Westwood hits new low... a best-ever 60
Lee Westwood briefly hesitated here yesterday before boarding the motorboat on the 17th which transports the players to the island green. Perhaps he didn't believe he needed its assistance. After all, he'd been walking on water all afternoon.
At the time, the Englishman was 11-under, and had he made that 15-footer on the penultimate hole he would have chalked up the magical 59 in the first round of the Thailand Golf Championship. Instead it was merely a 60, the lowest score of his entire career. As Westwood said afterwards: "It wasn't meant to be."
Of course he did so with his trademark smirk. After 18 years being a pro, Westwood had just compiled what he labelled "the best round I ever played". That was some commendation, but was not as gilt-edged as that of Billy Foster. Having been caddie to Seve Ballesteros, Sergio Garcia and Darren Clarke, the Yorkshireman thought that he had witnessed it all.
"In my 30 years out here that was the best round I've ever seen," he said. "I thought Lee's 62 at Sun City two weeks ago was special but the only thing which compares to this is Darren's 60 at the K Club. Yet in terms of ball-striking this was better."
And to think, Westwood's season was supposed to be over. Five weeks ago at his "team meeting" which included Foster, his manager Chubby Chandler and his fitness coach, Steve McGregor, it was decided the focus would now fall on next year. "He wasn't writing off the season," explained McGregor, also a consultant with Manchester City and the New York Knicks. "But we did say 'well, in terms of training and preparation, it's 2012 and the Masters which is important, and not the rest of this year'. Lee's been hard at it in the gym and it says so much about his fitness that he can shrug it off and still play like this."
For the first five holes, the 38-year-old looked like he was still on the treadmill – and it was stuck on the Usain Bolt setting. Birdie, eagle, birdie, birdie, birdie... six-under through five. This was fantasy golf and the fantasy was that of Tiger Woods. "I messed up by making a few pars," said Westwood, before recounting how he left an eagle putt on the edge at the 11th and a birdie putt within a similar agonising measure on the 14th. But if he had holed one of them would he have converted the 12-footer on the 18th? We'll never know, he'll never know and, by the look of him, he'll never care. "It'd be a bit harsh if I berated myself, wouldn't I?" he said. "I thought Sun City was the best I have played a fortnight ago but this was better still. It's nice to see I'm making progress."
The magnificence was displayed all over the scoresheets. "This is a proper golf course," said Foster. "There's nothing Mickey Mouse about it." But there is something Hollywood about it. In second place after the first round came John Daly, the two-time major champion, who recently has been as near to the the head of a leaderboard as he has been an altar. A 65 was a fantastic effort, considering the next lowest was a 68.
That means that in this 130-man field containing the likes of Sergio Garcia (76), Charl Schwartzel (69) and Darren Clarke (71), only one player was within eight of the pacesetter. It would have taken a brave man to ask Garcia how easy it was, since he threw an iron into a lake after one shot went awry.
Playing in the group behind Westwood, Daly was flabbergasted. When he strode off the 18th green, Westwood was undertaking a live interview on camera. The tee peg you might have seen flying over his visor was launched by the American in mock disgust. "That's the best I played in a Goddam age," said Daly. "Wow, what he did ain't human."
To pick out a highlight of the 60 is like picking out the best singer in the Four Tenors. The five-iron to eight feet on the 13th was spectacular while the five wood on to the par-five 15th was probably even better. But then, Westwood's tee-to-green play has been at this level for the last two years. "When he putts well he wins by five," said McGregor. That might be a conservative estimate. As it is, any sort of "W" would haul him above Rory McIlroy in the rankings to finish the year No 2. "Would it?" said Westwood with a grin. He knew. Just as he knew he would be back in the gym this afternoon. The Masters is only four months away, you know.
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