x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Lee Westwood sees the funny side of a tough week

World No 1 Lee Westwood's challenge for the Coffee Pot Trophy comes unstuck thanks to a tree.

There are always small telltale signs that suggest a golfer's game is not 100 per cent in sync.

Some wave their clubs. Others shout at their caddies. Lee Westwood feels he has to explain his jokes.

"I'm not sure about that," the world No 1 said when it was suggested to him that his late bid for the Dubai Desert Classic title might have come unstuck when his tee shot at his 71st hole ended perched halfway up a palm tree. Pregnant pause. "That's sarcasm, by the way."

It may be the lowest form of wit, but Westwood could be forgiven for indulging in a brief bout of gallows humour. His drive at the 359 yard, par-four 17th looked to be shaping appealingly for a birdie chance - or perhaps even better - when its parabola was rudely interrupted by said tree.

It might have been the exact same palm which had put the skids under Sergio Garcia's resurgence 24 hours earlier.

The Spaniard also chose the direct route to the same green, only for his ball to cannon into bark, rebound 50 yards and settle malignantly under a bush. He never recovered.

For those who do not know the Majlis Course, there is a small clump of palm trees just short of the right-hand edge of the 17th green.

They do not appear to pose much of a defence against the big hitters of the professional game, who usually risk cutting that corner as they pursue the reward of an eagle putt.

They have been like a fortress this week, however.

"Apparently, the odds of hitting an eight-inch-wide pond from 340 yards are bigger than I thought," was the way Garcia had described his ill-fortune after round three.

What are the chances of it being found twice by two title-chasers in successive days, then?

Westwood said he was gutted after signing his final round card with the unsightly blemishes of two sixes to finish. "Getting stuck up a palm tree will do that to you, when you think you have a chance of winning."

The Englishman did well to raise a smile and some laughs.

Even though he remains a little way short of the form which first carried him to the top of the world rankings, he might have been close to a first-place finish had misfortune not intervened when it did.

To add insult to the palm tree-inflicted injury of No 17, an overeager spectator provoked his ire further when he photographed Westwood's upswing when going up the par-five 18th. A bogey, to follow the double-bogey six at No 17, ensued.

"I was just a bit shafted by the last two holes," he said. "If you stick it up a tree, you can't do much about that. It was on a good line and would have been on the front edge of the green.

"Then on No 18 I was stood over my second shot and a guy took a very good shot of me on his iPhone. In terms of concentration I was already struggling a little bit at that stage, and he just finished it off."

For all the pantomime drama, Westwood accepted he would still have been an outsider for the Coffee Pot Trophy, even without the bad break.

Elsewhere on the Middle East Swing, he missed the cut at the Qatar Masters and finished a humble 64th in Abu Dhabi.

He is not yet back to the bully-boy best which took him to the Dubai World Championship and inaugural Race to Dubai titles in 2009.

On this evidence, however, he is starting to loiter with intent again, and early season rust is not a new phenomenon for him, anyway.

"The positives are, I had a chance to win," Westwood said. "I had a chance with two holes to play of posting a total which would have been half decent.

"I could have got to 10 under if I birdied the last two holes.

"I started to hit it better today, but it is difficult to tell out there because it was quite demanding with the wind.

"These were tough conditions this week.

"I still enjoyed playing, even though I finished in a bit of an ambulance. It is one of those things. It is better to have bad luck this week than at a major championship.

"I have struggled to get going so far this year, but I do every year. I am not a great start-of-the-year player. [But] my glass is always half full. I have been through bad times in my career, much worse than finishing six, six. I enjoy playing golf."