Westwood comfortable being uncomfortable

By Jason SobelAugust 9, 2013, 6:32 pm

PITTSFORD, N.Y. – His brawny arms protrude from beneath short sleeves, his barrel-like chest unobstructed by extra layers. The bottoms of his pantlegs are hued three shades darker from trudging through a steady midsummer rain all morning.

Lee Westwood walks with the demeanor of a man who prefers a stiff downpour over a petty drizzle. His fellow competitors compensate for the rain. They wear two gloves. They constantly wipe their hands with towels. They implore caddies to hold umbrellas directly over them like portable butlers.

Westwood doesn't compensate. Take away the moisture framing his background and you wouldn't know whether he's playing golf in rain, heat or anything else. Perhaps that's a nod to the Englishman's hometown of Worksop, where dreary, overcast conditions might as well be a fixture on the daily weather report.

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It could explain his relative success in two days of rain at the PGA Championship, posting scores of 66-73 to get into contention on yet another major weekend.

Here's another theory: Maybe Westwood is just comfortable being uncomfortable.

Much like learning to thrive in wet conditions, this, too, isn't something a man is born with. Westwood has become accustomed to being comfortable in uncomfortable situations, the result of so many years of close calls and tough breaks that have earned him the game's most backhanded compliment of a title: Best Player Never To Have Won A Major.

On the surface, that notion may sound like it has all the gravity of Best Surfer Never To Have Been In The Ocean, but it is indeed a position worth claiming. Westwood is playing in his 63rd career major this week – but he’s never won. He has claimed 16 top-10 major finishes – but he’s never won. He’s poached eight results of third or better – but he’s never won.

Such numbers should render obsolete any debate for another player to stake claim to this unwanted title. Neither Luke Donald nor Brandt Snedeker nor Sergio Garcia nor Steve Stricker hold Westwood’s dubious record of most places and shows without a win. For a man who owns a share of about 20 thoroughbred racehorses, he has a keen understanding of what these close-but-no-victory-cigar finishes really mean.

Of course, being comfortable in uncomfortable situations isn’t synonymous with being complacent. Westwood has done everything in his power to dislodge himself from that dreaded superlative of a title in trying to become just another run-of-the-mill one-time major champion.

On the eve of his 40th birthday earlier this year, Westwood moved his family from England to the elite golfer hotbed of South Florida, where he can practice year-round without having to train in those very conditions which seem trivial to him in the first place. “Practice conditions are brilliant,” he says with a smile. “It's nice living in shorts.”

That’s hardly the only change he’s made. Already known as one of the world’s preeminent ball-strikers, Westwood has enlisted noted instructor Sean Foley – he of the Tiger Woods and Justin Rose and Hunter Mahan camps – for a few pointers with his swing, less technical pearls of wisdom than theoretical ones. A long-time sufferer of putting woes, he started asking Ian Baker-Finch for a few tips here and there. And three weeks ago at the Open Championship, he sat down with famed sports psychologist Ross Mackenzie for an impromptu session.

That Sunday at Muirfield was the latest of those eight career top-three results at majors, as he turned the 54-hole lead into a share of third place. Another close call could be enough to leave most guys stomping mad with frustration, but Westwood has grown comfortable with these uncomfortable situations.

Which may also serve to explain the end of his round on Thursday here at Oak Hill Country Club. Three strokes behind leader Adam Scott with two holes to play, those brawny arms flaring and the bottom of his drenched pantlegs scraping across the closely mown greens, Westwood runs into the sort of trouble that always seems to follow him at majors.

He misses a short bogey putt on the eighth hole – his 17th of the day – then misses another short attempt for par on the ninth. A laudable round has turned decidedly shaky at the end, rendering him further from contention than he was just minutes earlier. He’s been here before, though. What he says after the round speaks to his ability to remain content in the face of adversity.

“Obviously, I would have liked to have finished par-par,” he admits, “but I’m in red figures going into the weekend and still have a chance.”

From heavy rains to untimely missed putts to a career that so far has defined him as the best player without a major championship, Westwood has often found himself in uncomfortable situations. It’s a good thing he’s learned to be so comfortable in them.

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Punch shot: Predictions for the 147th Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 18, 2018, 4:00 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In advance of the 147th Open Championship, GolfChannel.com writers sound off on burning questions as players ready for a fast and firm test at Carnoustie. Here’s what our writers think about myriad topics:

The Monday morning headline will be …

REX HOGGARD: “Survival.” This one is easy. It always is at Carnoustie, which is widely considered The Open’s most demanding major championship test. Monday’s headline will be that the champion - pick a champion, any one will do - “survived” another dramatic Open. You don’t dominate Carnoustie; you endure.

RYAN LAVNER: “DJ Bashes Way to Victory at Carnoustie.” If somehow a two-win season could be disappointing, it has been for DJ. He’s first in scoring average, birdie average, par-4 scoring, par-5 scoring, strokes gained: tee to green and proximity from the rough. Those last two stats are the most important, especially here at Carnoustie, with these dry conditions. The game’s preeminent long-and-straight driver, there’s a better-than-decent chance he rolls.

