There was only one black cloud for Lee Westwood as he set off in the sun at Worksop Golf Club yesterday. He had just found out his great friend Andrew Flintoff had announced his retirement and couldn't help thinking that if the cricketer had received the same physical advice as him, England would not be saying such a premature goodbye to one of its biggest sporting characters.
"It's a great shame," Westwood told The Independent. "To be as good as he was and to have played as little as he played is very sad. I thought we knew more about the human body and injury prevention and injury rehabilitation than the way Freddie's injuries have been handled. Somebody, somewhere, wasn't doing their job properly. I'm gutted for Freddie, really gutted."
How Westwood wishes he could have introduced the all-rounder to Steve McGregor five years ago. "I really think if Freddie had worked with Steve he would still be playing now," said the world No 3 player who has long shared a manager with Flintoff. "The last few weeks have brought home to me how important it is to have someone experienced who really knows what they're talking about."
That the 37-year-old is indebted to his fitness trainer is an understatement. He credits McGregor, who also works with Manchester City and Birmingham, with returning him to what he calls "better-than-ever shape" in time for the Ryder Cup which tees off two weeks today. When he was diagnosed with a ruptured calf muscle six weeks ago there were fears he would miss his first biennial match in 15 years. But, thanks to the strict, cautious and meticulously planned regime of McGregor, Westwood felt able to text Colin Montgomerie yesterday with a guarantee. "I will be ready," he told the Europe team captain, later adding there will be absolutely no need to have a 13th man on standby.
His confidence was based on the 18 holes he enjoyed at nearby Lindrick Golf Club on Wednesday. It was his first round since he withdrew at the halfway point of the Bridgestone Invitational at the start of August and McGregor instructed him to use a buggy, but he did get out and walk many of the holes. If the six birdies and one eagle were pleasing, that was nothing to the elation he felt yesterday morning. "That's what really matters, how it feels now," he said. "And it feels great. I did a full two and a half hour session in the gym this morning and there were no after-effects. It's not swollen up at all."
Looking trim from the 12lb he has lost since The Open – assisted by remaining teetotal for a full month – Westwood is clearly itching for a "proper" 18 (without the assistance of a buggy). But he has followed McGregor's rehabilitation plan this far and is not prepared to take any chances. He played six holes yesterday and will add more holes gradually, reaching the final green for the first time on the weekend and then playing back-to-back rounds in a two-day charity event at the start of next week. A week today he intends to play 36 and "replicate playing two rounds in a day at the Ryder Cup.
"If Monty wants me to, I'll be able to play five games no problem," he said. "I am feeling fitter and stronger than I was before I was injured. I was down to 80-85 per cent by May but now, because of this enforced break, I have had another pre-season and I feel I'm back up to 100 per cent – or even a little bit better."