Lee Westwood: My near miss at The Open takes me closer to first major

Briton says that improved equipment and fitness mean he can have many more shots at a big one

Lee Westwood has revealed the exact moment at Muirfield on Sunday when he realised that his chances of achieving his long-awaited first major title had slipped away.

But rather than resent the late charge through the leaderboard by Phil Mickelson he believes the American’s performance is evidence that his own time to win one of golf’s big four annual tournaments will still come.

Having had 48 hours to analyse the dramatic events on the southern bank of the Firth of Forth, Westwood said yesterday: “I realised the tournament had got away from me on the 15th green.

“Phil was going up the last at that stage at two-under and that’s not the easiest par. I was on level and hit the ball straight at the pin at 15 and got a bit unlucky, but still had a birdie run at it.

“But then I’d heard he’d birdied 18 and then I missed my birdie putt, I was three behind and thought ‘well, these last three holes aren’t really all birdie chances’.

“And I bogeyed 16. I just struggled into the wind all week. I bet you of all the bogeys I made all bar one were on holes into the wind. I just get a bit scrappy. I wasn’t anywhere near my A game.”

Ironically, Westwood was talking at the Close House Hotel near Newcastle where his first venture into course design was being unveiled. But there was no hint that, at the age of 40, he is imminently considering a full-time career switch in the golf industry.

Having seen Mickelson pick up his first Claret Jug at the age of 43, the Briton believes he could be competing for majors for another decade. “Players are looking after themselves now,” Westwood said.

“Technology has helped to a certain extent. Twenty years ago you got to 40 and your game started to drop off because technology didn’t help at all. I think I’m quite mentally strong to keep ploughing away. Mentally strong or just thick really.

“Look at Miguel  Angel Jimenez, he was leading the Open at 49 and he’d just broken his leg! Why put age limits on it all? Now I don’t think it’s a case of if you are physically fit. It’s if you are mentally thick.

“If you still have the hunger for it and the resilience or whether you just toss it in. But I don’t see finishing third in the Open as a career nearly over. That’s more like, ‘Oh, I’ve still got it’.

“What do I do? Walk away, when I’ve had so many top threes in the last few years? Twelve years ago I was playing crap and that’s when you are really frustrated and feel like walking away. Not when you’re having top threes in major championships. You don’t feel like walking away then. You feel like finding that little bit where you need to improve.”

Westwood did admit that one day he would like to become a European Ryder Cup captain but for the immediate future working on his golf ahead of next month’s Bridgestone WGC and the USPGA Championship – the final major of the year– remain his priority.

And having had a 45-minute putting lesson with the 1991 Open Champion, Australia’s Ian Baker-Finch, before travelling to Muirfield he believes he has turned an important corner in his career.

“I’m pleased I’ve turned my putting and short game around,” he said. “That’s the best I’ve putted in quite a while over three or four consecutive days. Even on Sunday, I putted nice.”

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