Never count out Lee Westwood at a major championship — even after he posts a dreadful first-round four-over 75. He suddenly appeared on the leaderboard late Saturday afternoon. He seemed to be hitting it well when I saw him on several holes on the front nine, but the flatstick was failing him. But he got hot after rolling in a birdie on No. 13. And then two more on Nos. 14 and 15. Following three consecutive birdies, he put an exclamation mark on his run with an eagle at the 16th. Westy strolled into the clubhouse with a nice six-under 65, including a spectacular five-under 30 on the second nine, which is considered the more challenging side. A strong effort by the Englishman, who insisted on Friday that he wasn’t playing for second place despite Rory McIlroy’s commanding lead. While other players conceded high praise to McIlroy’s impressive domination of Congressional, Westwood said that everyone probably was ready to hand the trophy to McIlroy, but in his experience, a six-shot lead can disappear very quickly. He added, “(Rory’s) had leads before.”
Ouch? I couldn’t tell if he was joking or not before, but after mulling over it, it was definitely a little jab.
The two are considered good friends off the course, often dining and having a pint or two together. But when we’re talking about titles, Westwood has his game face on. He’s certainly played his way back into contention and likely yet another top-ten finish at a major. In his last six starts at majors, he has placed tied for third or better four times, and his worst performance was T16 last year at the US Open.
Heading into the final round at Congressional, Westwood has played his way back to five-under for the championship, but he’s still nine shots off the pace. McIlroy beat him by ten on Thursday, which seems to be the difference.
As the cliche goes, “You can’t win the tournament on Thursday, but you can certainly lose it.”
Not according to Westwood, though. “They don’t give trophies away on Fridays and Saturday,” he said after the third round.
“You don’t know how Rory is going to do. You don’t know how he’s going to deal with the big lead. He had a big lead in a major and didn’t deal with it well before. There’s pressure on him with regards to that. So we’ll see. All I can do is control my game and try and shoot as low a score as possible for me.”
Of course, Westwood is referring to Rory’s meltdown in April at the Masters when he shot 80 in the final round. At the time he mentioned that he’d played a lot of rounds with Rory and when he’s under pressure, Rory has a “pull-hook in his bag.”
Given the opportunity on Friday to give McIlroy some veteran words of encouragement, Westwood replied, “I’m supposed to beat him over the next two days. I’m hardly going to give him advice, am I?”
He does have a point, but the references to Rory’s collapse at the Masters seems a little too close to home.
Westwood also knows what it’s like to have the lead and not seal the deal or lose it in the last few holes. He’s been scrutinized for the big zero next to his name and major titles. Maybe that’s why he sounds so….errr…competitive.
“Well, you know, Rory is a good player,” said Westwood. “When he plays well, he’s capable of shooting low scores. So I guess we’re all improving. If they make the golf courses longer, it will be 8,000 yards next year. We have Rory to thank for that.”
Look, I understand you can be friends yet still want to bash that person’s head in when you’re pitted against each other in competition. Westwood really, really wants that major and to get the monkey off his back, but he seems like he’s kind of taking shots at Rory? Or is it just the killer instinct in Westwood? A combination?
According to Chubby Chandler, the manager of both players, they’ve all had great dinners together this week and the plan was to dine again on Saturday evening. Asked if he was having dinner with Rory still, Westwood replied, “I don’t know, depends what time he gets finished.”
I interpreted that as a tactful “no.” Golf is an individual (and selfish) sport at the end of the day.
Considering how tired Rory looked on Saturday evening, I doubt he would have been up for it, anyway.
(AP Photo/Nick Wass)