Lee Westwood turns 48 on April 24, less than a fortnight after the Masters ends. He’s been playing some sprightly stuff of late: a shot behind Bryson DeChambeau at Bay Hill last month, a solitary shot adrift of Justin Thomas at the Players Championship the following week. He won the Race to Dubai last season, of course, for the third time, 20 years after he was the leading money-winner on the European Tour for the first time. It’s been a career of tremendous achievement and phenomenal longevity.
His CV is missing a major championship. He has twice been runner-up at the Masters, which begins next Thursday, finishing three shots behind Phil Mickelson in 2010 and the same margin away from Danny Willett in 2016. Those are among his nine top-3 finishes in major championships, of which he has contested 84 – the most of anyone without winning one.
His most agonising miss was probably a tie for third, one shot out of the Stewart Cink/Tom Watson playoff in the Open Championship at Turnberry in 2009. It was perhaps a case of too much information. Westwood was on the green of the par-four final hole in two, 45 feet from the flag, and he knew that in the match behind Watson, the leader, had hit a good drive. “I didn’t see Tom bogeying the hole from the fairway, since he’s such an experienced player” Westwood reasoned later. “I thought I had to hole that putt.” He rammed it ten feet by and missed the return. Watson did make a bogey. A par would have got Westwood into the playoff. I think he would have fancied his chances in that.
At the WGC/Dell Technologies Match Play Championship in Austin, Texas, last week, he didn’t make it out of the group stage, being beaten 4&3 by Sergio Garcia in his first match and then losing to him again courtesy of the Spaniard’s hole-in-one in a sudden-death playoff. Nevertheless, he is now ranked 20th on the world rankings (which he topped for periods in 2010 and 2011) and his cheque for over $1.6 million at the Players was the largest of his career. And maybe there is some inspiration to be taken from his two-time Spanish conqueror in Austin.
In 2017, Garcia won his first major at the age of 37. That was the Masters, his 74th attempt to win a major. At Augusta next week, Westwood will attempt to halt an even longer drought. “I enjoy the game more now,” he said after his near-miss at the Players. “I take it for what it is – a game. It gets treated far too seriously sometimes. With what’s going on in the world, it’s fun to be doing a job that I love and that I’ve done for 28 years.”
Maybe that sort of perspective will help him at the Masters. But if he does happen to win it, he would deserve to go absolutely bonkers.
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