Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 February 2020

'Hard work' leads Lee Westwood to 25th European Tour title at Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Englishman holds off challenge from compatriots Fleetwood and Fitzpatrick – as well as Frenchman Perez – to secure the Falcon Trophy

Given he has now won 25 European Tour titles, and in excess of 40 worldwide, across a span of four different decades, few players are able to lay claim to something Lee Westwood has not achieved.

Until this weekend at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship presented by EGA, Robert Rock had one claim to fame over his celebrated counterpart.

It is eight years now since the golfing everyman gave this tournament arguably the most indelible image, when he held off the sport’s ultimate ubermensch, Tiger Woods, to win the Falcon Trophy.

Unsurprisingly, that marked a career high for a player who has two Tour wins to his name.

Oddly, seeing as they are both still competitors in the same field, Rock has been giving Westwood some swing coaching since the back end of last season.

Having won round this track before, Rock was ideally placed to offer his mate some tips on getting the job done this weekend. And Westwood, who held the lead going into the final round, said he did provide him with motivation – but indirectly.

“My driving was very good this week, but it's down to the work I've done with Robert Rock,” Westwood said. “He sent me a text last night and said: ‘Don't tell me that I've actually won something that you've never won.’

“I said: ‘Give me a day.’ So I can't wait to text him. Now he's not won something I haven't won. I've got my name on there, as well.”

Westwood had been moved to tears when he left the 18th green, after completing a final round 67 that took him to 19-under for the tournament, and gave him a two-stroke win.

As he moved to the recorder’s hut to sign his card, he was greeted with a warm embrace by Tommy Fleetwood, who finished tied second with Matthew Fitzpatrick and Victor Perez.

“I think it's to do with handling my emotions really well on the golf course, and when it's all over, that's the time it just releases and I can let myself go,” Westwood said of the tears.

Westwood turns 47 in April. Considering many of the accolades coming his way after his win in Abu Dhabi relate to longevity, it is no surprise he is starting to feel old.

When asked what advice he would give if any of the young thrusters on tour approached him on the range asking for advice, he said: “I'll have no idea who most of them are.

“I suddenly realised a few months ago why everyone has their name on their golf bags. It's for people like me. You walk along there, who is that lad on the range hitting it 330 yards?

“I'm always open to people coming and asking questions.”

And the secret of such long-term success? “Hard work,” he said.

“You've got to be dedicated and you've got to love it and you've got to love practicing. Because there's no shortcuts. It's just hard work.

“When you think about leaving the range on one afternoon, going and sitting by the pool, stay on the range another hour.

“A few years back, there was Tiger, myself and Vijay were the last three on the range. It wasn't a coincidence that the best players are the hardest workers.”

The defeated Fleetwood echoed that point, in praise of Westwood.

“Just because the way Lee is, because he’s such a good guy, I think people think the game comes naturally to him,” Fleetwood said.

“But he works hard, he has the passion for the game to still be out here competing. He doesn’t have to. He’s done great, hasn’t he?”

Tournament wins do not come in quite the rush they once did for Westwood. But this title sent him back up to 29th in the world rankings, earned him a place in all the main tournaments across the world, and even back into the conversation about a return to Europe’s Ryder Cup team.

“They [tournament wins when he was in his pomp] were coming along like taxis, and I didn't appreciate it enough,” Westwood said.

“Now I appreciate it and I appreciate all the hard work that has to go into it.”

Updated: January 19, 2020 08:33 PM

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