THE last time Lee Westwood went into a Ryder Cup low on either form or confidence, he not only repaid Sam Torrance’s faith by playing his part in a triumph at The Belfry, but also used the boost from that to become world No.1.
Twelve years on, the 41-year-old Englishman is hoping the transatlantic tussle can galvanise him once more, having slipped to 41st – the lowest on either team – in the world rankings on the back of a largely misfiring campaign.
Westwood, one of Paul McGinley’s wild cards for the match at Gleneagles, will never underestimate the importance of how he managed to raise his game for Torrance in 2002, a year in which he dropped out of the world’s top 100.
“First and foremost it was nice to play well and not let anybody down because I had not been playing particularly well going into that Ryder Cup,” he recalled. “But also it triggered something in my head that made me realise I was still a good player and I could still do it under pressure. So I guess I do owe the Ryder Cup something for helping to restore my belief.”
Three wins in the company of “perfect partner” Sergio Garcia did that. “It gave my career a kickstart and this could be the same,” added Westwood. “Anytime you play well under pressure – and next week will be the most intense pressure you will ever experience – it makes a difference.”
As it has with Martin Kaymer, who came out of a spell in the doldrums to hole the putt at Medinah that retained the iconic gold trophy and has since chalked up his second major. “It definitely kicked him back into gear,” noted Westwood.
His Ryder Cup record is impressive. Eight appearances have yielded six wins – a record for the event. With 21 points, he’s just four adrift of Nick Faldo, the top scorer in Ryder Cup history.
“I’ve been happy more than I’ve been miserable at Ryder Cups,” admitted Westwood, left, whose joy has often come at the expense of Jim Furyk. The American also made his debut at Valderrama in 1997 and will be playing in the match for a ninth time. Only twice before has he tasted victory.
“I can relate to what he’s gone through,” said Westwood. “I’ve been on two losing teams and it’s certainly not as pleasurable as an experience if you win. But that’s what makes the Ryder Cup great. It’s so dramatic and it is basically black or white. You win or you lose and it can come down to small margins.”
Keen to weigh in with a hefty contribution for Paul McGinley in Perthshire, Westwood has shed 23lbs since his FedEx Cup campaign ended prematurely. “I felt like I needed to get back into shape, be more professional again,” said the Worksop man. “It takes some time to adjust to get back to the things you did when you were at your best. In that sense I’m motivated to get back to that.”