Looking For Positives
He was third on the 1998 Order of Merit, second in 99 and ended Colin Montgomeries seven-year tenure at the top in 2000.
Three European victories in 1999 became six in 2000.
The 28-year-old Englishman had become the best player outside of the U.S.
Yet Westwoods rise to the top has taken a sharp decline this year.
Hes 0-for-21 worldwide in the victory department, with only two top-5s. Hes fallen from 4th to 22nd on the Official World Golf Ranking ' which was changed in September to more fairly reflect a players current form.
And entering this weeks Cisco World Match Play Championship ' where hes the defending champion ' Westwood is 43rd on the Order of Merit.
A year ago, Westwood capped his illustrous season with a symbolic victory ' defeating reigning champion Montgomerie in 38 holes at Wentworth Club, a venue where Monty had triumphed in each of his last three appearances. (The course also hosts the Volvo PGA Championship.)
This is not the same Westwood.
Aside from his professional recession, Westwoods personal life was altered when his wife, Laurae, gave birth to their first child ' a son, in April.
The birth coincided with the Masters Tournament, which Westwood skipped. He did compete in the three other major championships, finishing no higher than tied for 44th.
Opting to stay at home more often, Westwood has played in just 13 European Tour events this season. (He made 23 starts in 2000.)
If I dont win a tournament from now until the end of the year, then, you know, Ill come out at the end of the year having learned a lot, because you learn a lot more when youre playing poorly than when you are playing well, Westwood said in August.
So if I do win, it will be great. If I dont win, then, you know, Ive got next year to work on things, or next year to look forward to.
Westwood isnt the only European player looking forward to next season.
Over the past four years, Westwood, Montgomerie and Darren Clarke have been Europes Big Three.
Unlike their English counterpart, Monty and Clarke have won in 2001. But when youve had the kind of success that these two have had in the past, winning an occasional tour stop isnt enough.
Once again, Montgomerie and Clarke went majorless this year. In fact, the two combined for only one top-10 in major competition.
The 33-year-old Northern Irishman and the 38-year-old Scot have dipped to 9th and 10th, respectively, in the world ranking. And its likely that neither will capture the Order of Merit.
Westwood, Clarke and Montgomerie are all in this weeks field. All have a first-round bye ' testament to their pasts more so than their presents.
Three official events remain on the 2001 European calendar. Just enough time for the Big Three to put a positive stamp on the season and prime their games for 2002.
This weeks tournament isnt official in terms of money, but it could go a long way in altering ones outlook. And fittingly enough, the three may have to battle one another to get back on track.
(8) Thomas Bjorn (Den) vs. Adam Scott (Aus)
winner to play (1) Lee Westwood (Eng)
(5) Retief Goosen (SA) vs. Ian Woosnam (Wal)
winner to play (4) Colin Montgomerie (Sco)
(6) Padraig Harrington (Ire) vs. Nick Faldo (Eng)
winner to play (3) Darren Clarke (N. Ire)
Sam Torrance (Sco) vs. Seve Ballesteros (Sp)
winner to play (2) Vijay Singh (Fij)
Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix
KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.
The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.
Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.
Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.
Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.
Rahm (62) fires career low round
The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:
Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)
What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.
Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.
Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.
Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.
Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.
Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.
Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm
Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder
Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.
Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Web.com Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.
"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."
Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.
Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.
"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."
Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn
There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.
Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.
Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.
Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.
The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.