This Time Westwood Loses It

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FLORIDA | On the Sunday of The Masters, two men were talking about Lee Westwood, the leader.
“Can he hold on and win?” one asked.
“He might not win but he won’t lose,” replied the other, meaning that Westwood would not give it away by playing a nervy, over-par round but that another player might roar past and steal the green jacket from under his nose. This is exactly what happened. Westwood’s 71 was overtaken by Phil Mickelson’s brilliant 67 as Lefty raced to his third green jacket.
Move on one month and Westwood had it done to him again, this time at The Players Championship. The leader after 36 and 54 holes, as he had been at Augusta, he was once again overtaken in the last round. Last time it was Mickelson. This time it was Tim Clark, who had played 29 holes without a bogey. There were few similarities between Westwood’s performances at these two events.
Whereas at Augusta, Westwood was overtaken by an inspired Mickelson, who saw and brought off some outrageous strokes, at Sawgrass, Westwood seemed nervous and ill at ease from the start.
Normally one of the straightest drivers in the world, he was wild from the tee on Sunday. Normally a good putter, he missed more than his share. Though he holed good putts on the ninth and 15th, significantly, both were to save par, not for birdies. Usually self-assured and now more confident than he used to be around the greens, Westwood this time found the putting surfaces at Sawgrass too much for him.
Westwood put up less of a fight as he went for his second victory in the U.S. than he had put up at Augusta and, somehow, the sight of his ball coming up a good 10 yards short of its target landing area on the short 17th was typical of what had gone wrong for much of the afternoon. His last round was a 74, 2-over par. Another one had slipped by.
“I’m really pleased with myself that I keep on knocking on the door and getting in position,” Westwood had said earlier in the week. “You know, some of the golf I am playing in some of the big tournaments is great stuff. I just have to keep knocking on the door.”
Now he will need all of that positive attitude as he works out how to rationalise this disappointing performance.
Yet Westwood has proved himself to be good at coming back from adversity. He did so after winning the Order of Merit in Europe in 2001 when he slumped to 252nd in the world. Not many players experience such a slump and very few come back from it.
Showing some fighting spirit, Westwood decided to improve his weak short game and become physically fitter and stronger. In doing this he was doing what had been taught him by his father, John, a former mathematics teacher, his mother, a former chiropodist, and John’s mother, his grandmother, who was still giving Lee pocket money when he was 19. Don’t give up. Show some character. These three Westwoods were strong characters who influenced the young and impressionable Lee Westwood.
Billy Foster, Westwood’s caddie, has contributed almost as much. The best example of Foster’s input to Team Westwood came on the eve of the Dubai World Championship last November. At a barbeque before the tournament got underway, Foster gave Westwood a good talking to. In doing this he knew he was running the risk of being fired if his words were misinterpeted. Foster talked to Pete Cowen, Westwood’s coach, with whom he was sharing a room and, receiving reassurance from Cowen and having had a couple of beers for Dutch courage, went ahead with his strong words. Foster told Westwood that he was much better than Rory McIlroy, who was actually leading the Race to Dubai at the start of the event and he should stop giving the brilliant young Irishman such credit.
It worked. Westwood outplayed McIlroy, giving him a lesson in the mental approach, what to say and what not to say, what to do and what not to do and when to talk and when to keep quiet. From that day to this, Westwood has grown in stature, acquired an aura. He knows he is good. He knows we think he is good and he is very comfortable with that.
He is also very aggressive. “I don’t think people give him enough credit for when he takes his balls in his hands and goes for shots,” Chubby Chandler, Westwood’s manager and close friend said. “He does it quite often and people don’t realise it.”
Indeed, Westwood had done it twice in Saturday’s third round – on the ninth where he hit a 5-wood over the 100-foot-tall trees that stood between him and the putting surface and on the 18th when he threaded a 6-iron through trees to get his par.
This is what Westwood needs to do more of now – and in the final round of a major champ- ionship. He is too good a golfer to be labeled the best player not to have won a major championship. Once almost a badge of honour, for Westwood it could soon become a curse.


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