Total-Lee says it all
England's Lee Westwood takes a moment Friday to think over his next shot while playing Augusta National.
There will come a time for Lee Westwood to coolly analyze the darkness that came to him on the sunlit 18th green here yesterday.
For the bitter moment, though, he is faced with an extremely bleak conclusion.
It is that for a few minutes some of the most dispiriting aspects of a long and frequently superb career invaded one of his last chances to land a major title.
His double bogey cost him the lead and a gathering sense that he might just have the composure to fend off an assortment of challengers ranging from 52-year-old Fred Couples and Rory McIlroy, who is performing no less remarkably at the other end of the age scale.
It has left somewhere in the middle the man who is ranked No. 3 in the world just a few weeks short of his 39th birthday.
But if that represents impressive achievement, it is also a haunting backcloth to his major-title record of 55 attempts and not one success.
He wants the breakthrough win desperately, you can see it in every nuance of his body language, every new example of ferocious concentration, but then it is also true that a look of absolute disbelief crossed his face this week when he was asked how much ‘scar tissue’ had come with the serial disappointment.
“I’m a professional golfer who gets to play the most beautiful courses in the world,” he said.
“It is not a scarring procedure. It is what I do for a living and I never want to forget how lucky I am to do it,” he said.
“But do I want to win here this week, do I want to have a major to my name? Of course I do.
“I’m a professional and the duty of a professional is always to make the best of any talent he might have.”
Westwood has always had a huge amount of that talent, of course, but it is only relatively recently that he began to fret about a wider emptiness that might just stretch beyond the mere lack of one the great baubles of golf.
“I reached the point,” he confesses, “when I realized that there was maybe one last thing I had to achieve in the game. It was the ability to be able say yes, I did everything I could to win one of the big prizes. I didn’t let anything slide just because I had everything in my life that any man could reasonably want.
“I could go home and have an extremely enjoyable life, but I began to realize I would always have that nag about whether I could have done more with what I had been given.”
The conviction grew to the point of action when he began to tumble down the world rankings — and look into the skull’s head of a future filled with too many professional regrets.
Yesterday, the precision of his long game was as remarkable as ever — right up to the moment he hooked his second shot wide of the 18th green. A good chip to 12 feet was followed by a missed downhill putt and a muffed three-foot return. It left him just a shot behind Couples and the obscure American Jason Dufner — but in golf, of course, one shot can separate one world from another.
It means that for Westwood it is now more than ever a time to go from shot to shot and, perhaps, to shut out of the memories of his three most haunting brushes with major disappointments.
Here, two years ago, he also started with considerable panache, shooting 67 and then succumbing on the last day only to the pyrotechnics of Phil Mickelson.
At the U.S. Open four years ago, he had the chance to stop a Tiger who was playing with outrageous nerve and resilience virtually on one leg — but in a moment of harsh truth he produced a putt of less than the required resolution. There was a similar story three years ago at the British Open in Turnberry, when the fantasy challenge of a 59-year-old Tom Watson faded not against the reality of Westwood’s mostly solid game but the persistence of Stewart Cink.
For most of yesterday, Westwood was again in charge of his golf — and his hard-won equilibrium. After his first-day onslaught, he was asked again about his legacy. Did he worry about that remorseless line about being one of the best players never to win a major title?
“To be honest, not really,” said Westwood. “I prefer people to remember me as the person I am rather than the golfer.”
Last night, though, there was a more immediate concern.
“I have to remember that I’m not going to be far off the lead and that’s a position you want to be in,” he said while fleeing the course.
It was something to say, if maybe not to entirely believe at 0-for-55 and those bad, cold minutes on the last green.
James Lawton writes for
The Independent newspaper
in the U.K.