Donald, Westwood continue to struggle in majors
- By John Feinstein
- Aug 15, 2012 10:18 AM ET
It was another failed year for Luke Donald and Lee Westwood.
That sounds harsh, especially since the two men are ranked No. 2 and No. 4 in the Official World Golf Rankings and may yet play a key role in Europe’s defense of the Ryder Cup.
Sadly though, it’s true.
Donald and Westwood have played on winning Ryder Cup teams. They have won golf tournaments all over the world and been ranked No. 1. They have made millions and millions of dollars and probably haven’t seen the inside of too many commercial jets the past few years.
It is precisely because they have achieved so much that it’s impossible to overlook their failures in major championships.
That is especially true this year. Neither made a serious Sunday run at any of the four majors. Westwood had a chance at the Masters until his putter, as has often been the case, began to fail him, leaving him two shots out of the Bubba Watson-Louis Oosthuizen playoff. That was the only time either man was any sort of factor on Sunday.
In fact, Donald had a remarkable final round scoring average in the majors: 67.67. He shot 68 on the final day at Augusta to tie for 32nd place. He shot 69 on the last day at Lytham to pull off a backdoor top 10 (T-5) but was never in the hunt. And, after making the cut on the number at Kiawah, he matched Rory McIlroy’s final-round 66. The problem was he began the last 18 holes 15 shots behind McIlroy. He didn’t play Sunday at Olympic because he missed the cut.
Donald’s inability to get off to a good start would certainly indicate that he is feeling the pressure of having been ranked No. 1 for lengthy stretches the last two years without coming close in a major. His first round scoring average this year during the four weeks that matter most was a brutal 74.0. He has become the poster boy for the old golf cliché that you can’t win a major on Thursday but you can certainly lose it.
After he opened with a 74 at Kiawah he didn’t stop to speak to the media, which is entirely out of character for him. The frustration he is feeling was never more apparent than last weekend when it occurred to him – as it did to Westwood – that he would have to go to Augusta in a little less than eight months and begin answering all the, “how much does it bother you not to have won a major,” questions again.
The questions for Westwood will be even more intense. He’s going to turn 40 next year. More significantly, Westwood has been achingly close on multiple occasions at majors without closing the deal. The putt he left short on the 18th green at Torrey Pines in 2008 to miss the Tiger Woods-Rocco Mediate playoff by a shot has to rankle and the three-putt a year later at Turnberry to miss the Stewart Cink-Tom Watson playoff has to hurt. In 2010 he led at Augusta going into Sunday and couldn’t close the deal.
The good news is that winning a major after 40 is no longer unusual. The last two British Open champions – Darren Clarke and Ernie Els – were both over 40. So it isn’t as if the window has closed on Westwood. That said, it isn’t exactly open all the way anymore.
Just as Donald stalking off in silence last Thursday is a reflection of his understanding how important it is to remove the gaping hole from his resume, Westwood’s decision to fire interim caddie Mike Waite (his regular caddie Billy Foster had knee surgery in May) and, more important, his long-time swing coach Pete Cowen, is a pretty clear indication that winning in Malaysia isn’t getting it done for him anymore.
Westwood’s long time agent Chubby Chandler indicated on Monday that Westwood was more likely to hire a short game coach than a long game coach going into next year. That makes sense. There’s nothing wrong with Westwood tee-to-green. Even while missing the cut at the PGA he led the field in greens in regulation.
One wonders how much affect all the various coaches and psychologists that now dot the golf world actually have on their players. What can make them important is if the player believes they are helping. McIlroy’s improved putting at the PGA is probably as much a reflection in his belief that Dave Stockton is telling him the right things as any technical move he is making with the putter.
If Westwood can find someone who can give him that sort of confidence maybe he can start to make the key putts on major championship Sundays.
What’s more, Westwood is finally establishing a home in the United States. He has always resisted doing this because he prefers spending time in his home country. What he really should do is cut back on playing second-rate tournaments in far-flung places in order to roll up huge appearance fees. Chasing money – especially when you no longer need it – makes little sense. Historically, players who begin to chase appearance fees see their play slide.
Curtis Strange wore himself out travelling after his back-to-back U.S. Open victories. No one will ever know how many more majors Greg Norman might have won if he hadn’t spent half his life on airplanes when he was at the peak of his powers. Mark O’Meara was never the same after his two victories in the majors because he had so many chances to cash in overseas.
There are plenty of other examples. The difference for Westwood is that he hasn’t won a major and he has already been able to parlay the No. 1 ranking and his visibility as a star on the European Tour into big dollars. Now he needs to focus on one thing and one thing only: the four weeks that truly matter in golf each year.
Donald has lived in the U.S. since college but has spent a lot of time playing both tours – winning both money titles in 2011 – the last few years. Perhaps he needs to cut down on his travel too and put together a schedule that gives him a chance to be sharpest during those same four weeks.
Sure, travelling on private planes makes life much easier. But there are a lot of time zones around the world and travel is wearing no matter how you approach it.
Donald and Westwood have had a lot of success as globe-trotting golfers. Now is the time for both to get off the airplanes for a while and focus on being part of golf history. Money and fame is nice. Very nice. A place in your sport’s pantheon that will last forever is a lot nicer.
Feinstein is a best-selling author and is a contributing writer for GolfChannel.com.
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