Westwoods Big Day Comes in New Orleans
Lee said he would try golf. He liked it immediately, and before long he had a handicap. The handicap was 54, but it was still golf ' sort of.
My, what a ride! Three years later, Lee was playing to scratch at Worksop. In three more years, at 19, he turned professional. In his third season as a pro, he finished sixth on the European Tour money list. And five years after he turned pro ' at the age of 24 ' he won in the United States.
Westwood came to New Orleans that week in April to get ready for the Masters, which was the following week. He had just played in the 1998 Players Championship and finished in impressive fashion, shooting 68-69 on the weekend to tie for fifth. The Masters would be a letdown for Westwood, whose 300 score was 44th of the 46 players who made the cut. But for that one shining week in New Orleans at the Freeport-McDermott Classic, Brit Westwood was as perfect as perfect can be.
Westwood wasnt particularly impressive the first round. He played well with a 69, but that was five shots off the pace set by Glen Day, sizzling with an 8-under 64.
Westwood moved up the second day with a 68, though still three behind new leader Steve Flesch. But the third day, another round in the 60s ' this time 67 ' shot him to the top of the scoreboard. He owned a one-stroke lead over Flesch and two over Duffy Waldorf as the final day began Sunday.
He began to squeeze the life out of the field halfway through the round. A birdie at 10, then one at No. 11, gave him a little breathing room. The one on 11 was really impressive, a 40-foot putt that told the rest of the field, You better really play well if you want to keep this trophy from going back with me to England!
Westwood wasnt quite that boisterous, of course. But he was quietly confident.
You have to hole the putts when they count, he said. Fortunately for me, I got the killer blow in at the right time. Its a case of driving the nail in when you have to.Westwoods lead was up to five by the time he got to the 14th. There, he suffered a blow that might have knocked the props out from under a lesser player. Preparing to stroke a 30-foot putt from light rough, the ball jumped up slightly and caught his blade on top. One-stroke penalty for the double-hit and to make matters worse, the ball finished 10 feet from the hole on that roller.
Westwood took a deep breath and surveyed the situation. Then, facing a double bogey, he drilled the 10-footer into the back of the cup. Never even flinched, said Flesch, and Westwood got out of the hole with just a bogey.
Westwood had one more nerve-shaking encounter. The very next hole, the 15th, is a par-5 with the green surrounded by water. The hole had already extracted a 13 from Fulton Allem and an 11 from Scott Verplank earlier in the tournament.
But Westwood defied conventional wisdom, disdaining the 2-iron and striping a driver down the left side of the fairway. He only had 185 left to the pin, and naturally he went for it, getting there with a 5-iron. It was easily on the green, and two putts later he had another birdie. It was time to polish up the trophy for the plane ride to England.
Just another easy win for a very cool customer? Well, not exactly. Westwood described the day, giving the press one of the best quotes of 1998:
It was harder than it looked, he said. I was like a swan ' sort of gliding on the top, but my legs were paddling underneath.
Westwood would reach the mountain-top two years later when he won the European Tour Order of Merit for being the tours top money-winner. However, his marriage to the sister of tour pro Andrew Coltart, Laurae, produced a boy last year. Westwood missed the Masters as his wife was in labor. He played only sparingly thereafter, settling for a finish of 58th on the money list.
He momentarily rebounded last year with a third-place in the Volvo Scandinavian Masters in August. I proved I hadnt lost the habit of being in contention you dont win tournaments by playing well and thinking poorly.
He injured his wrist at the end of August in WGC-NEC Invitational and that hampered him somewhat. He currently stands No. 61 on the money list this year as the European Tour gets into the heart of its schedule. He has plenty of time to make some giant steps, although he needs to get to work. His son just had his first birthday and Westwood is ready to go back fulltime.
Never, though, will he forget that wonderful week in New Orleans when it all went just as planned.
Spieth, McIlroy to support Major Champions Invitational
Nick Faldo announced Tuesday the creation of the Major Champions Invitational.
The event, scheduled for March 12-14, is an extension of the Faldo Series and will feature both male and female junior players at Bella Collina in Montverde, Fla.
Jordan Spieth, Rory Mcllroy, Annika Sorenstam, Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson, Jerry Pate and John Daly have already committed to supporting the event, which is aimed at mentoring and inspiring the next generation of players.
“I’m incredibly excited about hosting the Major Champions Invitational, and about the players who have committed to support the event,” Faldo said. “This event will allow major champions to give something back to the game that has given them so much, and hopefully, in time, it will become one of the most elite junior golf events in the world.”
Rosaforte: Woods plays with Obama, gets rave reviews
Golf Channel insider Tim Rosaforte reports on Tiger Woods’ recent round at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla., alongside President Barack Obama.
Check out the video, as Rosaforte says Woods received rave reviews from instructor Claude Harmon.
Stock Watch: Spieth searching for putting form
Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.
