Why Westwood is a major plus for Langer - Golf - Sport - The Independent

Why Westwood is a major plus for Langer

Bernhard Langer, at home in Florida receiving treatment on his injured wrist, spent most of last week in front of the television watching The Open Championship. And he liked what he saw from Royal Troon. "I thought Lee Westwood emphasised that he will win a major championship," Langer said.

Bernhard Langer, at home in Florida receiving treatment on his injured wrist, spent most of last week in front of the television watching The Open Championship. And he liked what he saw from Royal Troon. "I thought Lee Westwood emphasised that he will win a major championship," Langer said.

Langer's more immediate concern is the Ryder Cup at Oakland Hills, in Detroit, in less than two months' time. Whether the events at Troon are particularly relevant are, as always, debatable. The Ryder Cup is very different from individual major championships.

In each of the 1995, '97 and 2002 seasons, Europe arrived at the Ryder Cup without a reigning major champion and yet won each time. In 1999, Jose Maria Olazabal and Paul Lawrie were the Masters and Open champions respectively but America won at Brookline.

Team spirit, 18-hole matchplay; the challenge of a Ryder Cup is entirely different. The Americans, indeed, sometimes have the problem of not fitting in all their major winners. Todd Hamilton, the new owner of the Claret Jug, moved up to 15th in the US team standings but may have to rely on being selected as a wild card by Hal Sutton. John Daly, winner in majors in the Ryder Cup years of 1991 and '95, has never played against Europe.

Of course, an argument based on Europe not having major winners being a good thing can only go so far. That there have not been regular major contenders from this side of the Atlantic is a concern, with no triumphs since Lawrie's at Carnoustie.

Westwood used to think he had much work still to do in order to win a major. As recently as the beginning of June, the Worksop man still felt he needed a further overhaul of his game. It is less than 12 months since he burst out of his slump with wins in Germany and at the Dunhill Links.

But he stalled at the start of this season and it took the combined efforts of David Leadbetter, his coach, and Andrew "Chubby" Chandler, his manager, to persuade Westwood that his hard work would bring the right results. Making the cut at the US Open was a start, and then he finished second and 10th at the European and Scottish Opens.

At Troon, Westwood had the best weekend of anyone, with rounds of 68 and 67 to finish fourth. It was his highest finish in a major and if he was never quite in contention for the title, he should learn from the Phil Mickelson reinvention.

What Mickelson said to himself at the start of the season was that saving half a shot to a shot a round would take him from contender to the champion he became at Augusta. A shot a round better, though the circumstances may have been different, and Westwood would have been in the Hamilton-Ernie Els play-off.

"Five years ago I thought I needed to make a step up to become a major contender," Westwood said. "But then I realised there is no next level. It's doing the right things here and there, fine-tuning your game and holing a few putts at the right time."

Westwood, along with Sergio Garcia, Padraig Harrington, Darren Clarke and Miguel Angel Jimenez, looks set to make the Ryder Cup team. There are only five weeks left in the qualifying process, including the USPGA Championship and the BMW International, where Langer will announce his wild cards.

Thomas Levet and Paul Casey should be among the rookies, while the multicoloured Ian Poulter, David Howell and Joakim Haeggman still need to secure their places. As for the wild cards, Langer will almost certainly go for the experience of Colin Montgomerie, but Thomas Bjorn, Freddie Jacobson and Justin Rose will be sweating over the other name.

Langer's wrist injury that has kept him out for almost two months has been unfortunate, but he knows exactly who has done what, where, when and to whom. "We'll be ready," he said, "and we will be a bonded team. Anyone who suggests we shall be anything other than that believes it at their peril. There are few more competitive persons in sport than myself and I will leave nothing to chance."

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