Certain tournaments go with certain players and, although Lee Westwood has never won a US Open or indeed finished as runner-up, it is around this time that we all get particularly excited about the Englishman breaking his Major duck.
The pressure grows with every big one, the pained look in a Sunday post-round interview, following yet another top three, becomes more etched. We are now on 56 Majors without that elusive ‘W’ but we should not be losing faith in the 39-year-old.
Starting with that age, 39 should not represent a player who is on the way out. Westwood appears, and says, he is in better shape than ever. His great mate Darren Clarke was 43 when he triumphed at Royal St George’s while Phil Mickelson was older when he won the 2010 Masters.
Nine of Steve Stricker’s 12 wins on the PGA Tour have come after turning 40. This isn’t a last-chance saloon, Westwood is the World No 3 on merit and there could be another 15 or so Majors where he has a better than decent chance.
What Augusta has highlighted in recent years is that Westwood hits the ball better than pretty much everyone – this year he led the Greens in Regulation and, generally speaking, you would choose him ahead of anyone off the tee.
However what it also demonstrated is that he doesn’t hole anywhere near as many putts as the other contenders. This year at Augusta he finished above only three of those who made the cut.
There is only so long that a door can be battered before it eventually breaks down. If Westwood is to win a Major he will obviously need to putt better but you don’t consistently finish in the top 10 of Majors, where the set-up of everything is magnified, without getting something right on the greens. He might not look the most comfortable on the greens but in the last 15 Majors he has finished inside the top 10 in over half of them and seven of those have been top 3s.
There is only so long that a door can be battered before it eventually breaks down.
After the 2011 Masters Rory McIlroy’s putting stroke was written off; less than two months later he was winning the US Open by eight shots. The US Open is not a putting contest and never will be, hence our optimism for the Englishman.
This year we are at the Olympic Club and one advantage of being on the more ‘mature’ side is that Westwood was here in 1998 and he will return with positive memories having finished seventh.
The field will be full of players who are due a Major – Luke Donald, Steve Stricker, Adam Scott and Sergio Garica immediately spring to mind – Westwood tops that list and will have a better chance than any.
If not Westwood, these three are worth a punt
ANOTHER to threaten the Best Player Never To Have Won A Major tag and still a firm fixture inside the world’s top 10 at 45. Stricker was fifth at the US Open 14 years ago. The last few holes at Olympic could all be played with a wedge and there is nobody better in the game than the American from this range.
NOT much has been spoken about McDowell in recent times but he has been accumulating some tidy finishes without setting the world alight. The Northern Irishman has made all six cuts in the US Open and the Olympic has similarities with Pebble Beach… and we all know what happened for G-Mac there.
LET’S go for a bit of an outsider, albeit a former Major winner. Injuries and poor form meant some thought we had seen the best of the American but last year he was back to somewhere near that with a win at Colonial and a play-off defeat at The Players. Will like it firm and fast, which it is expected to be.