Posted on: June 16, 2011 10:09 am
Edited on: June 16, 2011 10:40 am

Back nine start puts Open players on backside

BETHESDA, Md. -- As if the U.S. Open isn’t daunting enough, doesn’t cause enough throat constriction, each of the 156 players in the field this week will start one of their first two rounds with a downright frightening tee shot.

Using split tees, the 10th hole at Congressional Country Club is a 220-yard par-3 with a forced carry over a lake. Imagine facing t hat as your opening shot at, say, 8 a.m. in the first round.

That's exactly what the top three players in the world were presented with on Thursday, when Luke Donald, Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer teed off at 8:06 a.m. ET.

The hole, playing 199 yards in the first round, has already taken a significant toll. In five of the first six groups to play the hole, at least one player dunked a ball in the water. The group that played it immediately before the top-three trio rinsed two balls, with Anthony Kim and Ryo Ishikawa making double-bogeys to star their week.

Guess that's why Congressional named it the Blue Course?

Players were actively bag-hawking one another on the tee, trying to pick the best iron to hit, because landing short was clearly not an option.

"It was a 4-, 5- or 6-iron, depending on the player," Westwood said as he walked toward the green. "I think we each hit different clubs."

Donald and Kaymer both birdied the hole to immediately pick up a shot on the field, easily.

Despite the carnage, they were running pretty close to on time. The Donald threesome teed off three minutes behind its scheduled time.

Posted on: May 3, 2011 9:34 am
Edited on: May 3, 2011 10:45 am

Taking the 'Fifth' European style

A few weeks back, we posted a story about the Players Championship in which it was noted that it gets a bit tiresome every year listening to the blather about whether the event is truly the fifth of four majors. The PGA Tour, which runs the event, was chided for positioning the event as such.

In response, we received a polite missive from the tour's top spokesman, who noted that while the tour has never shied away from the conversation about whether Sawgrass hosts the fifth-best event in the game, it's never officially marketed the tournament as such, either.

Looks like the European Tour has no such hesitation.

An official E-Tour press release issued Tuesday liberally used the self-promotional term while touting world No. 1 Lee Westwood's plans to play in the BMW PGA Championship later this month at Wentworth. Like with the Sawgrass event, it's the flagship tournament run by the European Tour and the circuit is clearly capitalizing on both his presence and the recent run of European dominance.

Westwood isn't playing at Sawgrass, a point of much controversy and consternation in some media circles. With the No. 1 in the Wentworth field, the chest-thumping has begun and the Fifth Major term, if not title, was fast co-opted by the PGA Tour's top competitor. Take that, Ponte Vedra.

Said Westwood of the Wentworth event in the E-Tour email: “The BMW PGA Championship is the biggest title that I play for outside of the majors. It’s bigger than the World Golf Championships because of what the tournament represents for us as the European Tour."

Last year, Westwood famously said the Players Championship ranked no better than eighth or ninth in the world pecking order behind the four majors and four WGC events. Looks like he demoted the event yet again. 

Why is there perceived friction between the tours? Because guys like Westwood keep stirring the pot. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it can circle around and bite you in the backside at a later date.

Tim Finchem, the floor is yours.
Posted on: April 8, 2011 7:56 pm

Westwood uses wiles to hang with kiddies

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- With his trademark dry wit, Lee Westwood might have reeled off the best line of the day gfive the state of affairs at the Masters on Fridat afternoon, where kids were running circles around their elders.

With 21-year-old Rory McIlroy leading and 23-year-old Jason Day in solo second place, the world No. 2 was asked if there were any advantages they might possess despite their comparative lack of experience.

He paused.

"No wrinkles," Westwood deadpanned.

They might have a few by the end of the third round Saturday given the big boys amassed behind them, including Westwood, who shot 5-under 67 to move into a share of seventh place, five strokes behid his pal and former Ryder Cup teammate, McIlroy.

Westwood was wandering along, not doing anything memorable, when he eagled the 15th hole to jumpe onto the scoreboard. He finished second to Phil Mickelson at Augusta National last year.

