04 Jun 2019

Lee Westwood – on why he can still win

While Lee Westwood was not in the field to witness Tiger Woods’ Major comeback at Augusta National earlier this year, he was in the crowd when Liverpool stunned Barcelona in the second leg of the Champions League semi-final. That memorable night at Anfield re-ignited the competitive spark in Westwood, who believes he can still compete at the highest level.

The 46-year-old was in typically bullish mood before teeing off in the Betfred British Masters at nearby Hillside Golf Club at Southport, just a couple of days after Liverpool’s remarkable 4-0 triumph.

Comeback

“Everybody loves a comeback,” he smiled, reflecting on Woods’ performance, adding, “Especially when it’s somebody who’s a little bit older, because the advantage we have of being older is that people have been watching us for a long time. They’ve seen us grow up over the years, and they’ve had more time to form a bond with us and get to know us that much more. 

“When you do get to our age, early-to-mid-40s, it seems extra special. It feels as though you can share it with more people and more people can relate to it.”

 

Still has the winning touch

Westwood was 45 when he won last year’s Nedbank Golf Challenge in South Africa and he turned 46 this April. His win at Sun City – his 24th on the European Tour since 1994 – was his first since 2014 when he added his first Rolex Series victory to his CV after the elite-level European Tour events were announced in 2017.

It was a comeback of sorts – in that it ended a long wait for a win – and Westwood still feels he can take on the best in the business if you put him on any golf course, anywhere in the world.

Different Ambitions

“I’ve got different ambitions now,” he said. “I’m not the person that I was 20 years ago – physically and mentally – and I’ve been through more things, experienced more things. I can’t really compare myself to the Lee Westwood of the late ’90s or even late 2000s because even that is 10 years ago.” 

At the time of writing, Westwood is not qualified for the US Open at Pebble Beach, but he will be in the field for The Open at Royal Portrush in July and many in the game believe it’s on the links where Westwood is best suited if he is to breakthrough and win that elusive Major.

 

New goals

He certainly hasn’t given up hope. “I have to set new goals and create new ambitions and things like that,” he said. “But I know that when I have a good week, and I’m playing well and my game is in good shape I can still contend at any level, so I’ve still got a lot to look forward to in the game.”

 

British Masters 2020 host

Westwood will return as host of the British Masters next year at Close House, revisiting the role he took on in 2017. Beyond that, he is the runaway favourite to be named The European Ryder Cup captain for the next home edition of the matches, in Italy in 2022. But for now, he’s focussed on improving his world ranking so he can get back into Major contention and mix it with the game’s very best. 

 

Paul Dunne receives the 2017 British Masters trophy from tournament host Lee Westwood at Close House.

Competitive

“I’m competitive on different kinds of golf courses,” he said. “Even the week after winning at Sun City in South Africa, I played well on the Earth Course in Dubai at Jumeirah Golf Estates where I won the DP World Tour Championship in 2009 – and that’s a long course. So, I can play well on long courses and then I can play well on the short courses like those in Denmark and at Valderrama, where I had some good results last year. They are both courses where you have to keep it straight to keep it in play. 

“It’s not as though there’s one style of course that’s going to suit me from now on. I can still take on on any course, it’s just a case of getting everything in shape for that one week. I tend to play well when I get onto the leaderboard early in a tournament.”

 

Hectic summer ahead for Westwood

Westwood hasn’t played as many times as he would have liked so far this season but with a busy summer stretch ahead of him and a strong end to his campaign with three Rolex Series events back-to-back, including the defence of his title in South Africa, he’s both optimistic and cautious at the prospect.

 

Slow start

“It’d been a slow start to the season for me, and I need to play as often as possible to get back that competitiveness – to get match fit,” he said. “Right now, I have a run of tournaments until the end of the year and I think I’ll get up to about 22 or 23 in total. So, to play 17 or 18 events in the second half of the season is quite a lot really, for an old man like me!”

While Westwood has matured into one of the European Tour’s elder statesmen, don’t be surprised to see his name in contention in the coming months as the summer heats up.


WESTWOOD’S CLOSEST BRUSHES WITH MAJOR GLORY

2008 US Open: Started the final day one back from Tiger Woods but missed out on a play-off between Woods and Rocco Mediate by one shot. Tiger famously birdied the last after Westwood’s attempt came up short.

2009 Open: Three-putted from distance on the final green to miss out on a place in the play-off between Tom Watson and eventual winner, Stewart Cink.

2010 Masters: Led by one shot from Phil Mickelson overnight before ‘Lefty’ turned the screw and pulled away on the back nine – inspired by that shot from the pine needles on 13.

2013 Open: Again held the overnight lead (by two from Hunter Mahan and Woods) but fell away with a 75 as Mickelson romped to victory with a 66.

2016 Masters: Had a chance when Jordan Spieth fell apart but it was playing partner Danny Willett who found the golden touch to close it out as Westwood – despite making eagle on 15 – three-putted 16 to fall two shots back.

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