‘Some people are full of shit’ – Lee Westwood on ignoring criticism
The 43-year-old has excellent record around Augusta and still feels he can challenge
Lee Westwood of England reacts to a missed putt on the 11th green during the final round of the 2016 Masters. Photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Lee Westwood’s love affair with Masters contention was a slow burner. In 1999, when reaching the Sunday turn holding the Augusta National lead, the Englishman was consumed by panic to the point of nausea. Having Tiger Woods for company perhaps did not help. “Take it away,” said Woods on the 10th tee; Westwood’s legs turned to jelly. He duly dropped four shots round Amen Corner, with the share of sixth hardly a disaster but disappointing in respect of earlier promise.
More pertinent in respect of Westwood now is the claiming of second place at the Masters of 2016. Do not dare suggest to the 43-year-old that this was a missed opportunity after the collapse of Jordan Spieth or, indeed, that fear again set in when he and Danny Willett found themselves as key beneficiaries of the Texan’s tale of woe.
“It was a surprise second because it looked for all the world that Jordan Spieth was going to win the tournament,” Westwood says. “Standing on the 16th tee, suddenly myself and Danny had a chance but it’s not like you worry or think ‘Oh shit.’ You know certain things can happen at Augusta but you don’t expect someone who is so far ahead to hit a couple in Rae’s Creek. I thought maybe Jordan had made a double bogey at the time but to see it was quadruple was a bit of a shock; compounded by the fact I had just chipped in for an eagle at the 15th.
“It was a good result. I had played poorly in the first part of the year. It is actually night and day this year to the way I was going into the Masters last year.”
Cynicism regarding Westwood’s failure to keep pace with Willett is not particularly valid. Willett had become the man in front, not vice versa, and emphasised that position with a wonderful birdie at the 16th. Even if Westwood had saved par at the same hole, he would have been two adrift with only two holes to play. The proper narrative is of Willett excelling as opposed to Westwood stumbling.
In this, the 20th anniversary not only of Woods’s maiden major win but his own Masters debut, Westwood takes it as a compliment that he is regarded as one of the finest players never to win one of golf’s big four. That sense of perspective is both useful and another indicator of experience.
Westwood smiles when reminded that his general pre-Masters odds of 200-1 a year ago have been halved this time. “They are catching on, aren’t they?” There is no sense, publicly at least, that time may be running out at this particular venue.
“You really don’t know how long you can go on for. I can’t see them making Augusta any shorter, the only stumbling block would be when you start hitting it shorter because it is a long golf course already. But I still get it out there far enough.
“It is a special place. The more you play it the better it is. It is definitely horses for courses round here; you get the same faces at the top of the leaderboard. Jack Nicklaus had a fantastic record, Tiger too, Fred Couples and Bernhard Langer always seemed to be in contention, Greg Norman, Phil Mickelson. you get a lot of repeat good performers. It is a place where, if you learn it and figure it out, if it suits you, then you can go and play well every year. I think that’s the case no matter what age you are.
“I draw inspiration from the results over the last seven years, not just what happened last year. Other than a 46th in 2015 my worst finish from 2010 onwards has been 11th. I have had a lot of top 10s, a couple of seconds and thirds in there, so obviously this is a course that’s good for me. I enjoy the week, I am comfortable and I know I can get round the golf course.”
But what of golf’s man of the moment, Dustin Johnson? “His form round here is not that great so he will have to alter his approach. He is obviously playing very well. You need a lot of patience and a bit of cunning. You can’t just peg it up and take on the golf course. You need a proper game plan.”
The decent start to this season to which Westwood references was offset slightly by a missed cut at last week’s Houston Open. There was a mitigating circumstance for a dire start, even if Westwood did not publicly use it; he was visibly jolted by the arrival of a snake in the vicinity as he went to play his second shot to the opening hole.
Westwood’s seeking of context is in respect of last year’s Ryder Cup, where he was widely castigated after receiving a captain’s pick yet failing to return a point at Hazeltine. The fact Westwood and Darren Clarke, Europe’s captain, are close friends was used as a stick to beat both individuals.
“I have been on seven winning teams and three losing teams so my average is pretty good,” Westwood says. “I have won a lot of points and sooner or later the Americans were going to put together a good performance to beat us. It was a wide points-winning margin but it was a lot closer than that when you look back at it.
“I don’t listen to it [the criticism]. Some people are full of shit. I only know about this stuff because some people tell me about it. I pay no attention to it, it doesn’t bother me at all. Some people are always going to think what they think regardless of the facts.”
In the here and now it would be folly to dismiss Westwood’s chances of breaking another statistical run.