Westwoods defining moment

By Randall MellFebruary 9, 2011, 10:27 pm

2009 European TourLee Westwood’s first defining moment since gaining the No. 1 world ranking 15 weeks ago is at hand.

It begins when he steps to the first tee Thursday in a highly anticipated pairing with No. 2 Martin Kaymer and No. 3 Tiger Woods at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.

It’s Westwood’s big chance to shut up all his critics.

It’s his chance to show everyone who thinks he’s an unworthy successor to Tiger Woods that he’s not accidentally, uneventfully or temporarily the guy at the top of the game today.

It’s Westwood’s chance to show something to all those folks who think Kaymer is really the best player in the world right now. 

Lee Westwood
Lee Westwood has been enjoying his stay atop the world rankings. (Getty Images)
It’s a defining moment because we get this rare side-by-side look at how Westwood measures up to Woods and Kaymer with all three paired together in the first two rounds. It feels like we may be seeing the present, the future and the past if Woods doesn’t turn his sinking momentum around.

Of course, it’s not that the first- and second-round results really matter this week. It’s not that Dubai’s a make-or-break event. The week feels important because of how it can shatter or confirm American suspicions of Westwood’s pedigree.

This isn’t about Westwood coming over to uncomfortable foreign American turf to prove himself. This is Westwood defending his turf in a European Tour event. This is the 17th time he’ll tee it up in the Dubai Desert Classic, where he’s finished runner-up twice. It’s all part of what makes this week feel like the most important tournament of the year so far.

It may unfold overseas, but Westwood can win a lot of respect he isn’t getting yet in the United States.

In some corners, Westwood’s got much to prove because he’s viewed as the least impressive No. 1 in the history of the Official World Golf Ranking. The harsh view is that he has made his climb racking up rankings points while squandering chances to win majors and big events. Of the 13 players who have held the No. 1 world ranking, he’s the only one who doesn’t have a major championship on his resume, though three others won their majors after they ascended to No. 1. Westwood was runner-up in two majors last year. He’s finished second or third in five of his last 10 majors, but he hasn’t shown the ability to win the events that most measure greatness.

Over the last 14 months, Westwood’s won just one official European Tour or PGA Tour event. He’s won just five times on either tour over the last seven seasons. Kaymer’s won five times in the last 14 months.

And the year hasn’t started particularly well for Westwood. In his two starts this year, he’s lost to Kaymer by 26 shots at the Abu Dhabi Championship and missed the cut at the Qatar Masters.

Win something big!

Beat somebody big!

That’s the cold, skeptic’s view of Westwood’s circumstance.

There’s another compelling side to the circumstance, however. A fantastic side to Westwood’s story.

If you’ve followed Westwood’s career, you’ve seen the inspiring climb out of a slump every bit as deep as the one Woods is mired in, minus the personal scandal. You’ve seen the inspiring fight in a guy who’s fought back from a mystifying slide after inexplicably losing his swing. After climbing as high as No. 4 in the world in 2000, then plummeting to No. 264 amid his struggles, it’s remarkable how formidably he’s put his game and his confidence back together. It speaks volumes about the nature of the man, about his resilience and perseverance.

Westwood’s story inspires. It’s why so many people do root for him and why so many believe the big wins will follow for him.

With his rebuilt body, his rebuilt swing, he’s become one of the best drivers in the game.

There aren’t many players as long as Westwood who are as consistently straight. There isn’t anyone as consistently straight who hits it as long.

At 37, all the pieces of Westwood’s game seem to be coming together. In so many ways, this seems like his time. You see it in the dignified and graceful manner in which he’s carrying the No. 1 ranking. There’s no apologizing for the way he claimed the top spot. He's relishing his circumstance, even thriving in it.

If this really is Westwood’s time, then maybe this will be his week, too, his first defining moment as No. 1.


Follow Randall Mell on Twitter @RandallMell

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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.