Three of the 10 players tied or ahead of him have never won a PGA Tour title, so Westwood is counting on his own wrinkles to be of a benefit. There are few courses in golf, if any, where experience is more crucial, because Augusta has more nuances than it has pine trees.


"Very important," Westwood said. "I used it today. I was through the turn in a couple under, 1 under through seven, missed a few chances and kept telling myself to be patient. A lot of things can happen around that back nine. 

"I didn't really make too many putts, and still managed to shoot 3-under around the back nine and 67 is always a good score. You always move forward with that. This is the sort of epitome of tournaments where experience is so valuable."

Category: Golf
Posted on: April 5, 2011 11:48 am

Westwood pooh-poohs details of fright flight

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Lee Westwood did his best not to fan the flames.

Good luck there, brother.

Westwood, the world No. 2, on Tuesday gave a few of the semi-harrowing details of his white-knuckle flight from Houston to Georgia on Sunday night, and said that some of the U.K. tabloid coverage was a bit over the top.

Westwood was aboard the private jet with agent Chubby Chandler, fellow Ryder Cupper Ross Fisher and two caddies. The plane smelled of smoke soon after takeoff and the pilots immediately turned around and flew back to Houston.

The level angst apparently varied on board.

"It depends who you talk to," Westwood laughed. "You talk to Chubby, there were flames coming up between our legs. Not literally."

After a day of mostly second-hand reports received by media, Westwood provided the first-hand play by play on Tuesday in his Masters Tournament press session.
"We took off, got about I guess three or four minutes in the air, and there was some smoke in the cabin, so the pilots donned the gas masks or whatever, oxygen masks, and turned it around fairly quickly," he said. "Quicker than you would do normally and brought it down fast and once they got everything comfortable for them I guess, they just landed and we got the fire rescue guard of honor back to the handling agent."

By guard of honor, he's referring to the fire truck that escorted them back to the gate. They changed planes and headed to Augusta.
"It was a bit nervy for three or four minutes," he said. "But not as drama-filled as some would have you make out; if you read The Sun, you would think we were on fire and landing like Memphis Belle or something like that."

Westwood laughed, but did finally admit to being shaken by the episode. If not stirred.

"On the next flight I had a very large double vodka," he said.

Category: Golf
Posted on: April 4, 2011 4:09 pm
Edited on: April 4, 2011 5:06 pm

Westwood takes flight in scary fashion

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The beginning of Lee Westwood's week at the Masters Tournament turned out to be at least as memorable as his near-miss last year at the season's first major.

The world No. 2, who finished second to Phil Mickelson at Augusta National last spring, played Sunday at the Houston Open and was on board a private jet that evening to Augusta, Ga., when the plane began to fill with smoke.

Westwood was aboard the plane with fellow Ryder Cupper Ross Fisher, their two caddies, and their manager, Chubby Chandler of ISM.

The problem started a few minutes into the flight, said Stuart Cage, another agent at ISM who wasn't on the flight. The jet turned around and flew back to Houston. Players then boarded another jet.

"Chubby said that when he turned around, the pilots had their full masks on everybody else had nothing," Cage said Monday.

Case said the incident wasn't particularly serious, and was believed to have been related to an air-conditioning malfunction, though it gave everybody on board a decent scare.

"A little bit of a panic," Cage said.

Firemen were waiting for the group when they returned to the Houston airport and Westwood posted several pictures to his Twitter account.

He also quipped, "They're not here to put my putter out! That's not on fire!"

Westwood finished T30 in Houston. He also posted this photo of Fisher, on the right, and the two caddies, in back, looking more than a little nervous.


Here's one of the fire trucks responding after landing.


Category: Golf
Posted on: March 8, 2011 2:48 pm

To Westwood, WGC pairings easy as 1-2-3

DORAL, Fla. -- The pairings party at this week's World Golf Championships event didn't exactly make a big impression on former world No. 1 Lee Westwood.

