ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – Any other week, the British Open buzz would be all about Lee Westwood.
He’s No. 3 in the world, with top-three finishes at three of the last four major championships. Better yet, he’s actually won on the Old Course (OK, so it was the Dunhill Links), making him Britain’s best chance to snap that decade-long oh-fer streak at its own Open.
But Westwood’s right leg is being held together with tape and wraps this week after rupturing a muscle in his calf, making his prospects at St. Andrews uncertain, to say the least.
“These things happen. You can’t control when they happen,” Westwood said after playing a six-hole practice “round” Monday. “It’s frustrating that it’s the Open Championship. If I don’t play well this week, I won’t put it down to the injury. Obviously, it doesn’t help. But I’m hitting the ball well, feel like I’m very comfortable on these greens.
“So, you know, I’m still hoping for a good week.”
Few players have been better than Westwood recently, and it seems only a matter of time before the 37-year-old sheds that dreaded “best player never to win a major” title. He’s been in contention at each of the four majors at least once, including finishing second at this year’s Masters and tying for third at Turnberry and the PGA last year.
After top-20 finishes in all but three of his 14 starts this year, including his second PGA Tour win at St. Jude’s, the British Open seemed to set up almost perfectly for him. Though Westwood has never finished better than a tie for 64th at a British Open at St. Andrews, he won the Dunhill Links here in 2003.
“I’ve played well here in the past, obviously played well last year, and I’ve been looking forward to this week for quite some time,” Westwood said. “There’s a rich history to the golf tournament, especially when it’s held at St. Andrews. I think it’s even more special when the Open Championship is here, and obviously it’s one I’d like to win.”
That’s what makes his injury so disappointing – though Westwood knows it could have been far worse.
While at the French Open two weeks ago, his right calf swelled so badly doctors initially feared the 37-year-old might have a blood clot. Further tests showed he had instead ruptured the plantaris muscle, which runs down the calf.
Though Westwood played the French Open – he tied for 18th – he skipped the Scottish Open at Loch Lomond to give the leg a chance to heal. He took almost all of last week off, not hitting balls until Friday, and will play one, maybe two full practice rounds before the Open begins Thursday.
“Apparently it’s six to eight weeks recovery time if you put your feet up. But, obviously, with the biggest tournament on the calendar this week, I can’t really afford to do that,” Westwood said. “It’s just a case of managing it, strapping it up, trying to keep the swelling from getting any worse and playing as well as I can.”
The leg doesn’t hurt as badly as it did in France, but Westwood said he can still feel it in his swing.
“When I try and go up on my toe and then twist, I’m using it then and it’s kind of stretching it out and feels uncomfortable,” he said. “The very last part, I’m just a little bit apprehensive.”
Westwood said he has no idea what caused the injury, other than playing professional golf for 17 years. But it might explain the aching Achilles’ he’d had the last eight months. The plantaris goes all the way down to the ankle – asked where, exactly, the muscle is located, Westwood cracked, “In the dictionary, under `P,”’ – and he thinks he might have mistaken the deteriorating muscle for Achilles’ pain.
Rest is the only real cure for the injury, but doctors have told Westwood he won’t cause further damage by playing. He wrapped the ankle when he played Monday, and will test out different alignments over the next couple of days to see what works best and gives him the most support.
After playing six holes Monday, he plans to play 18 on Tuesday. The forecast for Wednesday isn’t great – showers and wind – so Westwood said he might only play a few holes.
“I’m still pretty confident,” he said. “My legs feel like I haven’t done anything to decrease the power and the muscles in my legs. We’ve done tests on all of that. So I’m feeling fresh and think by Thursday, I’ll be ready to go.”
Reminded that Padraig Harrington won the 2008 British Open with a wrist so sore the Irishman wasn’t even sure he’d be able to start the tournament, Westwood smiled.
“That’s the old saying, isn’t it? `Beware the injured golfer,”’ he said. “Hopefully that will ring true.”