Lee Westwood may have lost a caddie but not his perspective. The world's No 246 ranked player returned a 67 in the first round of the British Masters here yesterday to be only two off the lead held by Peter Fowler of Australia.
Westwood, now 30, is finally beginning to see the hard work he has done on his game with David Leadbetter pay off. But he is not getting carried away - one swallow, and all that ... "I'm not going to say I am back," he said. "I don't want things to get blown out of proportion. As soon as you say you are back, there is only one way you can go."
The difference between where the Worksop man is now and his standing when he was Europe's No 1, only three years ago, is partly technical but also a matter of confidence. His rounds for the last year have been full of 15 or 16 steady holes but then maybe a double or triple bogey thrown in.
Yesterday, Westwood started with a bogey but dropped only one other shot before gaining a birdie at three of the last four holes. It was the sort of finish the "old" Westwood would have produced. He hit a six-iron to 12 feet at the 15th, two-putted the par-five 17th for a four and then holed from 40 feet across the last green.
The names on the hole-by-hole leaderboard on the 18th were not quite in score order, but Westwood's did not look out of place at the top. "I have full faith in David Leadbetter and what we are working on," he said. "He's mapped out what's got to be done and when, but I'm not interested in letting everyone know how far we have got."
Westwood was "sacked" before the event by his caddie, Dave Renwick, who intends to return to Vijay Singh. But there was no animosity.
"Dave stuck with me longer than he should have done," Westwood said. "He stuck with me longer than I would have done if I was a caddie. He has done the right thing and I'm glad he has a good bag with Vijay."
No one could be happier at Westwood's revival than his manager, Chubby Chandler, who is promoting this event. But another client, Darren Clarke, supposedly a course specialist, felt fortunate with a 71. "That's the worst I've played all year," he said. "I had no game."
His playing partner, Colin Montgomerie, did even worse with a 73, which already puts him in danger of missing his second successive cut. A double bogey at the seventh also featured a contretemps with a pack of photographers, who were under the impression they were just doing their job.
Justin Rose, the defending champion, had a 69, perked up by an eagle and a birdie in his last three holes. The theme of the day was summed up by Raymond Russell, in second place on 66. "Their hands tell you everything you need to know about a golfer," the Scot said. "If they have blisters they are working hard; if not, they ain't. I don't have as many as I should have."
BRITISH MASTERS (Forest of Arden) Leading early first-round scores (GB or Irl unless stated): 65 P Fowler (Aus). 66 R Russell. 67 J Sandelin (Swe), L Westwood, I Garrido (Sp). 68 S Khan, G Owen, A Coltart. 69 J Hugo (SA), M Cort, J Rose, M Lundberg (Swe), P Baker, C Rocca (It), J-F Lucquin (Fr), P Lawrie, P Golding, H Stenson (Swe), P Fulke (Swe).Reuse content