Westwood feeling fit but for how many matches


Ryder Cup

NEWPORT, Wales – Lee Westwood thinks Europe lost its way two years ago at Valhalla when it surrendered the Ryder Cup for the first time in nearly a decade. They had 12 great players. They just didn’t have much of a team.

For the English star, it was a Ryder Cup to forget.

He was benched for the first time in his career. Then, with a chance to set the Ryder Cup record by going unbeaten in 13 consecutive matches, he lost for the first time in six years. Ultimately, Europe suffered its worst loss in 27 years.

“I think there was a lot of passion at Valhalla,” Westwood said Thursday. “I don’t think it was directed, or guided, in the right direction at times. I think we could have pulled it together as a team a lot better at Valhalla.”

Whether that was veiled criticism of Nick Faldo is subject to speculation. Westwood made it clear, however, that this European team is on the same page in practice, at parties and in the team room.

Next up come the matches, which get under way on Friday morning at Celtic Manor. The pairings for the opening session were to be announced later Thursday afternoon, although Westwood made it clear he would have no qualms leading off.

“Not at all,” Westwood said. “I’m going to go out there and try and hit the first fairway in my match. Try and knock it on the green, try and win that first hole, and try and win a point. And I want to see 11 people following me. I think when push comes to shove, if I get out there – chest out, chin up – try and show them how it’s done.

“I think we’ve got 11 great players that are well capable of following me through there and playing to the best of their ability.”

In some respects, this is a new role for him.

No other European on this team has played in more Ryder Cups. He is all but assured of becoming the No. 2 player in the world, and on the cusp of replacing Tiger Woods at No. 1. The only question is his rust.

Westwood was the runner-up at the Masters and the British Open, playing some of the best golf of his career after winning the Order of Merit on the European Tour a year ago. Then came a nagging calf injury that reached a point where Westwood felt it was best to take six weeks off for rest and rehabilitation.

That meant missing the PGA Championship, the final major. And it meant he wouldn’t play a competitive round until his name was announced on the first tee at Celtic Manor for the most intense golf of the year.

Is he ready?

“I don’t have too many concerns,” he said. “I don’t have concern with the competitive edge. I’ve played well in the practice rounds, and I don’t see how that’s going to change in the competitive rounds. And when the match itself starts, I think I’ll be up for it even more.”

The only question is whether he has the stamina to go all five matches.

Westwood played every session from his debut at Valderrama in 1997 until Faldo sat him out on the Saturday morning at Valhalla. But with so much rain in Wales, and more on the way at Celtic Manor, the course is soggy, hilly and difficult to walk.

European captain Colin Montgomerie has said he would play all 12 of his players on Friday, and it might be best not to play anyone all five times before the Sunday singles to keep them fresh.

“It’s very heavy underfoot, and it’s quite hilly in places,” Westwood said. “Thirty-six holes a day, ideally I would have liked to have broken myself in gently in a tournament with 18 holes a day, but that wasn’t possible. I know as much as you, really, how I’m going to react over the next couple of days. But I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think I could play five matches.”

For some, there was never a question that Westwood was going to play. Montgomerie said there was no need to have a reserve at Celtic Manor in case an injury became a problem before opening ceremonies, when the rosters were set for the week.

Westwood only had a brief doubt during his time away from the game, spent mostly lying on his couch.

“Only when I started putting weight to it and hitting more balls the last couple of week did I start to allow myself to think about playing this week, and getting emotionally up for it.”