Tournament officials this week clustered players according to the world rankings in threesome over the first two days of the Cadillac Championship at Doral Resort & Spa, which means that Westwood, who dropped to No. 2 eight days ago, will play with top-ranked Martin Kaymer of Germany and Luke Donald of England.

Does the horsepower pairing create extra stress or additional zip? He nearly laughed. Maybe for the fans.

"Nothing, not a bit, not anything," Westwood said Tuesday. "You've got to play with somebody, so it might as well be martin and Luke, two friends of mine."

Interestingly, Westwood partnered with both playyers to win points in Europe's Ryder Cup victory last fall in Wales, including a foursomes pairing with Donald that resulted in 6-and-5 drubbing of Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker. Westwood rather humorously recited the score of the latter off the top of his head, without any prompting.

"You won't have to look that one [score] up, then, will you?" he laughed.


Category: Golf
Tags: doral, westwood
Posted on: March 4, 2011 6:44 pm

Westwood stumbles in, still in Honda hunt

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- Lee Westwood didn't make it off the course fast enough.

After climbing into solo third place, which precisely where he needs to finish the week in order to reclaim the No. 1 position in the world rankings that he relinquished on Monday, Westwood bogeyed three of the final six holes at the Honda Classic and enters the weekend tied for eighth, five shote behind rookie Kyle Stanley.

The tough closing stretch began when he hit his ball into the back slope of a greenside bunker on the 13th, which was situated a few feet from a hospitality tent where the Golf Channel broadcast was blaring behind him. Westwood backed off the shot and an attendant turned down the volume on the TV set in the luxury box.

"He was whispering," Westwood laughed of the on-air comments by Roger Maltbie, who was shadowing the group for the network, "but I could tell how difficult he thought the shot was."

So were plenty of others down the stretch. Westwood bogeyd 16 and 17, part of the so-called Bear Trap, and finished with a 1-under 69. Only 12 players broke par over 36 holes as the winds howled and players at 6 under made the cut -- the highest cutline since the event moved to PGA National five years ago and the highest on tour this year.

"I let a couple of putts go there at the end," said Westwood, now No. 2 in the world. "But I am quite pleased with my performance."

Westwood shrugged as he discussed the dropped shots coming home, as winds blew in excess of 20 mph.

"That's the kind of finish it is," he said. "A disaster waiting to happen."
Category: Golf
Posted on: March 2, 2011 4:07 pm

Westy not about to diss Tiger, now or ever

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- One of Lee Westwood's stable mates might be willing to crawl out on a cracking limb regarding the suddenly shaky status of Tiger Woods, but the savvy veteran and former world No. 1 most definitely isn't.

Rising star Rory McIlroy, who shares the same manager as Westwood, was quoted in a Sports Illustrated story this week in which he pointed out that Woods has hardly been a global force since the likeable Northern Irishman came truly arrived on the scene two years ago. McIlroy's statements were assuredly true, but in a world where criticism of Woods was non-existent until a few months ago, they sounded borderline heretical, especially from a player with two global wins. 

Westwood, on the other hand, is far too cagey to go there.

"That's the answer a 21-year-old would give, isn't it?" Westwood laughed this week before the Honda Classic. "Thirty-seven-year-olds are a little wiser."

Westwood stopped cracking wise long enough to make it clear that Woods, in his opinion, will eventually resurface. Woods is in the midst of a swing change and career-worst victory drought on the PGA Tour that has stretched into its 17th month. Whether he ascends to his previous heights is anybody's guess.

He might not need to. Woods has dropped to No. 5, his lowest world ranking since before he won the 1997 Masters, his first of 14 majors. 
"I think having played with Tiger since 1997, or something like that, there's an old saying that class is permanent and form is fickle," Westwood said. "He's the classiest player I've ever played with and I'd be wise enough to know not to write him off. 

"I've seen him play poorly and win tournaments. He doesn't necessarily have to get back to where he was."

After a brief pause, Westwood, now world No. 2, smirked.

"I'll have a word with Rory later," he said.

Westwood bumped Woods from the No. 1 spot 18 weeks ago, then was dethroned himself on Monday by Germany's Martin Kaymer.

Category: Golf
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