SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – On a partly cloudy, brisk and picturesque July morning in Scotland, Lee Westwood was one round away from claiming the claret jug. He held the 54-hole lead at the 142nd edition of the Open Championship, his second time sleeping on the third-round lead at a major. The English golfer, with wins on every major continent, was on the verge of claiming his first major championship.
Fast-forward some dozen-odd hours later, and the loosey-goosey Lefty from California had swooped in and claimed all the major championship glory. Westwood posted a final-round 4-over 75, falling to Phil Mickelson by four.
Albeit a much less-coveted trophy, Westwood has a chance of returning the favor to Mickelson this week at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
After all, TPC Scottsdale has long been recognized as Mickelson’s playground, being that he went to school at nearby Arizona State University, considers Phoenix his second home and is one of only four players (Arnold Palmer, Gene Littler, Mark Calcavecchia) to have won this event three times. Phil’s face is plastered on billboards and posters everywhere. Phoenix loves Phil. Phil loves Phoenix.
Claiming the title in Scottsdale will be no small task for Westwood. For starters, he is making his first-ever career start at the WMPO this week. Only five players have won in their first start at the WMPO when it’s been contested at TPC Scottsdale. Westwood added the desert stop to try to get some more state-side starts early in the season.
“Normally I would go play in the Middle East swing,” Westwood said. “I decided not to go this year and wanted to play a few more events in the United States.”
And it’s a united state Westwood hopes he’s finally settling into this season. Among the changes he’s made over the last couple years include moving to the U.S., focusing less on ball-striking and more on short game, dropping long-time swing coach Pete Cowen, picking up swing coach Sean Foley, rekindling his relationship with previous caddie Billy Foster, working with a sports psychologist for the first time and cutting beer out of his diet. OK, that last part is made up.
“There have been a lot of changes, so that’s been difficult,” Westwood said, “sometimes difficult to see which part of your game is wrong when there are so many different things going on.”
And yet, in the first month of 2014, in the beautiful Sonoran desert, Westwood finally feels like things are falling into place.
“I’ve got a fair bit of continuity at the moment,” Westwood said, “but, you know, I feel like I have a grasp of it at the moment and I’m hitting the ball well.”
That’s good news for the Englishman, who turns 41 in April and would love nothing more than to shake the ‘greatest golfer to have never won a major’ label oft-time associated with him.
But first, he must tackle TPC Scottsdale, and most notably, the 16th.
“I’m obviously a virgin to this tournament and the 16th,” Westwood said. “Don’t really know what to expect. … I’m glad it’s only an 8-iron.”
With the dust finally starting to settle and the beers free-flowing at the WMPO, this event may be the perfect place for Westwood to again find the winner’s circle. But just in case he doesn’t, we know where we can find him.
“If I had bought a ticket and I was coming to this tournament, I’d be in 16 drinking beers, too,” Westwood joked.