Westwood’s 68 leaves him well in the Houston Open mix
McIlroy battles back with four birdies on back nine to finish one over
As a man who once had more than 100 putters in his Worksop garage, it would seem only logical that Lee Westwood could find a new aid at any given time for his work on the greens.
The Englishman has now moved to an unorthodox, adjustable and long-gripped putter in a bid to find consistency in his short game. The early signs are encouraging: Westwood took only 26 putts on his way to an opening round of 68 at the Shell Houston Open.
He did not quite endorse an earlier claim that his short game is in “brilliant” shape, but Westwood has at least edged back towards decent form in his final tournament before returning to the Masters at Augusta. It would be a surprise if Westwood does not remain in contention over the weekend here in Texas.
“It is about four inches longer than standard and you could use it as a belly putter,” Westwood explained of his latest putting tool. “I’ve had it for a while, but it’s just in the last couple of weeks I have felt comfortable enough to take it on the course. If you look at the putting green, a lot of the guys are using it.”
Westwood has, in fact, used a belly putter in the past but only in a brief spell. It seems unlikely he would revert back to that style of putting. “It just helps me to swing the putter a bit easier,” he added. “I putted well today; I holed it from 18ft on the second, 10ft on the third, 20ft on the fifth, 20ft on the 14th and 18ft on the 16th, so the putter is working well.”
Westwood was less enamoured, and with good reason, about his touch on the par-five holes at the Redstone Golf Club. The 39-year-old dropped shots on two of them, the fourth and the eighth, with two balls hit into water on the latter.
In proving the value of a putter that any player can rely on, DA Points shot a first-round 64 after moving back to a Ping Anser that he first used at the age of 11 in 1987. “Maybe I’m an idiot for not using the putter all this time,” Points smiled. “It certainly worked well today.”
Phil Mickelson refused to be overly despondent despite dropping four shots in his closing five holes to finish on even par. The 42-year-old believes his game is in decent shape with his latest appearance at Augusta on the horizon.
“I know what I want to do in the golf swing and I hit some good shots earlier in the round,” Mickelson said. “I feel really good with the putter, and I believe that as the tournament goes on, I will get better.
“It was a disappointing finish, obviously. There’s a lot of golf left and I feel as though each day I’m getting better.
“I kind of lost it there in the end, but the good thing for me is that I know what it is I want to do. I’ll just have to practise a little bit harder to get it ingrained in there. I like the course and I like playing here in Houston. I love the conditions. It’s one of the best conditioned golf courses that we play.”
Mickelson admitted, though, that the unusual circumstance of a free week before the Masters could hinder his preparations. He has opted not to play at the Valero Texas Open in San Antonio. “It’s a very unusual situation here for me,” Mickelson added. “I usually like to play the week before. I haven’t taken a week off before the Masters in, I don’t know, a couple of decades, I think, and the same thing with the US Open.
“I’m going to have to learn how to do that, now that we’re not really having tournaments conducive to getting ready for those events.
“I’m going to have to take this opportunity to prepare off-site or with a week off. If I can do that, it will give me another option to maybe not play the week before Majors and prepare.”
Rory McIlroy, playing for the first time since losing his world number one ranking earlier this week, got off to a shaky start at the Houston Open where he dropped three shots over his opening eight holes. However, the 23-year-old Northern Irishman bounced back with four birdies to finish on one-over par (73). McIlroy bogeyed the par-four second hole and made a double-bogey seven on the eighth hole to limp to the turn at three over. Two more bogeys followed on the 14th and 17th, but birdies on 10, 12, 13 and 15 left him tied 87th. Shane Lowry birdied his final hole to sign for a 71 (-1).