It’s been so long since his last fist pump it is a wonder Lee Westwood remembered how to do it. Twenty-two months to be precise, acceptable for your ordinary pro, less so for a former world No 1 with 39 wins to his name.
Victory No 40 was achieved at the Maybank Malaysian Open on Sunday by a margin of seven, unprecedented for Westwood, and closed with a birdie that triggered the instinctive “goal” celebration on the 18th green. A closing 68 gave him an 18-under-par aggregate plus a rather big smile. “I’m delighted,” he said. “You have to play really well to win any tournament by seven shots.
“I played really nicely this week and didn’t make many mistakes. My short game was good and tee to green I was solid. I’m pleased with the way I finished it off.”
Westwood led by a shot overnight and had to contend with a four-hour weather delay. It says much about his returning feel and confidence that neither circumstance bothered him. Reunited with his old caddie Billy Foster and under the tutelage of a new coach, Mike Walker, Westwood is reaching a fresh playing peak in the week he turns 41.
It may be too big a step to reach the rankings summit a second time, but that will not prevent him from giving it a go. “There’s no reason why I couldn’t get back up there,” he said. “The difference is that now I’ve got a bit of a short game and I roll a few putts in. If I can keep doing that then there’s no reason why not.”
Westwood sensed the blood sugars were rising a fortnight ago in Houston, where he posted a top-20 result. He followed that up at the Masters last week, finishing seventh. It might have been even better had he not dropped three shots in his opening four holes having started the final day just three off the lead.
His performance in Kuala Lumpur was never anything short of commanding, as he dropped only five strokes all week. Westwood loves a bit of humidity, as a record of 13 wins in Asia demonstrates. Few have been as important as this. The move to Florida 16 months ago was supposed to be the platform for greater things, the move that would lead him to that first major championship.
For much of his time on the PGA Tour he has looked to be moving in the opposite direction. This win rewards his courage in upping sticks on the cusp of middle age.
“Last year I gave myself a few chances to win but didn’t quite pull it off,” he said. “I’m pleased that the work I’m doing with Mike Walker has paid off so quickly. I’m starting to get an idea of what he wants me to do and I’m seeing the benefits. I’ve been seeing it on the range, but this week I’ve seen it on the course, and under pressure too.”