As Lee Westwood's ball splashed into the lake at Sawgrass's cruel 17th hole on Sunday night, it was easy, but all too cruel, to suggest his hopes of ever claiming one of the game's biggest prizes were also sunk. More sober and patient reflection, which the world No 4 himself subscribes to, demands that yet more exposure to losing is no bar to future victories.
At least, it can if the right lessons are learnt along the way. Westwood admitted he did not deserve to win the Players Championship because he simply did not play well enough. A closing 74 left Westwood three behind champion Tim Clark, who produced a brilliant round of 67 as the Stadium Course at Sawgrass turned into a beast of a challenge on Sunday night.
"If you don't play well, you don't deserve to win," Westwood said. "I just didn't play well enough over the weekend. I'm disappointed but it's not something I've going to pull my hair out over."
If Westwood was the sort of person to reach for his locks and yank hard every time he almost won a tournament he would have little hair left by now. He has a grand slam of near misses in the major championships, finishing third at the 2008 US Open, as well as at the Open Championship and USPGA last summer, followed by his runner-up finish at the Masters last month.
The Players, the American tour's flagship event, is not a major but it is just about the next best thing. That Westwood was leading with a round to go, just as he was at Augusta, backed up his claim that he has unlocked the secret of putting himself in contention time and again. "I need to keep knocking on the door," was how he put it.
But at the Masters, the door to the wardrobe of green jackets was firmly slammed in his face by the brilliance of Phil Mickelson, a man who was not unfamiliar with the feeling of missing out at the majors before his eventual breakthrough six years ago.
Westwood did little wrong at Augusta but on Sunday his usual assured play, particularly off the tee, was absent. He hit only six of 14 fairways and conceded that with the greens browning off as they baked in the Florida sun, playing from the rough and the trees was no way to take on the course. Contrast with Clark, who not only conjured five birdies in six holes around the turn but, even more amazingly, did not drop a shot to par.
"I am not completely happy with any part of my game," Westwood said. "I played OK but it all needs fine-tuning. When the course was soft over the first two days, I wasn't in control but I got away with it. As the course toughened up, you needed to hit more fairways, have more control of the ball and I just didn't have that. I'll keep trying to get a bit better for next time."
Next time means Pebble Beach next month, where he was fifth in the US Open in 2000. Westwood has not won in the States for 12 years. Robert Allenby, the runner-up, had not won for nine years. Clark, despite being a former South African, Scottish and Australian Open champion, had never won in America and after an eighth runner-up finish earlier in the year, complained to Allenby.
The Australian recalled: "He just said, 'Oh, man, when am I ever going to win? I just can't get over the line,' and I said to him, 'Mate, you've just got to be patient, you've just got to keep putting yourself in there for a chance on the last day'. Lo and behold, he beat me." Westwood take note.Reuse content