Westwood to tee off European challenge 'chest out, chin up'

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The Independent Online

Colin Montgomerie has handed Lee Westwood what he calls "the honour" of leading off the home challenge for the Ryder Cup this morning and the Englishman will do so confident that the errors of two years ago have been fixed.

The world No3 believes Europe lost their way at Valhalla when they were defeated the Ryder Cup for the first time in nearly a decade. They had 12 great players. They just did not have much of a team.

For Westwood, it was a Ryder Cup to forget. He was sidelined for the first time in his career. Then, with a chance to set the Ryder Cup record by going unbeaten in 13 consecutive matches, he lost for the first time in six years. Ultimately, Europe suffered their worse loss in 27 years.

"I think there was a lot of passion at Valhalla," said Westwood. "I don't think it was directed, or guided, in the right direction at times. I think we could have pulled it together as a team a lot better at Valhalla."

Whether that was veiled criticism of Nick Faldo is subject to speculation. Westwood made it clear, however, that this European team is on the same page in practice, at parties and in the team room.

Now for the matches. Westwood made it clear he was delighted to be leading off. "I'm going to go out there and try and hit the first fairway in my match," he said. "Try and knock it on the green, try and win that first hole, and try and win a point. And I want to see 11 people following me. I think when push comes to shove, if I get out there – chest out, chin up – try and show them how it's done.

"I think we've got 11 great players that are well capable of following me through there and playing to the best of their ability."

In some respects, this is a new role for him. No other European on this team has played in more Ryder Cups. He is No 3 in the world, on the cusp of replacing Tiger Woods at No 1. The only question is his rust. Westwood was the runner-up at the Masters and the Open, playing some of the best golf of his career after winning the Order of Merit on the European Tour a year ago. Then came a nagging calf injury that reached a point where Westwood felt it was best to take six weeks off for rest and rehabilitation.

That meant missing the US PGA Championship, the final major. And it meant he would not play a competitive round until his name was announced on the first tee at Celtic Manor for the most intense golf of the year. Is he ready?

"I don't have too many concerns," he said. "I don't have concern with the competitive edge. I've played well in the practice rounds, and I don't see how that's going to change in the competitive rounds. And when the match itself starts, I think I'll be up for it even more."

The only question is whether he has the stamina to go for all five matches. Westwood played every session from his debut at Valderrama in 1997 until Faldo sat him out on Saturday morning at Valhalla. But with so much rain in Wales, and more on the way at Celtic Manor, the course is soggy, hilly and difficult to walk.

"It's very heavy underfoot, and it's quite hilly in places," Westwood said. "Thirty-six holes a day, ideally I would have liked to have broken myself in gently in a tournament with 18 holes a day, but that wasn't possible. I know as much as you, really, how I'm going to react over the next couple of days. But I wouldn't be here if I didn't think I could play five matches."

He added: "Only when I started putting weight to it and hitting more balls in the last couple of weeks did I start to allow myself to think about playing this week, and getting emotionally up for it."