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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: April 5, 2011 @ 11:56 am

    Fire in cockpit no laughing matter

    Paul Gallagher

    Lee Westwood has always been one of the jokers on tour. He’s game for a laugh and possesses one of the driest wits in the locker-room. However, when the cockpit of his private jet went on fire travelling to Augusta, it was no laughing matter. Mind you the world number two almost managed to make a Leslie Nielsen moment out of the situation. 

    Lee Westwood chats with his caddie Billy Foster during a practice round prior to this week's US Masters at Augusta, Georgia. Photograph: Andrew Redington/Getty Images

    “Do the fire engines normally follow you down the runway?” said Westwood on Twitter after an emergency landing. “Only when there’s smoke in the cabin I guess!!!

    “They’re not here to put my putter out! That’s not on fire! Gone a bit quiet in here!!!”

    By the time last year’s runner-up to Phil Mickelson arrived in the pristine surrounds down Magnolia Lane, he elaborated on what happened high in the sky.

    “We were a couple of minutes out of the airport. It was a bit scary,” added Westwood, who also had fellow competitor Ross Fisher, their two caddies, Billy Foster and Phil Morbey, plus manager Chubby Chandler  on board. “It never looks good when you can smell smoke and you turn round and see the pilots have put the masks on.

    “The smoke was coming from the cockpit and they told us later they couldn’t drop our masks because they feed oxygen into the cabin and if there was a fire it would have fanned the flames.

    “The plane came down in a bit of a nosedive because you obviously have to get down as quick as you can. There had been a small fire somewhere in the instruments and we had the three fire tenders chasing us down the runaway, but I think that’s just a precaution.”

    NOW THAT Westwood is back on terra firma what are his chances of going one better than last year? Critics will say he doesn’t possess the short game to get the job done, particularly at Augusta where the premium is on just that, the short game.

    Others with the glass half full will say Westwood has been knocking on the door of majors for several years and his time has come (2010: Runner-up at British Open and US Masters. 2009: Third British Open and US PGA, 2008: third at US Open).

    The bookies certainly see him as a threat and is third favourite at 16-1 behind lefty at the top of the pile and none other than Tiger Woods.

    Mickelson knows how to get the job done around Augusta – defending champion and three-time winner – and has a genuine spring in his step after last week’s Houston Open win. Ominously, he recently said: “Augusta is tailor-made for a left hander…even if I’m not on top of my game I somehow still manage to get it round here.”

    If he’s the shoo-in many are suggesting then why not snap up some of the 7-1 on offer for this year’s favourite.

    With Woods, a four-time champion, we just don’t know what bag he’s going to turn up with these days. Augusta’s wide landing areas will surely suit him and if he gets the putter going and has a sniff of victory, there’s still none better at getting the job done.

    All of a sudden 12-1 second favourite looks like value. Gone are the days when the 14-time major winner was marginally better than odds on at the start of a tournament. In terms of price – if not wins – these are bumper times for backers of Woods.

    Note: Little to choose in value between traditional bookmakers eg Paddypower/Boylesports and exchanges such as Betfair if looking to back any of the top three.

    And what of the Irish trio; who’s gonna punt with the heart rather than the head? It could be argued all three have genuine ambitions of slipping into the famous Green Jacket come Sunday.

    Rory McIlroy, with his imperious driving and stealth irons, is leading Irishman (ranging from 25-1 Boylesports to 33-1 Betfair). Not too many under-30s win around Augusta as experience is a crucial ingredient but if “Wee-mac” finds his putting boots he could go close.

    Pádraig Harrington wasted little time getting his gizmos set up on the range at Augusta, and though he managed a top 10 in Houston, supporters of the triple major winners can still expect a roller-coaster ride for his driving has yet to be put back on a string. The new bearded one is available from 33-1 (Boylesports), 40-1 (Paddypower) and 54-1 (Betfair).   

    Graeme McDowell might not be the longest of the Irish trio but he is surely the most consistent and one of the best in the game at holing out under pressure, traits which should serve him well this week.

    The US Open champion has had several early reconnaissance missions to Augusta and as a major champion will have genuine belief he can get the job done again. He’s 40-1 with the bookmakers, rising to 64-1 on the exchanges.

    Incidentally, most bookmakers are paying 1-4 odds and top six for each-way bets.

    So, after all this waffle where’s the smart money going? Lefty is the form horse, Westy might finally get over the line but something keeps drawing yours truly back to Eldrick, who uncharacteristically will slip under the radar this year.

    Can’t help thinking how much I’ll be kicking myself if he wins and didn’t take a nibble of that 12-1. Oh, and there’ll be small each way wagers on Harrington and another lefty with form in the shape of Bubba Watson.

    Selected betting websites

    Betfair  |  Paddypower  |  Boylesports

    • sonykopines says:

      Tempted to hum ”Goodness gracious great balls on fire!”. Bit old fash for the yoof in the audience. Heard a good song on some radio station my daughter’d tuned into in me car the other day. Something about making aeroplanes into shooting stars. Good effort from Mr Westwood there. Changin a birdie into a bogey.

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