Westwoods defining moment

By Randall MellFebruary 9, 2011, 10:27 pm

2009 European TourLee Westwood’s first defining moment since gaining the No. 1 world ranking 15 weeks ago is at hand.

It begins when he steps to the first tee Thursday in a highly anticipated pairing with No. 2 Martin Kaymer and No. 3 Tiger Woods at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.

It’s Westwood’s big chance to shut up all his critics.

It’s his chance to show everyone who thinks he’s an unworthy successor to Tiger Woods that he’s not accidentally, uneventfully or temporarily the guy at the top of the game today.

It’s Westwood’s chance to show something to all those folks who think Kaymer is really the best player in the world right now. 

Lee Westwood
Lee Westwood has been enjoying his stay atop the world rankings. (Getty Images)
It’s a defining moment because we get this rare side-by-side look at how Westwood measures up to Woods and Kaymer with all three paired together in the first two rounds. It feels like we may be seeing the present, the future and the past if Woods doesn’t turn his sinking momentum around.

Of course, it’s not that the first- and second-round results really matter this week. It’s not that Dubai’s a make-or-break event. The week feels important because of how it can shatter or confirm American suspicions of Westwood’s pedigree.

This isn’t about Westwood coming over to uncomfortable foreign American turf to prove himself. This is Westwood defending his turf in a European Tour event. This is the 17th time he’ll tee it up in the Dubai Desert Classic, where he’s finished runner-up twice. It’s all part of what makes this week feel like the most important tournament of the year so far.

It may unfold overseas, but Westwood can win a lot of respect he isn’t getting yet in the United States.

In some corners, Westwood’s got much to prove because he’s viewed as the least impressive No. 1 in the history of the Official World Golf Ranking. The harsh view is that he has made his climb racking up rankings points while squandering chances to win majors and big events. Of the 13 players who have held the No. 1 world ranking, he’s the only one who doesn’t have a major championship on his resume, though three others won their majors after they ascended to No. 1. Westwood was runner-up in two majors last year. He’s finished second or third in five of his last 10 majors, but he hasn’t shown the ability to win the events that most measure greatness.

Over the last 14 months, Westwood’s won just one official European Tour or PGA Tour event. He’s won just five times on either tour over the last seven seasons. Kaymer’s won five times in the last 14 months.

And the year hasn’t started particularly well for Westwood. In his two starts this year, he’s lost to Kaymer by 26 shots at the Abu Dhabi Championship and missed the cut at the Qatar Masters.

Win something big!

Beat somebody big!

That’s the cold, skeptic’s view of Westwood’s circumstance.

There’s another compelling side to the circumstance, however. A fantastic side to Westwood’s story.

If you’ve followed Westwood’s career, you’ve seen the inspiring climb out of a slump every bit as deep as the one Woods is mired in, minus the personal scandal. You’ve seen the inspiring fight in a guy who’s fought back from a mystifying slide after inexplicably losing his swing. After climbing as high as No. 4 in the world in 2000, then plummeting to No. 264 amid his struggles, it’s remarkable how formidably he’s put his game and his confidence back together. It speaks volumes about the nature of the man, about his resilience and perseverance.

Westwood’s story inspires. It’s why so many people do root for him and why so many believe the big wins will follow for him.

With his rebuilt body, his rebuilt swing, he’s become one of the best drivers in the game.

There aren’t many players as long as Westwood who are as consistently straight. There isn’t anyone as consistently straight who hits it as long.

At 37, all the pieces of Westwood’s game seem to be coming together. In so many ways, this seems like his time. You see it in the dignified and graceful manner in which he’s carrying the No. 1 ranking. There’s no apologizing for the way he claimed the top spot. He's relishing his circumstance, even thriving in it.

If this really is Westwood’s time, then maybe this will be his week, too, his first defining moment as No. 1.


Follow Randall Mell on Twitter @RandallMell

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Minjee Lee co-leads Walmart NW Arkansas Championship

By Associated PressJune 24, 2018, 12:25 am

ROGERS, Ark. - Minjee Lee wasn't all that concerned when she missed her first cut of the year this month at the ShopRite LPGA Classic.

The ninth-ranked Australian has certainly looked at ease and back in form at Pinnacle Country Club in her first event since then.

Lee and Japan's Nasa Hataoka each shot 6-under 65 on Saturday to share the second-round lead in the NW Arkansas Championship 13-under 129. Lee is chasing her fifth victory since turning pro three years ago. It's also an opportunity to put any lingering frustration over that missed cut two weeks ago behind her for good.

''I didn't particularly hit it bad, even though I missed the cut at ShopRite, I just didn't really hole any putts,'' Lee said. ''I'd been hitting it pretty solid going into that tournament and even into this tournament, too. Just to see a couple putts roll in has been nice.''

The 22-year-old Lee needed only 24 putts during her opening 64 on Friday, helping her to match the low round of her career. Despite needing 28 putts Saturday, she still briefly took the outright lead after reaching as low as 14 under after a birdie on the par-5 seventh.

Full-field scores from the Walmart Arkansas Championship

Lee missed the green on the par-4 ninth soon thereafter to lead to her only bogey of the day and a tie with the 19-year-old Hataoka, who is in pursuit of her first career win.

