Westwood like a man reborn


GOLF: The face was that of someone reborn. For much of this season Lee Westwood has worn the expression of a person worn down with the weight of the world on his shoulders and unsure of how to cure the ills. Of his last five tournaments, he has missed the cut in three, and a measure of his downward slide in the world rankings, from a career high fourth to a current position of 95th, was that he failed to earn a place in the US Open field this month.

Out of adversity, however, can come some good. And Westwood, with no journey to Bethpage, used his time constructively.

"Missing the US Open was a blessing in disguise. It gave me a chance to rest, get over my little injury and get in some work on my game," he explained, adding: "The way I played recently I didn't deserve to be in the US Open. I wouldn't have enjoyed it, because you have to be playing well to enjoy those courses. They test everything, including your patience, and that is something I didn't have two weeks ago."

The break enabled the Englishman, who topped the European Order of Merit in 2000, and reached his world high in November of that year, to regroup. Yesterday, there were more than a few glimpses of the confident player who strutted his stuff and won six times in Europe a mere two years ago.

The result? A round of four-under-par 67 that could have been even better but for the infernal nuisance of a mobile phone going off as he played the last, which he bogeyed.

But even that ringing tone in his ears failed to shift Westwood out of a feelgood mood. Playing in the Irish Open for the first time in three years, Westwood, whose last win was in the World Matchplay in Wentworth in 2000, was rejuvenated.

"I'm back to where my game is competitive and feeling like I can win tournaments again. There is an old saying that class is permanent and form is fickle. I think that once I get back in the melting pot, because I have won before, that I know what it feels like and the old feeling came back today," said Westwood, whose woes looked to have evaporated.

Westwood's downward spiral in the world rankings, and also his fall to 104th in the current Volvo Order of Merit, can be traced back to a drop in confidence and some swing problems.

"My swing had gone a bit further astray than I would have liked and, then, your confidence goes even more. It is a vicious circle. One doesn't come back without the other."

However, there is evidence that Westwood is re-emerging from a slump that had him in the depths of despair, but never to the point where he considered giving up. Now, the hunger, that never really went away, is really back, and history shows that he is a good man to finish off the job when he manages to get into a challenging position in a tournament.