If ever a sporting performance could be deemed worthy of £1.65m then surely Lee Westwood provided it in winning both the Dubai World Championship and the Order of Merit yesterday. He arrived in the desert determined to bully his less experienced rivals into submission and managed to do so quite savagely. Westwood barely allowed anyone else a peek of the biggest payday in the history of British golf, including Rory McIlroy, who came with such dreams but left with such a reality check.
The Englishman's final round was the best of the week and probably the European year – a course-record 64. Westwood wore Tiger Woods' Sunday red and gave it Tiger's Sunday best. Westwood began the day two clear and by the time he tapped in on the 18th he had extended his advantage to six. He did not miss a fairway in regulation, he did not miss a green in regulation, in four nerve-free hours.
The 36-year-old credited it as "the best performance of my career". By the side of the green his friend Andrew Flintoff was leading the applause and Westwood honoured the Ashes hero by arching his back, spreading his arms and throwing his back to look to the heavens – Lord's-style. "I thought Freddie would laugh at that," grinned Westwood. In truth, everybody laughed at it. Perhaps everybody except a shellshocked McIlroy.
The 20-year-old – who held a £115,000 lead before this season-ender – was the chief victim of the Westwood game plan, formulated by his caddie, Billy Foster. "He told me at the beach party on Tuesday evening I'd been paying too much attention to the other players," said Westwood. "He told me you've won more tournaments than the other three guys [McIlroy, Ross Fisher and Martin Kaymer] trying to win the money list put together.
"He told me, 'You've been out here 16 years and that's longer than the three of them put together'. Although it's a terrible word to use he told me, 'You've got to bully them off the golf course'. I felt I did that. It was a massive feather in my cap the first day when Rory said he was glad to get away from me. There's nothing worse for Rory to say and nothing better for me to hear than a competitor to say they're glad they're not playing with me."
Westwood's words might have been cruel, but as he put it, "Rory will learn from this". He then added with trademark dryness: "He's 20, is a millionaire already, hits it miles, has a nice-looking girlfriend, drives a Lamborghini – yeah, it's hard isn't it?" As it was, the Ulsterman's display was far from gutless, his 67 leapfrogging him into third place. There was one unsavoury moment when McIlroy took out his frustrations on an advertising hoarding on the seventh, hitting it with his wedge so hard it emerged on the other side. Maybe, he could be excused that as he watched his ambition of becoming the second-youngest winner of the Order of Merit going up in woodchip.
Another Englishman, Ross McGowan, split the two protagonists with an impressive 68 which more than doubled his earnings for the season to £1.4m. It is a shame more will not be made of McGowan's feat, because in Westwood's words, the largely unknown 27-year-old "played incredibly". But there we are. Westwood's day in the sun put everyone in the shade. And nobody was to begrudge it. "Lee deserves it, he's been in a different class here," said a clearly disconsolate McIlroy. "He's been through the highs and then the lows and now's back in the world's top five."
Westwood, himself, talked of the dramatic slump he suffered in 2002, two years after his first Order of Merit win, when he fell out of the world's top 250 – "I've been through a lot. I know what it feels like to play poorly week after week." But it was a more recent distress which played out in his mind as he led down the stretch. "After Turnberry in July I was as disappointed as I've ever been in my career," said Westwood, thinking back to the final-hole bogey which denied him a place in the play-off. "The Open is the most important tournament to me and it felt like, and still does, a championship I should have won.
"But I tried to draw confidence from it and be ready for the next time. Today felt like similar pressure and I tried to react differently to how I did at Turnberry. I had nothing but positive thoughts out there."
His score of 23 under exceeded the expectations of the course designer, Greg Norman, who predicted a winning number of 18 under. Not too shabby, considering the wind blew on Friday and Saturday. Westwood did not record a single bogey all weekend. It was Tigeresque, in both its execution and its mood. The comparison was not lost on the new world No 4. "If that's how Tiger feels every week I'd love to be him, yeah," said Westwood. Can he dare to aim so high? "Anything is attainable, but overhauling Tiger at No 1 would obviously be unbelievably difficult," admitted Westwood. "But I think second is definitely attainable."
All he needs is a major and on this showing that prospect must be described as probable rather than possible. Westwood was the quality of champion which the Dubai World Championship craved. A player whose peerless play at least made the winning of £3.8m in a single European season seem less absurd than it should.
Winning on Merit: Final standings
*End of season European Tour "Race to Dubai" money list:
1 (3) Lee Westwood (Eng) £3,776,702
2 (36) Rory McIlroy (NIrl) £3,217,257
3 (8) Martin Kaymer (Ger) £2,552,707
4 (6) Ross Fisher (Eng) £2,255,795
5 (21) Paul Casey (Eng) £2,105,863
6 (-) Geoff Ogilvy (Aus) £1,963,152
7 (11) Oliver Wilson (Eng) £1,791,457
8 (55) Simon Dyson (Eng) £1,611,072
9 (19) Ian Poulter (Eng) £1,580,519
10 (9) Sergio Garcia (Sp) £1,480,097
(Last season's positions in brackets)