Westwood moving forward, eyes first major


DUBLIN, Ohio – It was signature Westy, delightfully dry with just enough subtle honesty to leave both the questioner and the queried feeling vulnerable.

Less than 48 hours removed from a closing 73 at the European Tour’s flagship event, Lee Westwood was asked his level of disappointment of having come up short at the BMW PGA Championship, again.

“Gone now,” he offered with a sheepish grin. “Only lasts about three beers.”

It was straight out of Worksop, England, and perfectly dovetailed with that most profound British axiom – just get on with it.

The man most-often tabbed with the dubious title “Best player without a major championship” has had a lifetime of moving on. On eight occasions he’s finished fourth or better at a Grand Slam stop only to walk away empty-handed.

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Sunday’s shortcoming at the European circuit’s faux major, which Westwood has never won, was just the most-recent near miss, but even in the fog of jet lag he played to the high side of the second-guessing game.

“I’m playing pretty consistently,” Westwood understated.

He’s finished in the top 10 in his last five events, hasn’t missed a cut anywhere in the world since last year’s PGA Championship and came within a single misstep on Quail Hollow’s famed green mile of his third-career PGA Tour victory earlier this month.

In the grand scheme of things, Westwood’s grand plan has proceeded almost perfectly.

Westwood decided to uproot his family this year and move to South Florida and focus his efforts on playing the PGA Tour. The weather was better, the jet lag was mitigated and his practice more intense.

“He is playing a lot of social golf in Palm Beach Gardens (Fla.). He never did that in Worksop . In England he was always practicing and never really played money games, but it’s allowed him to work hard on his short game,” said Chubby Chandler, Westwood’s manager with International Sports Management. “He’s enjoying life and his wife and family are happy.”

The “money games” at Old Palm and The Floridian have drastically improved Westwood’s short game, which has long been considered his Achilles’ heel. He ranks 87th on Tour this year in strokes gained-putting, up from 175th and 138th in that category in 2012 and ’11, respectively.

If anything, Westwood’s ball-striking, considered a benchmark on Tour, is not as sharp this year relative to his normal efficiency, Chandler said. In many ways, that fact makes Westwood’s climb back into the top 10 in the Official World Golf Ranking (No. 10) that much more impressive.

While it hasn’t produced the wins some thought it would, by almost every measure Westwood’s relocation to warmer climes – he just recently completed the sale of his home in England, the “last piece of the jigsaw,” Chandler said – has been a success.

“It’s made my life way easier,” Westwood said. “Not having jet lag – or as much jet lag – and being able to come home on Sunday night (instead of) not come home until Tuesday morning. There’s really not been an adjustment for me to make.”

All of which brings the discussion back to his missing major.

After two rounds in April, Westwood was just three strokes off the lead at the Masters before a third-round 73 sent him tumbling down the leaderboard; and next month’s U.S. Open at Merion, considered a ball-striker’s ballpark, has the look and feel of a perfect fit for the Englishman.

Westwood hasn’t finished worse than 23rd at the national championship since 2008 and he crafted his schedule, last week at Wentworth and this week’s cameo at Muirfield Village, with Merion in mind (he had a scouting trip planned to the Philadelphia-area gem on Monday but canceled at the last minute).

In 2008 at Torrey Pines, Westwood posted a 2-over 38 on his closing nine to miss the playoff with Tiger Woods and Rocco Mediate by a stroke. The next season he nearly completed the “near miss” slam, finishing tied for third at the British and U.S. Opens and runner-up at the 2010 Masters.

Bringing his talents to South Beach, or thereabout, has helped, but Westwood has come close enough times to know nothing is guaranteed.

“I don’t think it’s inevitable,” he said when asked about his missing major. “I don’t think it’s one of those things you can force. … I suppose if I won a major championship now, would it make my career a great career? I don’t know. That’s for other people to decide.”

For now, the newly minted 40-year-old from Worksop is content with the road ahead. Just get on with it.