Westwood rejoins the smile-high club

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The Independent Online

A grey day needed brightening and a beaming smile from Lee Westwood managed just that. A good-humoured grin is rarely far from his lips and the man from Worksop never lost the ability to separate his on- and off-course demeanours even while the game was kicking Europe's former No 1 in the teeth for almost three years.

But for a smile to break out while Westwood has a club in his hands is something that has not been seen for a considerable while. Even when he won at the BMW International last month, the emotion brought forward tears of joy as the 30-year-old realised all the hard work in resurrecting his game had paid off.

But yesterday afternoon he not only had reason to smile but leapt with jubilation into the arms of his manager, Chubby Chandler, his partner in the pro-am element of the Dunhill Links Championship. David Leadbetter, the mastermind behind Westwood's renaissance, phoned from his home in Florida where he was watching on television to say how relieved he was that it wasn't Chubby - the clue is in the nickname - who had jumped into Westwood's arms.

Westwood had just holed his final stroke in a round of 62 at Kingsbarns, the new layout right on the seashore just outside St Andrews. He was completing his round at the par-five ninth hole and had no more work to do after hitting a four-iron from 218 yards. He knew immediately the ball left the clubface that it was a well-struck shot, but for it to take a kindly bounce and climb the tier in the green, then hit the flag and fall in for an albatross was special indeed.

Westwood had needed a par at the hole to equal the course record so Brian Davis's old mark of 65 was shattered by three. At 16 under par, Westwood jumped into the lead and finished a shot ahead of Darren Clarke and Raphael Jacquelin, with Michael Campbell two back. Ernie Els was four adrift after finishing his round bogey, double bogey.

Before Westwood won in Munich he suffered all manner of misfortunes that would wreck a good round. Since then it has been a different story. Only a week ago he won a gold bar for a hole-in-one with the same club as yesterday's effort. "It's the old saying, things weren't going for me but now I'm playing well they are," Westwood said. "That's the first albatross I've ever had. I thought I would go a whole career without having one." In point of fact, it was the second of those rarest birds on the same day on the same course, with Steen Tinning making one at the third hole in the morning.

With the exception of Jacquelin - whose playing partner goes by the name of East, making their team sound like a Paris metro station - most of the leaders were at Kingsbarns yesterday. The course is only three years old but has won rave reviews while its designer, Kyle Phillips, has built a fine course at The Grove, a luxury hotel in, of all places, Watford.

There was little wind yesterday morning at Kingsbarns and those who started at Carnoustie, then moved to St Andrews on Friday appear to have been lucky with benign conditions on each day. Even so, Westwood's feat of not having dropped a shot over the three rounds is a significant sign of his returning form.

This is especially so given the links venues and his former dislike of the Old Course, where the final round will be played today. Under the tuition of Leadbetter he has more shots in his armoury while he is beginning to appreciate the subtleties of the home of golf. "To win here would mean an awful lot," he said.

"This is a very historic place and this is a big tournament with a classy field. I'll give it a go and things might go my way, they might not. After the last three years, I'm just happy to be back in contention and playing well." Colin Montgomerie scored a 65 at Kingsbarns but when his 15-footer for another birdie at the last curled around the back of the hole without falling he had missed the 54-hole cut by a shot. Sam Torrance also finished at four under, one too many to make the professionals' cut, but will be playing today on behalf of his son, Daniel.

With the 15-year-old Torrance junior doing most of the work, the pair were tied for second in the team competition. At 27 under par after a better-ball of 59 yesterday, Daniel had improved his old man's score by 23 strokes over three rounds, a performance that suggests talk of turning professional after one more year at school could be a profitable move.

Gianluca Vialli, who was in the lead in the team competition after 36 holes, returned to Italy for television work yesterday and will not be able to come back today after his professional, Emanuele Canonica, soldiering on alone, could only manage a 71.