James Lawton: Westwood faces his fear a major win will always be just out of reach

Two years ago he also started with panache, but succumbed to the Mickelson fireworks

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The Independent Online

There will come a time for Lee Westwood to coolly analyse the darkness that came to him on the sunlit 18th green here yesterday. For the bitter moment, though, he is faced with an extremely bleak conclusion.

It is that for a few minutes some of the most dispiriting aspects of a long and frequently superb career invaded one of his last chances to land a major title.

His double bogey cost him the lead and a gathering sense that he might just have the composure to fend off an assortment of challengers ranging from 52-year-old Fred Couples and Rory McIlroy, who is performing no less remarkably at the other end of the age scale.

It has left somewhere in the middle the man who is ranked No 3 in the world just a few weeks short of his 39th birthday. But if that represents an impressive achievement, it is also a haunting backcloth to his major title record of 55 attempts and not one success.

He wants the breakthrough win desperately, you can see it in every nuance of his body language, every new example of ferocious concentration, but then it is also true that a look of absolute disbelief crossed his face this week when he was asked how much "scar tissue" had come with the serial disappointment.

"I'm a professional golfer who gets to play the most beautiful courses in the world," he said.

"It is not a scarring procedure. It is what I do for a living and I never want to forget how lucky I am to do it," he said.

"But do I want to win here this week. Do I want to have a major to my name? Of course I do.

"I'm a professional and the duty of a professional is always to make the best of any talent he might have."

Westwood has always had a huge amount of that talent, of course, but it is only relatively recently that he began to fret about a wider emptiness that might just stretch beyond the mere lack of one tof he great baubles of golf.

"I reached the point," he confesses, "when I realised that there was maybe one last thing I had to achieve in the game. It was the ability to be able say, yes, I did everything I could to win one of the big prizes. I didn't let anything slide just because I had everything in my life that any man could reasonably want.

"I could go home to Worksop and have an extremely enjoyable life, but I began to realise I would always have that nag about whether I could have done more with what I had been given."

The conviction grew to the point of action when he began to tumble down the world rankings – and look into the skull's head of a future filled with too many professional regrets.

That spectre was first raised on one of his early visits here when Tiger Woods was first being heralded as the man who had changed the dimensions of the game – and another, more established legend, made a point of attacking the professional values of young Westwood and his close friend Darren Clarke.

Gary Player told anyone who wanted to listen that he had been to the gym at sunrise and encountered the young Tiger. Then he went to the course and saw an overweight Westwood and Clarke toting a cigar. "The game is changing and a player like Lee Westwood, who has a lot of ability, has to understand this."

You can see that message written on the now well-defined features of the man from Nottinghamshire.

If they seemed also a little drawn yesterday it was hardly a surprise given the powerful sense here that this might well be his best and possibly last opportunity to break into the elite of major winners.

Yesterday the precision of his long game was as remarkable as ever – right up to the moment he hooked his second shot wide of the 18th green. A good chip to 12 feet was followed by a missed downhill putt and a muffed three-foot return. It left him just a shot behind Couples and the obscure American Jason Dufner, but in golf, of course, one shot can separate one world from another.

It means for Westwood it is now more than ever a time to go from shot to shot and, perhaps, to shut out of the memories of his three most haunting brushes with major disappointments.

Here two years ago he also started with considerable panache, shooting 67 and then succumbing on the last day only to the pyrotechnics of Phil Mickelson, which included a shot at the 13th from behind a tree and off a carpet of bark shavings which had rather more to do with sorcery and sleight of hand than orthodox golf technique.

At the US Open four years ago he had the chance to stop a Tiger who was playing with outrageous nerve and resilience virtually on one leg, but in a moment of harsh truth he produced a putt of less than the required resolution. There was a similar story three years ago at Turnberry when the fantasy challenge of a 59-year-old Tom Watson faded not against the reality of Westwood's eminently solid game but the sheer persistence of Stewart Cink.

Recall of such denouements may just have touched his thinking when he dropped a shot – and the lead – on the 11th, but if the possibility of a serious breakdown at Amen Corner was in the air, it was banished impressively enough at the next hole. Westwood sent a beautiful tee-shot across the water to four feet, then sank the putt and reclaimed a share of the lead.

He was again in charge of his golf – and his hard-won equilibrium. After his first day onslaught, he was asked again about his legacy. Did he worry about that remorseless line about being one of the best players never to win one of the big titles?

"To be honest, not really," said Westwood. "I prefer people to remember me as the person I am rather than the golfer. Obviously if I sit down at the end of my career and there's no major championship wins, I'll be disappointed. If there are five or six I'll be delighted. But you know at the end of the day it actually will not change that much, will it?

"More important for me will be the impression I've had on people and whether I've basically gone away having done more good than bad."

Last night, though, there was a more immediate concern. "I have to remember that I'm not going to be far off the lead and that's a position you want to be in."

There is, though, one title with which he might have been presented at any time over the last few years. It is one you give to a man who stops to think about the meaning of a highly successful career – and then vows to do a whole lot better.

Unfortunately, it is a promise once again put at risk, this time by a few minutes which might have passed a verdict on an entire career.

Shot, shank, strides: Three of the best

Shot of the Day

Kevin Na, the man who famously carded 16 on the ninth hole at last year's Texas Open, holed an astonishing 80-yard shot on the 13th for an eagle, which put him one under for the week. To add to his glory, the American also picked up a pair of crystal goblets, the traditional prize at the Masters for hitting an eagle.

Shankers of the Day

Two Brits who are former Masters champions really struggled on day two, with 1991 champion Ian Woosnam starting brightly but quickly fading to seven over, and 1988 winner Sandy Lyle compounding his torrid start on Thursday by drifting out to 20 over par, which was a massive 11 shots beyond anyone else.

Outfit of the Day

The reserved attire matched the windy, overcast conditions at Augusta yesterday, but Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy brought some colour to proceedings when he took to the tee wearing a bright red jumper, much like those of Tiger Woods, who is famous for wearing red on the final day of tournaments.

John Toner