Patton Kizzire (+8%): By today’s accelerated standards, he’s a late bloomer, having reached the Tour at age 29. Well, he seems right at home now, with two wins in his last four starts.
Rory (+7%): Coming off the longest break of his career, McIlroy should have no excuses this year. He’s healthy. Focused. Motivated. It’s go time.
Chris Paisley (+5%): The best part about his breakthrough European Tour title that netted him $192,000? With his wife, Keri, on the bag, he doesn’t have to cut 10 percent to his caddie – she gets the whole thing.
Brooke Henderson (+3%): A seventh-place finish at the Diamond Resorts Invitational doesn’t sound like much for a five-time winner, but this came against the men – on a cold, wet, windy, 6,700-yard track. She might be the most fun player to watch on the LPGA.
New European Ryder Cuppers (+2%): In something of a Ryder Cup dress rehearsal, newcomers Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton each went undefeated in leading Europe to a come-from-behind victory at the EurAsia Cup. The competition come September will be, um, a bit stiffer.
Jordan’s putting (-1%): You can sense his frustration in interviews, and why not? In two starts he leads the Tour in greens in regulation … and ranks 201st (!) in putting. Here’s guessing he doesn’t finish the year there.
Brian Harman’s 2018 Sundays (-2%): The diminutive left-hander now has five consecutive top-10s, and he’s rocketing up the Ryder Cup standings, but you can’t help but wonder how much better the start to his year might have been. In the final pairing each of the past two weeks, he’s a combined 1 under in those rounds and wasn’t much of a factor.
Tom Hoge (-3%): Leading by one and on the brink of a life-changing victory – he hadn’t been able to keep his card each of the past three years – Hoge made an absolute mess of the 16th, taking double bogey despite having just 156 yards for his approach. At least now he’s on track to make the playoffs for the first time.
Predicting James Hahn’s form (-4%): OK, we give up: He’d gone 17 events without a top-15 before his win at Riviera; 12 before his win at Quail Hollow; and seven before he lost on the sixth playoff hole at Waialae. The margins between mediocre play and winning apparently are THAT small.
Barnrat (-5%): Coming in hot with four consecutive top-10s, and one of only two team members ranked inside the top 50 in the world, Kiradech Aphibarnrat didn’t show up at the EurAsia Cup, going 0-3 for the week. In hindsight, the Asian team had no chance without his contributions.
Langer not playing to pass Irwin, but he just might
Bernhard Langer goes back out on tour this week to chase down more than Hale Irwin’s PGA Tour Champions record of 45 career victories. His chase is against himself.
“I’m not playing to beat Hale Irwin’s record,” Langer told me before heading to Hawaii to defend his title at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai. “I play golf to play the best I can, to be a good role model, and to enjoy a few more years that are left.”
Langer turned 60 on Aug. 27 and was presented a massage chair by his family as a birthday gift. Instead of reclining (which he does to watch golf and football), he won three more times to close out a seven-win campaign that included three major championships. A year prior, coming off a four-victory season, Langer told me after winning his fourth Charles Schwab Cup that surpassing Irwin’s record was possible but not probable. With 36 career victories and 11 in his last two years, he has changed his tone to making up the nine-tournament difference as “probable.”
“If I could continue a few more years on that ratio, I could get close or pass him,” Langer told me from his home in Boca Raton, Fla. “It will get harder. I’m 60 now. It’s a big challenge but I don’t shy away from challenges.”
Bernhard Langer, Hale Irwin at the 1991 Ryder Cup (Getty Images)
Langer spent his off-season playing the PNC Father/Son, taking his family on a ski vacation at Big Sky in Yellowstone, Montana, and to New York for New Year’s. He ranks himself as a scratch skier, having skied since he was four years old in Germany. The risk of injury is worth it, considering how much he loves “the scenery, the gravity and the speed.”
Since returning from New York, Langer has immersed himself into preparing for the 2018 season. Swing coach Willy Hoffman, who he has worked with since his boyhood days as an as assistant pro in Germany, flew to Florida for their 43rd year of training.
“He’s a straight shooter,” Hoffman told me. “He says, 'Willy, every hour is an hour off my life and we have 24 hours every day.'"
As for Irwin, they have maintained a respectful relationship that goes back to their deciding singles match in the 1991 Ryder Cup. Last year they were brought back to Kiawah Island for a corporate appearance where they reminisced and shared the thought that nobody should ever have to bear what Langer went through, missing a 6-footer on the 18th green. That was 27 years ago. Both are in the Hall of Fame.
"I enjoy hanging out with Hale," Langer says.
Langer’s chase of Irwin’s record is not going to change their legacies. As Hoffman pointed out, “Yes, (Bernhard) is a rich man compared to his younger days. He had no money, no nothing. But today you don’t feel a difference when you talk to him. He’s always on the ground.”