New clubs but Lee Westwood has talent in spades


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The Independent Online

A lakeside venue in Stockholm, complete with wind, squalls and crashing temperatures, proved a more hospitable environment than Lee Westwood thought possible when he pitched up at the Nordea Masters with a bag full of new kit.

Westwood likes to play a week before a major but not normally on a different continent. A Saturday finish persuaded him of the merits of taking part in Sweden over Memphis and an opening 68 give him every encouragement ahead of the US Open in San Francisco next week.

"It's difficult to prepare for a West Coast major because nowhere is near," Westwood said. "If you play Memphis it's still a four to five-hour flight to California, so it's a toss-up whether you play in all that heat or you go to Sweden, where there will be steady conditions and it finishes on Saturday.

"It was a nice round of golf. It is only the second time I have been on the course. And with a new set of irons, new wedge and putter, it was a good start all in all. I don't change the clubs that often. And if they keep firing like that they will stay in the bag. It's a tough course. The rough is penal and the holes are long so you have to go with the driver."

Westwood closed tied sixth, three behind Magnus Carlsson but more significantly, perhaps, only one behind playing partner and Ryder Cup team-mate Peter Hanson, another accurate hitter fancied to go well next week. As the local hero acknowledged, the pair complement each other. "Lee is always calm and relaxed on the course. You know he is going to hit great drives and good irons."

Westwood-like consistency is the target across the pond for Rory McIlroy, who added the St Jude Classic to his schedule after missing a second successive cut at Wentworth last month. The deposed world No 1 was not expecting to miss a third at Memorial last week, a detail which at least allowed him a first look at Olympic Club, scene for his US Open defence.

In keeping with the fashion for fancy groupings, McIlroy goes out today with Graeme McDowell and Padraig Harrington, which if nothing else ought to keep the Irish pub in Beale Street, downtown Memphis, ticking over for a couple of days. If McIlroy makes the weekend he might even pop in for a swift one himself, and a tweet, which have been absent of late.

Tiger Woods's re-emergence has shifted the focus from McIlroy, for which he is doubtless grateful. As McDowell discovered after his US Open triumph in 2010, returning to the tournament as champion can be more impediment than celebration.

McIlroy admitted at Wentworth that he had taken his eye off the ball. And so here he is doing penance in Memphis, the home of the blues.

Tiger's niece takes pro bow

The 21-year-old niece of Tiger Woods, Cheyenne Woods, makes her pro debut on the LPGA Tour today in Rochester, New York. A communications graduate, she is the daughter of Tiger's estranged half-brother Earl Jnr, and like Tiger first picked up a club in her grandfather's garage.

Of her uncle, she says: "He has always been so supportive of me, and I've been so thankful for that."

Kevin Garside