Looking For Positives

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Entering the 2001 season, Lee Westwood was a model of positive progression.
 
He was third on the 1998 Order of Merit, second in 99 and ended Colin Montgomeries seven-year tenure at the top in 2000.
 
Three European victories in 1999 became six in 2000.
 
The 28-year-old Englishman had become the best player outside of the U.S.
 
Yet Westwoods rise to the top has taken a sharp decline this year.
 
Hes 0-for-21 worldwide in the victory department, with only two top-5s. Hes fallen from 4th to 22nd on the Official World Golf Ranking ' which was changed in September to more fairly reflect a players current form.
 
And entering this weeks Cisco World Match Play Championship ' where hes the defending champion ' Westwood is 43rd on the Order of Merit.
 
A year ago, Westwood capped his illustrous season with a symbolic victory ' defeating reigning champion Montgomerie in 38 holes at Wentworth Club, a venue where Monty had triumphed in each of his last three appearances. (The course also hosts the Volvo PGA Championship.)
 
This is not the same Westwood.
 
Aside from his professional recession, Westwoods personal life was altered when his wife, Laurae, gave birth to their first child ' a son, in April.
 
The birth coincided with the Masters Tournament, which Westwood skipped. He did compete in the three other major championships, finishing no higher than tied for 44th.
 
Opting to stay at home more often, Westwood has played in just 13 European Tour events this season. (He made 23 starts in 2000.)
 
If I dont win a tournament from now until the end of the year, then, you know, Ill come out at the end of the year having learned a lot, because you learn a lot more when youre playing poorly than when you are playing well, Westwood said in August.
 
So if I do win, it will be great. If I dont win, then, you know, Ive got next year to work on things, or next year to look forward to.
 
Westwood isnt the only European player looking forward to next season.
 
Over the past four years, Westwood, Montgomerie and Darren Clarke have been Europes Big Three.
 
Unlike their English counterpart, Monty and Clarke have won in 2001. But when youve had the kind of success that these two have had in the past, winning an occasional tour stop isnt enough.
 
Once again, Montgomerie and Clarke went majorless this year. In fact, the two combined for only one top-10 in major competition.
 
The 33-year-old Northern Irishman and the 38-year-old Scot have dipped to 9th and 10th, respectively, in the world ranking. And its likely that neither will capture the Order of Merit.
 
Westwood, Clarke and Montgomerie are all in this weeks field. All have a first-round bye ' testament to their pasts more so than their presents.
 
Three official events remain on the 2001 European calendar. Just enough time for the Big Three to put a positive stamp on the season and prime their games for 2002.
 
This weeks tournament isnt official in terms of money, but it could go a long way in altering ones outlook. And fittingly enough, the three may have to battle one another to get back on track.
 
First-round Matches
 
(8) Thomas Bjorn (Den) vs. Adam Scott (Aus)
winner to play (1) Lee Westwood (Eng)
 
(5) Retief Goosen (SA) vs. Ian Woosnam (Wal)
winner to play (4) Colin Montgomerie (Sco)
 
(6) Padraig Harrington (Ire) vs. Nick Faldo (Eng)
winner to play (3) Darren Clarke (N. Ire)
 
Sam Torrance (Sco) vs. Seve Ballesteros (Sp)
winner to play (2) Vijay Singh (Fij)