Bad bounce bound to stick in Westwood’s craw but he knows it’s just part of the game

Cruel intervention of a wicker basket pin-top probably cost him two precious shots

Lee Westwood’s caddie holds the one of the unique Merion pins topped with wicker baskets in place of the usual flags during the first round of the US Open at the Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa. Photo:  Doug Mills/The New York Times)

Lee Westwood’s caddie holds the one of the unique Merion pins topped with wicker baskets in place of the usual flags during the first round of the US Open at the Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa. Photo: Doug Mills/The New York Times)

Sat, Jun 15, 2013, 09:10

Lee Westwood is something of a comedian in the tour locker room. The other evening, he could be spotted sidling up to Tiger Woods to wisecrack like a born comedian. But that was before he became the butt of the wise quips, before he was called a “basket case” after fate handed him a bad break in Thursday’s first round when his shot to the 12th hole ricocheted off the wicker basket atop the metal flagstick and led to a double-bogey.

Ah, the golfing gods were having a laugh at Westwood’s expense. Only it wasn’t funny, certainly not for the player who is only too aware of how bad breaks in Majors come about.

It was only at last year’s US Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco that Westwood’s quest for a maiden Major title was undone in the final round when his ball clattered into a tree on the fifth hole never to be seen again.

He even used binoculars that day to try to identify his ball. He suffered a double-bogey and eventually fell back to finish four shots behind Webb Simpson.

Pinpoint accuracy
If that shot at the Olympic Club was due to a slightly errant tee shot, the approach into the 12th was the result of a supremely hit wedge that was aimed with pinpoint accuracy at the pin. Of course, if it had happened anywhere else, on any other course, the ball would likely have finished close to the hole or even in the tin cup.

The problem here at Merion is that flags are an irrelevance. Instead, specially made wicker baskets are used with the result that Westwood’s ball cannoned back down the fairway.

As he sarcastically quipped after completing his delayed first round yesterday: “Peter Dawson (chief executive of the R&A) has reassured me that for the Open championship (at Muirfield) we’ll be going back to flags like a normal tournament.”

From a guy who describes himself as a “half-full glass type of person,” Westwood’s response to the knock-back from the wicker basket was more akin to one who sees the glass as half-empty.

Westwood may have wished that his ball, rather than rebounding, had actually lodged itself into the basket. Then, he would have been entitled to place the ball, without penalty, on the lip of the hole. The fact of the matter, though, is that Westwood suffered a fate that can befall any player, whether a hacker or a tour professional. It is called a bad bounce, and no-one is immune from it.

Indeed, players in the Majors have, through the years, found themselves as the fall guys. Only last April, Tiger Woods can point to his approach to the 15th in the Masters hitting the flagstick and rebounding back into the water, which led to a penalty stroke and, then, to a further two shot penalty when he was deemed to have dropped the ball in the wrong place.

And in the 2010 US PGA at Whistling Straits, Dustin Johnson – unwittingly – grounded his club in a sandy area on the 18th hole in the final which was later clarified to be a bunker and he suffered a two stroke penalty that dropped him out of a play-off back to fifth.

With the British Open coming up in Muirfield next month, it is also worth noting the fate that befell Gary Evans in the 2002 British Open at the Scottish links.

The European Tour journeyman was a somewhat unlikely leader as the championship entered the business end, only for his approach to the par five 17th to finish close to a group of spectators to the left of the green. Unfortunately for Evans, none of them saw his ball and he had to walk back to the original place to play another ball with a two-shot penalty.

He got his par but then bogeyed the last and finished a shot outside the play-off.

As history will remind Westwood, bad breaks happen. It doesn’t matter who you are, or how deserving you might be of shedding that best-player-never-to-win-a-Major tag.