MERCER BAGGS: “Rahm Tough: Spaniard charges to Open victory.” Jon Rahm will claim him maiden major title this week by powering his way through the winds and fescue at Carnoustie.

JAY COFFIN: “Thomas wins second major, ascends to world No. 1 again.” Shortly after The Open last year, Thomas rolled through the end of the PGA Tour season. This is the time of year he likes best. Despite a poor Open record the last two years, he’s not remotely concerned. He’s a tad miffed he didn’t win in France two weeks ago and comes to Carnoustie refreshed, with a gameplan, and ready to pounce.

Who or what will be the biggest surprise?

HOGGARD: Style of play. Given Carnoustie’s reputation as a brute, the surprise will be how the champion arrives at his lofty perch. Unlike previous editions at Carnoustie, this week’s dry conditions will promote more aggressive play off the tee and the winner will defy the norm and power his way to victory.

LAVNER: Tiger Woods. This is Woods’ best chance to win a major this year, and here’s believing he contends. His greatest strengths are his iron game and scrambling, and both aspects will be tested to the extreme at Carnoustie, helping separate him from some of the pretenders. With even a little cooperation from his putter, he should be in the mix.

BAGGS: Padraig Harrington. He had a good opening round last week at the Scottish Open and has some good vibes being the 2007 Open champion at Carnoustie. He won’t contend for four rounds, but a few days in the mix would be a nice surprise.

COFFIN: Alex Noren. Perhaps someone ranked 11th in the world shouldn’t be a surprise, but with so much focus on some of the bigger, household names, don’t be surprised when Noren is in contention on Sunday. He hasn’t finished worse than 25th since early May and won two weeks ago in France. He also tied for sixth place last year at Royal Birkdale.

Who or what will be the biggest disappointment?

HOGGARD: Jordan Spieth. Although he was brilliant on his way to victory last year at Royal Birkdale, Spieth is not the same player for this week’s championship, the byproduct of a balky putter that has eroded his confidence. Spieth said giving back the claret jug this week was hard, but his finish will be even tougher.

LAVNER: Weather. This might sound a little sadistic, but one of the unique joys of covering this tournament is to watch the best in the world battle conditions they face only once a year – the bone-chilling cold, the sideways rain, the howling wind. It doesn’t appear as though that’ll happen this year. With only a few hours of light rain expected, and no crazy winds in the forecast, the biggest challenge for these stars will be judging the bounces on the hard, baked-out turf.

BAGGS: Jordan Spieth. The defending champion is still trying to find his winning form and Carnoustie doesn’t seem the place to do that. As much as he says he loves playing in strong winds, there should be enough danger around here to frustrate Spieth into a missed cut.

COFFIN: Rory McIlroy. I hope I’m wrong on this, because the game is better when Rory is in contention at majors. Putting always has been his issue and seemingly always will be. While there isn’t as much of a premium placed on putting this week because of slower greens, he may still have to hit it close. Super close.

What will be the winning score?

HOGGARD: 10 under. The last two Opens played at Carnoustie were won with 7-under and 6-over totals, but this week’s conditions will favor more aggressive play and lower scores. Expect to see plenty of birdies, but the great equalizer will come on Sunday when wind gusts are forecast to reach 25 mph.

LAVNER: 15 under. An Open at Carnoustie has never produced a winner lower than 9 under (Tom Watson in 1975), but never have the conditions been this susceptible to low scores. Sure, the fairway bunkers are still a one-shot penalty, but today’s big hitters can fly them. The thin, wispy rough isn’t much of a deterrent. And the wind isn’t expected to really whip until the final day.

BAGGS: 12 under. We aren’t going to see the same kind of weather we have previously witnessed at Carnoustie, and that’s a shame. Any players who catch relatively benign conditions should be able to go low, as long as they can properly navigate the fairway rollout.

COFFIN: 14 under. Walked into a local golf shop in the town of Carnoustie wearing a Golf Channel logo and the man behind the counter said, “It’ll take 14 under to win this week.” Well, he’s been here for years and seen Carnoustie host The Open twice before. He knows more about it than I do, so I’ll stick with his number.

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Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 3:16 pm

Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.

Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.

This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):

While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:

Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.

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McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.

Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.

“It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.

“Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”

He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.  

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Height of irony: Phil putts in front of 'rules' sign

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 1:36 pm

A picture is worth 1,000 words and potentially two strokes for playing a moving ball under Rule 14-5 but not Rule 1-2.

Phil Mickelson has been having some fun during his Open prep at Carnoustie hitting flop shots over human beings, but the irony of this photo below is too obvious to go over anyone's head.

Mickelson also tried tapping down fescue two weeks ago at The Greenbrier, incurring another two-shot penalty.

And so we're left to wonder about what Phil asked himself back at Shinnecock Hills: "The real question is, ‘What am I going to do next?’”