Westwood holds steady amid criticism
When Lee Westwood captured the St. Jude Classic last year for his second PGA Tour victory, it kick-started a run that carried him past Tiger Woods to No. 1 in the World Golf Ranking on Nov. 1.
Westwood returns to TPC Southwind this week looking up at someone else in the rankings, this time another Englishman, Luke Donald, who beat him two weeks ago in a playoff in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.
"I don’t turn up to a tournament and worry about who is in front of me," said Westwood, who also was unseated by Martin Kaymer of Germany briefly earlier this season before regaining the No. 1 spot with two victories in Asia.
"I just turn up to try to get everything I can out of my game during the week. And I know if I do that, I’ll be (near the top of the leaderboard), or thereabouts."
His battles with Donald and Kaymer have taken a back seat, at times, to situations he has had to deal with off the course since he passed Woods.
Although Westwood tried his best to enjoy the ride as the best player in the world, there were some rocky moments, including some criticism when he said it meant more to him than winning a major championship.
First, he had to endure the talk that he wasn’t really the best player in the world because he has not won a major. Of the 15 golfers to achieve the No. 1 ranking, only Westwood and Donald attained that lofty perch without ever capturing one of the major events.
Westwood has come agonizingly close, finishing second twice and third three times in majors since 2008.
In addition, he was skewered by Phil Mickelson and other American players, not to mention the U.S. media, for skipping the Players Championship because he couldn’t fit it into his schedule. He is permitted to play in only 10 PGA Tour events as a non-member.
So when he played in and won the Indonesia Masters and the Ballantine’s Championship in South Korea to regain the top spot from Kaymer, the buzz was that those victories came against inferior fields.
As if it weren’t enough to hear it from players and the media, Westwood complained recently that he might have to close his Twitter account because of comments made by some of his followers.
This came on the heels of Wayne Rooney, the great striker for Manchester United, being threatened by one of his followers on Twitter.
Not surprising for soccer, but who ever heard of golf hooligans?
"It’s social media, not social slagging," Westwood said a few weeks ago while playing in the Volvo World Match Play Championship in Spain. "It’s losing its meaning with the sort of stuff that’s gone on just recently.
"It seems to have turned into that for some people, having a go, which is a bit unfortunate. We all get the odd idiot here and there. It’s just pathetic."
Westwood also had a testy exchange with a member of the UK media at Wentworth for supposedly disparaging the tee-to-green game of Ian Poulter, who beat him in the Match Play event.
The back and forth went on for several minutes, even as Westwood explained that he was complimenting his Ryder Cup teammate’s scrambling ability, saying he got up and down from everywhere and anywhere.
And he added that Poults didn’t take offense, as others seemed to.
"We’re good mates," Westwood said, admitting that there was a little banter about the incident the next time they were together. "He gives it; I take it. I give it, he takes it. It’s just one of those things. There’s nothing more to it than that."
As for skipping the Players Championship, it will be interesting to see how that plays out down the road.
Westwood, one of several Europeans who criticized the American stars for not showing up at the BMW PGA Championship, passed on the so-called Fifth Major, along with Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland.
Both are represented by Andrew "Chubby" Chandler, founder of International Sports Management, who some have said is trying to become a power broker in the mold of the late Mark McCormack, founder of sports management giant IMG.
Chandler has called the Players "the 10th-most important tournament in the world" and seems to take delight in tweaking the PGA Tour and commissioner Tim Finchem any chance he gets.
And right now, Chandler definitely is wielding a lot of power in the game as the agent for Westwood, McIlroy, Ernie Els, Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel and others.
"They made a mistake (by skipping the Players)," said Brandel Chamblee of the Golf Channel, who also has said that Westwood’s swing might be the best in the world. "They both have the same manager, and I’m not sure that’s a coincidence.
"I’m also not sure Lee didn’t influence Rory and not sure what kind of power play is being enforced there."
If he were trying to pull some type of power play, Westwood knows he does not have the same amount of juice he had only a few weeks ago, admitting that there is a "massive difference," between No. 1 and No. 2 in the world.
Despite all that goes along with being on top, Westwood said he was able to come to grips with it.
"People do demand more of your time and you have to be very wary of what you say at certain times, as well, and how you act," said Westwood, whose only other PGA Tour title came in the 1998 Freeport-McDermott Classic. "So you have to be on your guard a little bit more. There’s a lot more to do.
"And, obviously, when you turn up to a tournament, and you’re the best player there, then there’s a certain added pressure to that. I suppose a slight responsibility in the back of your mind to put on a show and play well.
". . . But the longer you are at No. 1, the easier it gets, no doubt about that."
He obviously wants it back, and this week is step one.