A Tale of Two Returns


Two world-class players are coming back this week. One from injury. The other from oblivion.
One of them was a hero at last years Ryder Cup matches. The other was a disappointment.
Lee Westwood was a point man for Europes pulsating victory over a United States team that played like it was in foul trouble most of the week last September at The Belfry in England. But his performance was an aberration.
Westwood has sunk like a stone in the world rankings in two short years. At the beginning of the 2001 season the Englishman was No. 5. Today he weighs in at an ignominious No. 199. Players ranked ahead of him include Maarten Lafeber, Carlos Rodiles, Tomohiro Kondo, Andre Stolz and the immortal S. K. Ho.
This is why Westwood spent six hours a day for seven straight days working with teacher David Leadbetter in Orlando last week. At the end of the sessions Leadbetter presented Westwood with a 50-minute DVD that summarized the work they did together. Westwood took the DVD with him along with a laptop to Australia, where he is playing in the Johnnie Walker this week.
Its like watching Academy Live, said Chubby Chandler, Westwoods agent and an avid Golf Channel viewer of the personalized DVD. Only Lee is the pupil.
According to Chandler, Leadbetter and Westwood spent a large amount of time on the short game, which has always held Westwood back. They also changed Westwoods swing plane by six degrees. Lee needed something to go away with, Chandler said of the Westwood sessions.
An understatement to be sure. No one dropped farther in the world rankings in 2002 than Westwood. He started at 28 and finished at 183. Two words: Free fall.
Westwood had worked briefly with instructor Butch Harmon in the past and it always had helped. But Chandler said Westwood needed more concentrated work.
No one has done more concentrated work with Harmon than Woods. And it has paid off handsomely. Woods has been No. 1 in the world since forever. How long exactly? Yao Ming was still buying his clothes off the rack. Thats how long.
Part of the reason Woods was a non-factor at the same Ryder Cup in which Westwood shone is because he was nursing a sore left knee. In December doctors finally drained fluid from it and removed benign cysts. In case you have been fishing in Greenland, Woods is playing in Buick Invitational at Torrey Pines near San Diego this week. It is his first tournament since the operation.
Westwood could parachute onto the course in Perth and nobody would notice. But the whole world will be watching Woods and his repaired left knee at Torrey Pines.
Arizona teaching pro Mike Malaska knows as much as anybody about golf fitness and how to improve strength and flexibility as it relates to the golf swing. He has been studying Woods approach to golf and physical fitness for years.
Could you have predicted this injury? Malaska says. Maybe. His hips stay back and he rotates through the ball. There is more potential for that kind of injury. But Tiger does more to offset this with his fitness regimen. If the guys are hoping that this injury is a glitch that comes before the crash, theyd better re-think it.
Malaska pointed out that Woods has overcome back trouble in the past and, he said, He used to have right leg problems, too. He fixed that. Any athlete at that level who puts his body through what he puts his through is going to have some injuries. I think all of this will be kind of a safety valve check for Tiger. Maybe he wont go at it (the ball) as hard this week.
But Malaska predicts Tiger Woods may be better than ever in 2003. That is simultaneously a scary and inspiring thought.
Meanwhile Lee Westwood will be dealing with a different kind of scary in 2003. Golf doesnt come with guarantees.
Not for No. 1. And not for No. 199.