Young gun Westwood overcomes old soldier

 

In a sensational end to an awfully long season, Lee Westwood beat the world's number one golfer, Greg Norman, at the fourth extra hole of a sudden-death play-off, to win the Holden Australian Open at the Metropolitan club, Melbourne. It was Westwood's third win in five consecutive weeks of playing, during which time he has won £538,276, and taken his overall earnings this season to £930,993. But better than the money has been the fact of the wins themselves, all achieved against good fields and with a quiet authority that has become his trademark.

The victories, in the Volvo Masters in Spain; the Visa Taiheiyo Masters in Japan and now this prestigious trophy, which was first played for in 1904, have come from all round the globe, and confirm him as a global player of immense promise.

He now has a play-off record of 3-0, having won sudden-deaths in the Scandinavian Masters and the Visa event in 1996, whereas Norman has lost play-offs for all four major championships in a career in which he has rarely fulfilled his obvious talent. He is, though, ranked as the best player in the world and, over a period of five and a half hours, Westwood faced him man-to-man, and stared him down.

Moreover, he beat a man who desperately wanted to win. It would have been Norman's sixth Australian Open, matching the record of Jack Nicklaus and it would have been his third on the trot, matching the record of Ossie Pickworth, the only other man to have done it. Instead, Westwood became the first British player to win since the Honorable Michael Scott, an amateur of course, won the inaugural event in 1904 and again in 1907.

The 24-year-old from Worksop could hardly contain his delight.

He first of all phoned home and spoke to his mother, who, as she has done on all six occasions that Westwood has won, burst into tears. He then phoned his manager, Chubby Chandler, in Knutsford and said: "I think you're about to miss the best night of my life. How much Dom Perignon can you drink in one night?"

Westwood, one behind at the start of the day, was two behind with two to play. But Norman whipped his drive left into the trees at the 17th to drop a shot and then left his second to the 18th short and right - a frequent failing - and proceeded to three-putt from 60 feet. There were echoes of 1979, the year that Norman lost the title to Jack Newton at this course and on that green - by three-putting.

The play-off was conducted over the 17th and 18th holes and at the 17th first time round, Norman leaked his second into the right-hand greenside bunker. But he got up and down for a par. At the 18th, Westwood, with a 50footer from just off the green that had to reach a different tier, hit a superb putt which clattered into the pin full on, but instead of falling into the hole, rebounded to sit on the very rim.

Off they went to the 17th again, driven in carts, and Norman, whose honour it was, stopped the buggy some 50 yards from the tee and walked the remainder. If he was hoping to irritate Westwood, who was already there, he was wasting his time for the Englishman just ignores such distractions. Norman found the same bunker with his second shot, but this time almost holed the recovery, and they had to play the 18th a second time.

Norman, who had played scrappily in regulation time, hit his drive into a bunker, but did well to hit his five-iron out of it, 205 yards onto the green. Westwood, safely on in two, putted up to two feet and then Norman, from 20 feet, hit the putt far too hard and ran it three feet past. The return putt was plainly pushed, it hit no part of the hole and that was the Australian's last chance. Westwood holed out confidently and quickly to complete a season in which he has gone from emerging, to emerged talent.

"To win a trophy with so many great names on it," he said, "well, I'm just ecstatic." Norman's name is there, of course, and so are the names of Nicklaus, Gary Player, Tom Watson, Peter Thomson, Arnold Palmer, Bobby Locke and Gene Sarazen.

Ireland's Darren Clarke, however, found that his own precious ability had deserted him somewhat when he finished way down the field for a total of 288.