Lee Westwood on upswing for Masters
The wonder of Worksop has famously never won a major but he has got his mojo, his old caddie and his form back just in time for another tilt at Augusta, he tells Kevin Garside
A call to Lee Westwood at his Florida home found him momentarily indisposed in the bedroom. Ooh er missus, nudge nudge, wink wink. Well not quite. He was changing the bed, helping his wife Laurae replace the quilt cover, arguably the hardest domestic chore to execute alone.
If the picture conjured is one of domestic bliss, that might be because life for the Westwoods in the Florida quarter of Old Palm is more than good. There was no time for the dustpan and brush at their old Worksop palazzo since Westwood was rarely home at this time of year. And when he was, he was sleeping off the jet lag.
He had the previous week been competing in Orlando. Before that he was in Miami, before that around the corner at the PGA National, from where he went home to his own bed each night. He could at a push have done all three from home. The Florida swing is death to air miles.
On the flipside the big move to America, executed 16 months ago, has not produced the intended upswing in results. Westwood’s world ranking, 37, is the lowest it has been since he emerged from the wilderness years.
On present form he would require a captain’s pick to contest September’s Ryder Cup. This, you might imagine, would be cause for the coming together of head and wall for a player who has come to form the European backbone.
But no, as the Twitter family would attest, Westwood is done with disappointment. Attempts by the trolls to bring him down over a perceived lack of success, more specifically the absence of a major on his résumé, are met with a raised beer bottle from the side of the pool, and depending on how much has been consumed, a topping of high-voltage invective.
Lee Westwood congratulates Phil Mickelson after the American played some amazing golf to steal the 2010 Masters from the Englishman (Getty Images)
Having banked more prize money than anyone on the European Tour, £25 million, and spent the best part of six months at the top of the world rankings, where, he reasons, is the sense in beating yourself up? The lack of that elusive major – and he might have had a few – is easily rationalised with the ebbing of time.
“It’s tough to win any tournament, full stop, and even harder to be a multiple winner because the fields are so deep,” he said. “I’m still keen to practise and play as much as ever. That’s what it’s all about. Once you lose that it gets difficult. Even when it gets tough I’m still willing to put the time in. And people play well for longer these days.
“Whatever happens in the time I have left on tour I’ve already had a great career. I’ve been the best in the world during that time. It doesn’t get much better than that. I’ve had a great time and I’m still enjoying every minute of it.”
At his peak Westwood was good enough. He just didn’t get the breaks. The Masters in 2010 would be the best example, losing to a possessed Phil Mickelson on the final day having led from the tape. Westwood played textbook golf but was eclipsed by a wizard who conjured magic from the midden; the six-iron to four feet out of a pine thicket when way out of position on the 13th was typical and ultimately unanswerable.
You can Google the other near-misses; the US Open in 2008 and the Open in 2009 spring immediately to mind. And again last year he led the Open at Muirfield by three strokes with 12 holes to play before Mickelson came out swinging from five shots back at the start of play to nick the Claret Jug.
And so it begins again, the major season opening next week at Augusta. His caddie, Billy Foster, with whom he reunited at the end of last year, believes the Masters might have come too soon for the boss, but also reckons he has seen enough in the first quarter of the year to know the old rhythms are returning.
“I liked working with Mike [Kerr, who made way for Foster], great lad and a very good caddie, but Billy and I are so alike it has been nice to have him back,” said Westwood. “I was struggling a bit at the start of the year and he is very knowledgeable about how I think when I’m playing well.
“He is great at writing stuff down. He would ask me after a good round, like in Thailand at the back end of 2011, when I shot a 60, 64 in the opening two rounds, ‘How you feeling today?’ He would write that down and go back to it when necessary.
“The first two rounds at the Honda Classic are probably the best I have played this year. I hit it well over the weekend at Doral in the Cadillac. I was blown out of it a bit on the Friday, like a lot of people, but I shot a pair of 70s over the weekend. It is just getting that consistency back and putting it all together.
“I’m a lot happier with my short game and the way I’m putting. I’m holing out well, sinking a lot of long putts and making more from 15 feet. That’s what you have to do at the Masters particularly, something that has let me down a lot there in the past.
“It’s a question now of getting the long game back. I’m getting more of the swing thoughts that I used to have when I was at my best. It’s not far away. That’s part of the frustration at the moment. I’m in one of those periods where you have to be patient and wait for it to click. And it will click. That’s the way this game is. Experience tells you that.
“The margins are so small. When I look at my swing on video when I was doing well and now, I can barely tell the difference. The difference is in the scorecards. But I have been in this kind of situation before. The thing is not to panic or make rash decisions.”
After a brief flirtation with Sean Foley, the coach to the stars, Westwood is back on more familiar ground with Mike Walker, a protégé of his old mentor Pete Cowen. Walker flew into Florida from his British base before this week’s tournament in Houston, where Westwood opened with a creditable two-under-par 70.
“Everything is more settled now. I’m back in the gym and really happy working with Mike and Billy. I haven’t done anything special for Augusta, not even played any practice rounds. I think I know it well enough now and the place changes so much anyway in the week of the competition from what it is like a couple of weeks out.
“For me it’s about bringing my game back to a consistent level. I’ve played well at Augusta over the last five or six years [11th or better five times since 2008 including two top-three finishes] so I know my way around.”
Another barometer of Westwood’s returning confidence is his Twitter feed. He’s busy once more on the social network site, delivering his own variety of Worksop wit. Asked how he prepares on the final morning of the Masters he replied: “Breakfast and, hopefully, a lie-in.”
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