x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Justice for Lee Westwood is overdue

The Englishman is looking formidable on the Majlis Course, and it only seems fair that he is rewarded with a Masters in 2012.

England’s Lee Westwood, who finished 17th in Abu Dhabi and 12th in Qatar, is in the lead in Dubai.
England’s Lee Westwood, who finished 17th in Abu Dhabi and 12th in Qatar, is in the lead in Dubai.

I would like to state upfront that I am not some Lee Westwood fanboy, nor do I have any Lee Westwood posters on the walls, nor do I own even one shred of Lee Westwood memorabilia, nor do I know Lee Westwood, nor does anybody in my family know anybody in Lee Westwood's family, nor am I English or even British.

With that settled - phew - I would just like to state that I very much want Lee Westwood to win the Masters. And if he does not win the Masters, I want him to win the US Open, the British Open or the PGA Championship, preferably the British Open.

I say this with sustained journalistic impartiality. If he won at Augusta and I were there, I would not go running onto the 18th green and try to hug him or anything. For one thing, I would not want the prison sentence.

It's just that as he looks so formidable again here at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, looks like somebody safely amid a lengthy prime at 38, I have gone studying his major record again. This is the best player in majors across recent years, yet the so-called "golfing gods" still have not afforded a title.

The man has 12 top-10s and eight top-5s overall, and six top-3s over the past three seasons, so when I want him to win the Masters, it's because I demand justice. Now.

I know all the prattle about the "golfing gods," and how players are not entitled to win one just because they nibble serially, and how majors are harder than ever to win, and blah-blah-blah-blah-blah. It all makes sense. I know it's a vicious sport invented by partially sinister people.

I also know that nobody should go around crowing that they placed fifth in the 2000 US Open at Pebble Beach - as Westwood placed - because Tiger Woods so mauled everyone else that week that fifth was 105th. I know the same for the 2011 US Open at Congressional, where Westwood finished third, which resembled 53rd, given Rory McIlroy.

Still, it's not like Westwood has shown any major majors defect. As golf reveals the strength of stomachs, his stomach has not proved notably fragile. He has not blown gaskets all over courses on Sundays. He shot 71 on Sunday at Augusta in 2010 - OK, fine - but Phil Mickelson shot 67. His judgement was plenty defensible when he missed the 2009 British Open play-off because he thought he had to go for birdie because he thought Tom Watson would not make bogey.

When he said thereafter he had "gone from frustration to sickness now," you could sympathise.

You can say that while the "golfing gods" can be spiteful - see Watson, No 18, eight-iron onto green, Turnberry, 2009 - sometimes over time they seem just ridiculous and need to cut it out, as with Westwood.

He has contended for so long - 10th at the 1997 US Open, for starters - that it has grown possible to forget he's contending in all the sheer McIlroy and Kaymer and Keegan Bradley of it all. Oh, there's Westwood up there again. Of course. Yet as familiar as his penchant for almost has become, hope might run anew with this desert swing.

In Abu Dhabi, he extolled his recent putting progress with a new putting guru, fresh oomph for us Westwood-hopers. He spoke of making the 15-footers "which I've been missing for the previous 17 years". He said, "If you start making putts that you haven't been making … it does take a lot of pressure off the rest of your game."

Then, after finishing 17th in Abu Dhabi and 12th in Qatar, he has gone around Emirates Golf Club with a steady aura. "I've put a lot of preparation in, so I'm entitled to be confident really," he said yesterday after acquiring the lead. He went on about his improvements in "everything" (short game, putting) called his scoring "lower than it's ever been". And even though the majors are sprawling puzzles impossible to peg, and form can change from month to month, and it's unwise to bring expectations to them, the whole look about Westwood has stirred thoughts of April and Augusta.

There or elsewhere, I don't think I'm asking all that much. I just want to see the face of somebody who came close that many times and worked that hard for that many years, suddenly upon a fairway with a major title in hand. I just want to witness some justice.

cculpepper@thenational.ae