Hataoka birdied six of eight holes midway through her bogey-free round on Saturday. It was yet another stellar performance from the Japanese teenager, who has finished in the top 10 in four of her last five tournaments and will be a part of Sunday's final pairing.

''I try to make birdies and try to be under par, that's really the key for me to get a top ten,'' Hataoka said. ''Golf is just trying to be in the top 10 every single week, so that's the key.''

Third-ranked Lexi Thompson matched the low round of the day with a 64 to get to 11 under. She hit 17 of 18 fairways and shot a 5-under 30 on her opening nine, The American is in search of her first win since September in the Indy Women in Tech Championship.

Ariya Jutanugarn and Celine Boutier were 10 under.

First-round leader Gaby Lopez followed her opening 63 with a 75 to drop to 4 under. Fellow former Arkansas star Stacy Lewis also was 4 under after a 72.

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Henley will try to put heat on Casey in final round

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 11:55 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – While it will be a tall task for anyone to catch Paul Casey at the Travelers Championship, the man who will start the round most within reach of the Englishman is Russell Henley.

Henley was in the penultimate group at TPC River Highlands on Saturday, but he’ll now anchor things during the final round as he looks to overcome a four-shot deficit behind Casey. After a 3-under 67, Henley sits at 12 under through 54 holes and one shot clear of the three players tied for third.

Henley closed his third round with a run of five straight pars, then became the beneficiary of a pair of late bogeys from Brian Harman that left Henley alone in second place.

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

“Could have made a couple more putts, but to end with two up-and-downs like that was nice,” Henley said. “I felt a little bit weird over the shots coming in, put me in some bad spots. But it was nice to have the short game to back me up.”

Henley has won three times on Tour, most recently at the 2017 Houston Open, and he cracked the top 25 at both the Masters and U.S. Open. But with Casey riding a wave of confidence and coming off an 8-under 62 that marked the best round of the week, he knows he’ll have his work cut out for him in order to nab trophy No. 4.

“I think I can shoot a low number on this course. You’ve got to make the putts,” Henley said. “I’m definitely hitting it well enough, and if I can get a couple putts to fall, that would be good. But I can’t control what he’s doing. I can just try to keep playing solid.”

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Back from back injury, Casey eyeing another win

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 11:36 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Given his four-shot cushion at the Travelers Championship and his recent victory at the Valspar Championship, it’s easy to forget that Paul Casey hit the disabled list in between.

Casey had to withdraw from The Players Championship because of a bad back, becoming the only player in the top 50 in the world rankings to miss the PGA Tour’s flagship event. He flew back to England to get treatment, and Casey admitted that his T-20 finish at last month’s BMW PGA Championship came while he was still on the mend.

“I wasn’t 100 percent fit with the back injury, which was L-4, L-5, S-1 (vertebrae) all out of place,” Casey said. “Big inflammation, nerve pain down the leg and up the back. I didn’t know what was going on.”

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Thanks in large part to a combination of MRIs, back adjustments and anti-inflammatories, Casey finally turned the corner. His T-16 finish at last week’s U.S. Open was the first event for which he felt fully healthy since before the Players, and he’s on the cusp of a second title since March after successfully battling through the injury.

“We thought we were fixing it, but we weren’t. We were kind of hitting the effects rather than the cause,” Casey said. “Eventually we figured out the cause, which was structural.”

Casey started the third round at TPC River Highlands two shots off the lead, but he’s now four clear of Russell Henley after firing an 8-under 62 that marked the low round of the week.

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Bubba thinks he'll need a Sunday 60 to scare Casey

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 11:15 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Perhaps moreso than at most PGA Tour venues, a low score is never really out of reach at TPC River Highlands. Positioned as a welcome change of pace after the U.S. Open, the Travelers Championship offers a lush layout that often pushes the balance much closer to reward than risk.

This is where Jim Furyk shot a 58 on the par-70 layout two years ago – and he didn’t even win that week. So even though Paul Casey enters the final round with a commanding four-shot lead, there’s still plenty of hope for the chase pack that something special could be in store.

Count Bubba Watson among the group who still believe the title is up for grabs – even if it might require a Herculean effort, even by his standards.

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Watson has won the Travelers twice, including in a 2015 playoff over Casey. But starting the final round in a large tie for sixth at 10 under, six shots behind Casey, he estimates that he’ll need to flirt with golf’s magic number to give the Englishman something to worry about.

“My 7 under yesterday, I need to do better than that. I’m going to have to get to like 10 [under],” Watson said. “The only beauty is, getting out in front, you have a chance to put a number up and maybe scare them. But to scare them, you’re going to have to shoot 10 under at worst, where I’m at anyway.”

Watson started the third round three shots off the lead, and he made an early move with birdies on Nos. 1 and 2 en route to an outward 32. The southpaw couldn’t sustain that momentum, as bogeys on Nos. 16 and 17 turned a potential 65 into a relatively disappointing 67.

“Bad decision on the par-3, and then a very tough tee shot for me on 17, and it just creeped into the bunker,” Watson said. “Just, that’s golf. You have mistakes every once in a while.”