Westwood: I have the game to end major drought

He is No. 3 in the world, looks to have the ideal game for Royal

Lytham & St. Annes, and former champions are lining up to make

him their tip for the British Open.

So, can Lee Westwood finally win his first major this week after

so many painful near misses?

”I’ve contended most weeks and given myself a chance, so I

don’t see any reason why this week should be any different,”

Westwood said Tuesday.

That’s certainly what Tony Jacklin and Gary Player, winners here

in 1969 and ’74, think. Three-time major winner Ernie Els, and

Europe Ryder Cup captain Jose Maria Olazabal also believe

Westwood’s time has arrived.

It’s easy to understand why.

Westwood is one of the straightest, cleanest ball-strikers

around. That accuracy off the tee will be a major weapon around a

links course that has more than 200 bunkers and thick rough that is

brutal and at times unplayable.

The Englishman has also been a contender so often at majors –

two runner-up finishes, two thirds and four fourths – that surely

his luck must change and be due a victory at some stage. He has 14

top-20 finishes, and only one player – Harry Cooper between 1925

and 1938 – has matched that record without winning a major.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, he is a more mature

character these days and is confident in his own game, having

climbed to No. 1 for the first time last year.

”I think I’ve gotten more relaxed and just sort of played and

let the cards fall where they may, really,” Westwood said. ”I

don’t find myself pressing particularly harder.

”I know my game is good enough to win when I play well enough,

play with everything together. So that’s what I try to do.”

Westwood, who is still without regular caddie Billy Foster

because of injury, chose to skip last week’s Scottish Open – the

warmup event for the British Open – and instead played a course in

his home town of Worksop with his father.

Westwood carried his own bag, even raked the bunkers

himself.

If that was a sure signal that a groin problem that hampered him

at the French Open two weeks ago is no longer an issue, doubts

still remain about the one supposed weakness in his arsenal – his

short game.

The general consensus is that if he was a better putter, he

wouldn’t still be without a major title after 57 attempts.

”I don’t think you can get to No. 1 in the world without much

of a short game,” Westwood said. ”I think the thing with

professional golf is you’re an individual, so you’re lined up there

for people to have a look at your game and take criticisms.

”(Top-ranked) Luke Donald’s strengths are from 80 yards in. My

strengths are tee to green. But you’ve got to understand that

people are going to have strengths, and people are going to have

weaknesses, and you can’t be the best in the world at everything,

otherwise you’d be miles in front.”

There may be a surfeit of bunkers at Lytham but at least there’s

a distinct lack of trees.

Westwood’s last charge at a major title, at the U.S. Open last

month, was brought to a halt on the fifth hole in his final round

when a far-from-wayward drive hit a tree and stayed in the

branches. He was three shots off the lead held by Jim Furyk at the

time and ended up finishing tied for 10th.

”Yeah, that shouldn’t be a problem this week,” Westwood said.

”If you hit it down the middle, there’s generally no trees down

the middle, so that’s my plan.”

Westwood plays with Masters champion Bubba Watson and Yoshinori

Fujimoto in his first two rounds.