Unless your name is Miguel Angel Jimenez you don’t tend to win on the European Tour, or anywhere for that matter, once you reach the grand old golfing age of 45. Lee Westwood is at the stage of his career where he’s no longer eligible for the majors after being a feature of them for the past two decades – he squeezed into The Open this year thanks to finishing inside the top 30 of last year’s Race to Dubai.
He’s now a Ryder Cup vice-captain rather than the fixture on the team list as he had been for the past 10 matches and, despite still being a cut machine, we had begun to eliminate him from our enquiries when looking for the next winner. This week he was a best-priced 40-1 despite having won twice at Sun City over the years.
If you’ve got any sort of golfing romance about you these are the great weeks of the year – a 45-year-old who has spent the best part of the past decade answering the same question about when he might win a major, before moving on to more questions about a putting stroke that doesn’t belong to a World No. 1, then shooting a joint best-of-the-week 64 on Sunday to see off Louis Oosthuizen and Sergio Garcia.
In the modern era of 20-something bombers with no inhibitions and attitudes of ‘streaky beats solid’ this was a victory for the ages and the ball striker. After a winless gap that stretched back to 2014 Westwood put together a back nine of 31 where a variety of rounds have hit the buffers this week. On Friday Ross Fisher played maybe the strangest round of 2018 when he covered the first 14 holes in 8-under only to sign for a level-par 72.
“I can’t wait to watch the highlights to be honest because I hit so many good shots coming in,” he said afterwards.
Westwood does things his own way these days. He’s worked with all the best coaches in the world over the years but now he’s happy to trust his own instinct. He had his son Sam on the bag at Valderrama recently when he finished 5th. This week he was back alongside his girlfriend Helen Storey following a top 10 in Abu Dhabi last year – in Denmark they lost in a play-off, now they, like Chris Paisley and his wife, have a victory together.
He told us at a Ping day in May: “I’ve got my yardages written on the back of my wedges. We introduced that in Abu Dhabi last year when my girlfriend caddied for me and she had no idea how far I hit my clubs. So I gauged them on TrackMan and wrote them on the back and even Billy likes it now.
“I’m not working with a coach at the moment. I’ve had lessons for a long time now and I’ve been taught all there is to know so I’m pretty good at being analytical and see what works for me. I’m great as long as it’s my swing, when I look at others it takes me a while to work out what’s going on. I have three or four swing thoughts that I try and stick to. If the first doesn’t work I’ll go to the next one, sometimes you just can’t feel it so I will have to keep going until it works.”
His natural instinct is to try and crack a joke, it’s not forced, it’s just the way he is. In June when someone asked what his favourite memory of Worksop was his face lit up and the familiar smile of his began to appear.
“I once played there with a guy who shanked it off the 18th tee. The car park is next to the clubhouse and we heard some glass smashing. He had put the ball through the back window of his own car!”
Westwood is good value, everyone likes him and, for all the fast cars or even fancier suits, he still comes across much the same as the lad who joined the European Tour in 1994 – the year after Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth were born.
What we very rarely see with Westwood is any kind of emotion and the go-to answer is to downplays most things.
Ever wonder how much winning means to these guys?
This much… ? pic.twitter.com/Yjs27NfPOC
— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) November 11, 2018
This though was different. This was a 45-year-old who most likely thought this would never happen again, particularly on this stage. This was the reaction who, for all the wins around the world, has had more than his fair share of close shaves rather than the big winning cigar.
Now, with a new world ranking of something like 64, we can reset the Westwood radar and hopefully get another look at him at Augusta and all the other big stages in 2019, starting in Dubai this week where he won 10 years ago.
And, should you be interested, you can get him at 150-1 for The Masters.
Just a thought…