majored in major near misses yet had the nerve to suggest recently that Westwood is getting close to his sell-by date. The words "pot" and "kettle" spring to mind.
"Yeah, I played with him last week," Westwood said, "and wound him up about that. It depends how physically able you are and I'm obviously a finely tuned athlete that can go on well into my forties," he said laughing. Touché, Monty. "People would have said I was coming into my prime 10 years ago. And then I dropped to 270th in the world so what's the point in guessing whether you're in your prime or not."
The Englishman unquestionably in his prime is 33-year-old Donald. The world No 1 arrived at Royal St George's as Scottish Open champion, his third high-profile victory of the year, and on a run of 16 top 10 finishes in his last 18 events. While Westwood likes to play mind games, with Donald, what you see is what you get. As the football chant goes, "There's only one Luke Donald."
He speaks like he plays – in a low key, metronomic fashion. But his results have become spectacular after years of underachievement. All that's missing is what everyone keeps asking of the world's best-ranked golfer. Where's that major coming from? "I really don't think the world ranking has anything to do with my mindset about winning a major," Donald said. Well, he would say that, wouldn't he? "I've always wanted to win a major since growing up watching my idols Faldo and Seve."
Under normal circumstances, an English world No 1 coming to the Open in England would be buried beneath a frenzy of expectation from fans and media. But normal service has been suspended for a while by the emergence of McIlroy as golf's new Elvis just as Woods has left the building. "Rory is at the forefront of a lot of people's minds and rightly so," Donald said. "He was impressive in the US Open and winning majors is a big deal, and he did it in great fashion. I'm sure a lot of the attention is on him and maybe a little more of the pressure as well," Donald said no doubt delighted to pour on some more.
Donald imagined what it would be like to come down the stretch on Sunday going head-to-head with Westwood. "I would love to be in that situation," he said. "I'm not sure who would have the most pressure on them. We'd be very cordial but there wouldn't be much chit-chat."
A perfect English summer afternoon by the seaside, then. A Northern Irishman might just fancy gatecrashing their party.
Donald's recent majors
US Open T12
The Open T35
US Open Missed cut
The Open T63
Masters Missed cut
US Open Withdrew
The Open DNP
US Open Missed cut
The Open T5
Masters Missed cut
US Open T47
The Open T11
USPGA Missed cut
US Open T45
Westwood's recent majors
Masters Missed cut
US Open DNP
The Open T31
US Open T36
The Open T35
US Open 3
The Open T67
USPGA Missed cut
US Open T23
The Open T3
US Open T16
The Open 2
US Open T3
The 140th Open Championship details
8-1 Rory McIlroy
12-1 Lee Westwood, Luke Donald
25-1 Martin Kaymer, Sergio Garcia
Tomorrow BBC Two, HD, Red Button and online (0900-2000) Highlights BBCi (2000-2030)
Friday BBC Two, HD, Red Button and online (0900-2000) Highlights BBCi 2000-2030
Saturday BBC One, HD, Red Button and online (1000-1200); BBC One, HD, Red Button and online (1210-1715); BBC Two, HD, Red Button and online (1715-1900)
Sunday BBC Two, HD, Red Button and online (1100-1245); BBC One, HD, Red Button and online (1245-1900)
Tomorrow Cloudy, 18C, 22mph wind
Friday Sunny intervals, 21C, 14mph wind
Saturday Light rain, 19C, 19mph wind
Sunday Sunny intervals, 16C, 20mph wind
Watch highlights of the Open at independent.co.uk/openhighlights
Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes
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