Westwood stays positive about his major problem
There is a glaring omission on the English world No 2's career CV. He is confident this US Open can remedy it
Tuesday 14 June 2011
In the first major Lee Westwood ever played, Arnold Palmer was in the field. Now he's at the 111th US Open and Palmer's grandson is in the field. If that makes the Englishman feel old, then so too must the 14 years which stretch back to his US Open debut here at this exclusive country club 10 miles west of Washington DC.
Back then, Westwood was a 24-year-old with one European Tour title and not much of an idea of what to expect at the game's most demanding major. "It was a lot more difficult than I thought it was going to be," he reflected yesterday. "You know, the toughness of a US Open set-up takes you by surprise when you've never played it before. It was quite wet, there wasn't a lot of run on the fairways and it played long. In light of how I felt, I did all right."
Actually, as conditions were so alien to that wet-behind-the-eared lad from Worksop, Westwood did rather better than all right, finishing tied for 19th, alongside a certain Tiger Woods. The next year he finished seventh; two years later he was up to fifth. The progression to a first major was steady and surely inexorable for Westwood.
Yet here he is, almost a decade and a half later, ranked second in the world and the question of "When?" still frames his golfing existence. With top-three finishes in each of the four majors in the last three seasons, few will raise an argument to the fact he's getting closer. But as he goes into his 39th year, time is quite clearly another foe to be outshot. Will Congressional witness the overdue breakthrough?
Westwood has neither the inclination nor the brashness to launch such a claim, but his swagger yesterday was obvious as he boomed his drives past those of his practice partner, Ian Poulter. Never mind the form guide which shows a tie for 11th in Memphis on Sunday preceded by two firsts and an already legendary play-off defeat to Luke Donald at Wentworth, Westwood is on the field of his dreams. "This is one of my favourite golf courses and probably one of the toughest and best tests if you're looking for an all-round player," he said.
Westwood happens to believe he is one of the best all-round players and the stats only back up this conviction. "My confidence is pretty high," he said. "The major championships really now are the most exciting part of the year and the ones I look forward to most. Everything in my schedule is built around them."
Yet is there a mental hurdle he must cross as well, the unseen obstacle which has so far kept him from the entry his CV deserves? As a Nottinghamshire pragmatist, Westwood does not subscribe to X-factors, karma or the like. To him it is simple: "It's a challenge that I've got to try and overcome and just do a little bit better at the right times. There's no secret ingredient to it. I keep getting myself in position and it's just a case of finishing it off."
Neither, insisted Westwood, are the repeated frustrations threatening to drag his chances under. He is steadfastly refusing to allow the negative to take over his narrative. "If you're any good and mentally right, you take the positives out of anything, even when you maybe finish second and you thought you should have won one of these," he said. "I think I've managed to do that over the last few years.
"That's why I have, say, a second place at Turnberry [that] I followed up with a third place at the USPGA and then eight months after that a second place in the Masters again, and keep getting into contention, and then again at the Open last year at St Andrews, second again. I seem to be responding well to those experiences and coming out of it positively."
So Westwood is prepared for the usual examination when he tees off on Thursday. He will do so in the company of Donald and the world No 3, Martin Kaymer, as the USPGA ensures the spotlight shines brightest on the game's top three. It will be just the latest test to see if he can continue to handle the major glare. And at last emerge into the sunlight.
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