James Lawton: Westwood approaching golfing summit after leaving Tiger toothless
Here, Westwood has looked a golfer apart, more assured than the other big names
Monday 04 October 2010
it should never be forgotten that when Lee Westwood scored his biggest Ryder Cup win over Tiger Woods here yesterday – and pushed his head-to-head record to 6-1 – he was doing rather more than exploiting the hollowed-out remnant of a once-great player.
Although the Tiger produced some authentic moments of brilliance before going down 6&5 with his foursomes partner Steve Stricker, none of it looked like adding up to more than a forlorn gesture.
So it means that if you want a measure of how superb Westwood has been here these last few days, after coming back from an injury which had kept him off the course for seven weeks; if you want to know why the blue of Europe seeped almost all over the scoreboard yesterday and made them rock-hard favourites to regain the trophy today, this perhaps will do well enough.
Europe's captain Colin Montgomerie has been exhorting his team passionately from dawn to dusk – and then some more as they have headed for their beds.
However, no one ever thought up a battle cry that carried the impact of leadership exerted in the trenches.
Here, the 37-year-old Westwood has simply been enormous. His shots have been fashioned with the authority of a man who is bearing down on the ranking of world No 1 golfer – and one who a few years ago resolved that on top of making a fortune he would also seek to leave behind some world-class achievement.
Here in this Welsh valley, he has looked the part of a masterful player perhaps more convincingly than at any time in a two-year period which has seen him claim second places in the US Masters and the Open and third in the US Open and US PGA.
This has involved some relentless door-knocking but there have been times when maybe his talent has been more apparent than his belief that he is entitled to walk into the house where the major champions live.
But then there has been no such reticence these last few days – and especially not yesterday when many golf insiders were inevitably speculating about whether Westwood could go one stage further than the impassioned Montgomerie, a lion in the Ryder Cup who was never able to display such controlled ferocity of ambition when the major prizes came into sight.
Here, Westwood has looked a golfer apart, more assured, more committed than any of the other big names around him, whatever the colour of his team shirt.
This reality has now been most cruelly imposed upon a Woods who, with the help of Stricker's fierce support, was showing distinct signs of some of his old form, if not swagger.
Certainly, Woods had grown stronger in the company of his friend and, you have to say, protector in building victories in the first two rounds of the action on Friday and Saturday. But when Westwood arrived in the company of Luke Donald, the Tiger's psychological rehabilitation was under the fiercest pressure.
Woods and Stricker were already suffering a degree of shellshock when resuming on the 10th tee yesterday with a four-holes deficit from the Saturday night action. However, they could not have calculated the continued force of Westwood's assault.
Like a heavyweight looking to make an early impression on an apprehensive opponent, Westwood landed golf's equivalent of a massive overhand right on the 10th green – drilling a 35-foot birdie putt, the first of three in three holes, that left Woods and Stricker not so much discouraged as battered to the edge of defeat.
The Tiger was required to make some kind of spirited response and it was one worthy of a man still holding on to some mesmerising talent, a chip from the edge of the green which lipped the hole and bounced away.
That sent a message of confidence into almost every corner of a European team which today needs to win just five of the 12 singles to reclaim the trophy that was taken from them in Kentucky two years ago.
Perhaps we should make that four because there seems such little risk of hubris in the assumption that Westwood is currently too strong, too confident, to submit to any American who happens to stand in his path today.
Although he doesn't need telling that if he leads Woods 6-1 in Ryder Cup action, he trails 0-14 in contention for the majors, Westwood has reason to believe that he may just have arrived at a new dimension as he contemplates the final, seriously competitive phase of his career. Plainly, though, it is a claim he is not likely to utter publicly this side of a thumbscrew.
His reaction was certainly modest enough when his record against Woods – and the fact that he hasn't lost in the Ryder Cup since the notorious events of Brookline Country Club in 1999 – was pointed out. "I've had good partners," he declared, "and that certainly has a lot to do with it and, you know, when you're playing Tiger you just seem to up your game a bit.
"I suppose he's got nothing to win, apart from the point. But he has such a big reputation it seems that you go out with nothing to lose. That may have contributed to us playing great today. That was some scoring in a foursome combination.
"I hope Luke, who is an unbelievably good partner, and I have provided a little bit of leadership at the front. Monty wanted us to go out and make a fast start this afternoon and get some momentum going, and that putt was just the right way to do it. The crowd makes a lot of noise and the right atmosphere is created."
There were times, though, when Westwood seemed to be operating in his own world. Occasionally, he stepped out of it to pump his fist or wave his hat. But none of this interfered with his central purpose. It was further to outline his claim as currently the world's most formidable golfer. Winning the Ryder Cup is, of course, a most acceptable, and increasingly inevitable, bonus.
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