Lee Westwood determined to make the most of Augusta return

‘I’ll be back every year if I win it!’: Lee Westwood returns to Augusta after a two-year absence and is determined to make the most of it

  • Lee Westwood won the Abu Dhabi Championship in January by two shots 
  • The 47-year-old continued a fine year with six top-20 finishes in a row 
  • Westwood has rejoined the PGA Tour in America to stake his Ryder Cup claims
  • He has the second-most major appearances in history without winning one 

Lee Westwood is at a stage in life where he should be struggling to keep up on the European Tour, and beginning to contemplate joining the over-50s on the Champions Tour in America.

Instead, at the age of 47, the popular Englishman is preparing for his first appearance at the Masters since 2017, on the back of a recent run of six top-20 finishes in a row.

His ambition remains so undimmed he has rejoined the PGA Tour in America to enhance his chances of what would be a record-equalling 11th appearance in the Ryder Cup next year.

Lee Westwood holds aloft the Abu Dhabi Championship in January after winning by two shots

In his last two majors, Westwood finished fourth at the Open at Royal Portrush to cement his return to Augusta, and was two pars on the 17th and 18th away from another top five finish at the US Open last month. As it was, he was still the leading Englishman in 13th place.

Currently ranked 46th in the world, he is the oldest player in the top 50 by a distance.

All this represents a remarkable snub to the ageing process, given he was ranked a more typical 125th in 2018. 

‘It just goes to show what you can do if you’ve still got the desire,’ says long-time admirer Tommy Fleetwood. ‘I think anyone who has played with Lee recently will tell you that he has still got it. His ball-striking remains as good as anybody’s.’

Westwood, who won the Abu Dhabi Championship against a stellar cast in January, never subscribed to the idea that he had played his last Masters.

‘The qualifying rules are quite straightforward, you either play well in one of the other majors or you get back in the world’s top 50, and I thought I could still do that,’ says Westwood, who actually met both criteria. 

Only Nick Faldo, with 11 appearances, has featured more times for Europe in the Ryder Cup

‘I see no reason why I should lower my sights. I’m as fit as I’ve ever been, I’m gaining more experience all the time, I’ve still got my length off the tee and I still feel I can compete. So let’s keep going.’

This Masters marks the 10th anniversary of arguably Westwood’s best performance at Augusta. He was playing so well during the third round he had opened up a three-stroke lead and appeared to have one arm in the green jacket. Then Phil Mickelson suddenly came alive, holing his second shot for an eagle at the 13th and following it up with another eagle on the 14th.

During the final round, the inveterate gambler took on a shot fraught with risk at the 13th but pulled it off, going on to capture his third Masters title. As for Westwood, that was the beginning of quite a run at Augusta, as he put together the following sequence of results: 2, T11, T3, T8, 7, T46, T2, T18.

No wonder, therefore, he can’t wait to return, with fiancée Helen as caddie, just as she was at Portrush.

‘I certainly missed it sitting at home the last two years,’ he says. ‘I know there’s a danger, when you’re in your twenties and playing well, of taking an appearance for granted, but I don’t think I ever really felt that way.

‘It’s a hard tournament to qualify for, and I always appreciated what it took to get there. I’m really looking forward to it. There was obviously a bit of doubt it would even take place this year, so it’s great for the game and all the players that it’s going to happen, even if we’ll miss the patrons. I think my results show that it’s one of those courses where it helps if you’ve played it a few times.’

Never looking back with regret is perhaps one of the reasons for Westwood’s remarkable longevity. 

‘I’ve had my chances but I’ve never walked away from any Masters cursing myself for not winning,’ he says. 

‘Way back in 1999, I was leading heading down the 10th in the final round, so I knew early on that it was a course that suited my game. In 2010, I played well enough to win, but Phil got a few breaks, then hit a great shot at the 13th to take advantage.

‘In 2016, I was playing with Danny Willett and we were walking down the 15th when we were both given an unexpected chance, as Jordan Spieth made a mess of the 12th. But, even then, Danny played the last three holes brilliantly, so you have to say well done to him.’

Westwood hugs girlfriend and caddie Helen Storey after finishing tied-fourth in the 2019 Open 

Westwood would almost certainly have been part of Europe’s team had the Ryder Cup taken place in September but again, there is no looking back in anger. 

‘I still think it was the right decision to cancel,’ he says. 

‘That’s the one event you can’t play without fans. I’m certainly hoping to play next year. It’s one of the reasons why I’ve rejoined the PGA Tour. There’s just so many world ranking and qualifying points on offer, you have to play a lot in America if you want to stay in the top 50 and make the Ryder Cup team.’

This will be Westwood’s 84th appearance in a major, the second-most behind American Jay Haas for any player without a win to his name. He has had a staggering 12 top five finishes, two more than anyone else without a victory. Alongside Colin Montgomerie and Doug Sanders, he is, indeed, the best player never to win one.

It used to lead to some unwarranted trolling from those who, ludicrously, could only see the negative side of that equation. Now, there is a far greater appreciation for the fact that he is still standing, still in contention.

Brimming with confidence, too. When I ask if he’s going to savour this Masters in case it is his last, he laughs down the phone.

‘No, because when I win, I’ll have a lifetime exemption, won’t I?’

Share this article

Source: Read Full Article