Lee Westwood: Americans need to up Ryder Cup game

Henrik Stenson, Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia try to hit over Amphitheatre of Aspendos walls. Picture: Getty

Henrik Stenson, Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia try to hit over Amphitheatre of Aspendos walls. Picture: Getty

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LONG before the days of task forces, the Romans constructed the Amphitheatre of Aspendos to the east of Antalya. “You looked around and thought, ‘Wow, how did they build this 2,000 years ago’,” said Lee Westwood of a visit to one of the best preserved Roman remains outside Italy along with Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson before the Turkish Airlines Open starting today.

Based on events in the wake of their defeat at Gleneagles in September – the setting up of an 11-man task force, for instance – it appears to have been an easier job, however, than the Americans trying to lay the foundations for a system that can help them improve on a record of just two wins in the last ten Ryder Cups.

“I think it’s a massive pat on the back for the European team that the Americans need a task force to pull all their ideas together now,” admitted Westwood, who leapfrogged Seve Ballesteros to become Europe’s fourth-highest points scorer as he made his ninth appearance in the biennial event as part of Paul McGinley’s triumphant team in Perthshire. “We are now the favourites and the Americans need to up their game because they are not happy as they keep losing. They are looking for new ways to improve and this task force is obviously a massive step for them.”

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Including both Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, it was set up in the aftermath of a defeat that led the latter to publicly criticise the American captain, Tom Watson, and the fallout from that turn ugly over the past few weeks.

“There didn’t look to be that much harmony within the US squad and that’s obviously a vital component when you are trying to win a team event,” added Westwood, who offered some interesting observations about the Ryder Cup captaincy as he picked out the three men he reckons are the leading contenders to get the US job for the 2016 match at Hazeltine, Minnesota.

“In my opinion and experience, captains don’t really have a massive influence on winning a Ryder Cup for their side,” declared the Englishman. “But they can certainly have a massive influence on losing it and getting stuff wrong. That’s where they [the Americans] have got to focus.

“There are two or three obvious candidates. Fred Couples would be the first. He’s had the experience and success at the Presidents Cup and would be pretty easy to get along with and play for, I would imagine. Paul Azinger, because he’s the last one [US captain] to have won [in 2008].”

Westwood reckoned his third choice, Steve Stricker, could be a non-starter due to the fact he’s not a major champion but, according to a leading US golf writer covering this week’s event in Belek, there is no such criterion.

“Steve is a pretty nice, solid guy and someone that everybody respects and would rally and play for,” added Westwood, who can also see Jim Furyk coming into the frame but, like himself, perhaps not until after he makes one final playing appearance.

In Westwood’s case, if that’s in the next match then it is likely to be under his good friend Darren Clarke. As a five-man panel prepare to start the process to appoint McGinley’s successor, the Northern Irishman is a hot favourite, with his only rival for the coveted post probably being the colourful Spaniard, Miguel Angel Jimenez.

“Darren just edges it for me,” admitted Westwood as he prepared to join seven other members from the winning team at Gleneagles in the penultimate event in the European Tour’s “Final Series”. “That’s based on his record and also the fact it’s in the States, where he’s got a good reputation and won World Golf Championships.

“I backed Darren last time and Paul got it – and I was wrong, Paul was a great captain. I’d like to see Darren get it next time and sit down with Paul and let Paul shoot a few ideas at him and feed off the momentum that Paul really built up being the captain.”

Colin Montgomerie, the 2010 winning captain and unofficial tournament host this week – the £4.4million event is being played on the Montgomerie Maxx Royal in Belek – admitted a “changing of the guard” in terms of Ryder Cup results over the past 20 years was something even he had never envisaged.

At the same time, though, he added his voice to the chorus calling the US task force an over-reaction. “I don’t see the necessity in that task force,” said the eight-times European No 1. “I just see someone getting the Americans to play as a team for each other.”

Asked if he felt Mickelson’s criticism of Watson had perhaps played as big a role in the task force being assembled as the result itself, Montgomerie said: “A bit of both probably. I think one of the players being critical or expressing an opinion that was doubting captaincy aided that task force being assembled and losing didn’t help either.”

A member of the European selection panel, Montgomerie, who added Jay Haas, the US captain for next year’s Presidents Cup to the list of contenders for Hazeltine, described the appointments of both skippers for that match as “difficult”. He said: “One, we have to maintain what we have, and two, especially in America and with the task force and all the stuff that’s been done, that new American captain has to win.”

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