The Open: Lee Westwood is left with fight to make cut after sorry 73
The scenes were reminiscent of a Ryder Cup, the cheers ringing out from the moment Lee Westwood left the putting green at Lytham to make his way to the first tee just after 9am. Here was England’s finest among his own people. Here was the favourite son. The opening hole in this Open championship measures 204 yards and, by the time Westwood’s ball came to rest, he’d covered 203 of them. Tap-in birdie. Again the roars went up. The Englishman tipped his cap, smiled and walked onwards. His mood matched the day itself, calm and bright. The Man was on his way.
Birdie on the first and birdie on the second. Who could have known that, from such promising beginnings, Westwood’s performance would unravel so completely in the hours ahead that he would conclude later that he isn’t in control of his game and had been “found out”.
Every strength he usually has – the accuracy of his driving and those unerring long-irons – became a weakness and every weakness – his short game – became a crisis until it came to an unholy end at three over par, nine shots worse off than the leader, Adam Scott. He needed no reminding that all of this happened on one of the most benign mornings in recent Open championship history. The wind picked up a touch in the afternoon but for every minute of Westwood’s round there wasn’t a breeze to speak of. One by one the field lined up to say how gentle a day it was and how anybody hitting the ball “half-decent”, as Sergio Garcia put it, could score well.
The question now is not so much whether Westwood can win as whether he can make the cut, having missed it last year at Royal St George’s.
“I am at a point now where it goes left or right – I’m not often straight,” he said in a frank interview. “Even the start [of his round] was a bit of a lie, really. I hit a good shot at the first, although it was a little bit thin and a little too far left, but I got a nice little kick in to about three feet, but sooner or later you’ll get found out. It was nice to birdie the first two holes but I don’t feel in control of the ball at the moment. You get found out pretty quickly on an Open championship golf course, no matter what the conditions are like.”
To say it was eventful was an understatement. It was on the third hole that Davis Love III’s extraordinary shank from the rough on the sixth came careering across the green and almost clobbered Westwood as he was experiencing his own travails. That was where his game started to fall apart, his approach catching a greenside bunker from where he hit past the flag and down a slope and then couldn’t get up and down. Double-bogey and back to where he began.
“I hit a 5-iron into that bunker on the third,” he said. “I was trying to hit it right of the flag and got in front of it, which I did most of the day. I blocked it out right with my second shot on four, my tee-shot on five, my second shot on seven and my tee-shot off eight. It happened pretty much most of the day.”
On the sixth, Westwood fluffed a greenside chip and left himself 20 feet for par, then missed the putt. On the 13th he charged his birdie putt six feet past and then missed the one back, an error that was compounded by the scenes on the 14th when his tee-shot fell into a fairway bunker and finished stuck fast to the face. He tried to contort his body to give himself a shot, but he couldn’t do it. He thought about taking an unplayable lie. He thought about a lot of things in those moments but the thing that he did was the only thing he realistically could do – he played it left-handed and hoped for the best. “Can’t remember the last time I had to play a left-handed shot, never mind out of a bunker,” he said.
His ball smacked off the bunker face and hopped out ten yards behind him. Applause greeted the shot – and it was deserved. But, when one of the biggest reactions you get all day is for a blow that goes backwards, you know you’re having a bad experience. That cost him another shot.
While all this was happening, the birdies were flying in all around him, the scoreboards rubbing salt into the Westwood wound by constantly reminding him how far off the pace he was. Even if he managed to avert his eyes from the boards there was no escaping his playing partner, Bubba Watson. The Masters champion, not Westwood, looked like the guy who had been reared on links golf, shaping his shots, scrambling effectively from bad spots whenever he found himself in trouble, which wasn’t often, and holing enough putts to put himself in the hunt at 3-under. The pink-headed driver with the pink shaft held by the man with ever more pink dotted about his golf gear was somewhat incongruous on this great old course but Bubba played wonderfully. He had a strategy, he said, and he was good enough to execute it.
“I’m like a kid,” he said. “I like to be creative and hit shots and, over here playing with your buddies, you can hit all the shots you want to, but playing in a major championship you’ve got to play smarter. And I’m not very good at playing smarter.”
He was clever out there, no doubt about it. He was also surprised, not at how well things went for him, but how poorly they went for the man alongside him. “He’s a fighter,” he said of Westwood. “He’s going to come back stronger than ever.”
Nice words, but not even Westwood might be of a mind to agree with him. Bogeys on 13 and 14 were followed by further dropped shots at 16 and 17, the former because of a missed putt from four feet, the latter after finding sand off the tee from where he plunged it into even more sand near the green.
Behind the ropes, two of his followers sighed. “Not another bunker, Lee! You’re never going to win a major playing like this.”
He left himself 20 feet for par and missed. “Any golf course is intimidating if you can’t pick a point and shape it left-to-right or right-to-left. You haven’t got anywhere to aim. If you can’t shape it as Bubba did all day and eliminate one side of the golf course, you’re going to struggle.”
Lessons in links play from Bubba. It’s not a good place to be. What next, Lee, he was asked. “Cup of tea,” he replied. Was he surprised at how bad it was for him out there? “Not really, no.” He said he was heading away to think about things. Off he went with a gallows humour smile. You wondered where he was heading; the practice ground or the psychiatrist’s couch.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Monday 20 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 20 C
Wind Speed: 7 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 8 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 10 mph
Wind direction: North west