LEE Westwood believes the combination of an aggressive strategy on a demanding golf course can work to his advantage in this week’s US PGA Championship at Oak Hill.
Westwood gets his 63rd bid for a first major title under way in upstate New York tomorrow after suffering another near miss in the Open at Muirfield just three weeks ago.
The 40-year-old Englishman took a two-shot lead into the final round and led by three after a birdie on the fifth, but bogeyed four of the remaining 13 holes to eventually card a closing 75 and finish four shots behind Phil Mickelson.
The share of third place means Westwood now has a record eight top-three finishes in major championships without winning one, having previously shared the record of seven with Harry Cooper.
But, on the surface at least, that has not dented his confidence ahead of the final major of the season on a course that could play into his hands.
“Certainly since 2008 I feel like I’ve contended every time I come to a major championship and really, no matter sort of what level my game is at, I can up it for that week,” Westwood said. “I feel like that’s why I’ve probably contended in most of them.”
Mickelson won at Muirfield without a driver in his bag, but Westwood added: “I think if you’re a good driver of the golf ball here, then you can gain a big advantage. You can hit driver a lot. There are rewards for driving the ball long and straight.
“If you drive it well you can make the course play significantly easier. I think there’s some holes where people that maybe aren’t so straight with drivers are going to be hitting an iron off the tee and probably going in with five or six iron, but if you drive it well you are going to be going in with a nine iron or wedge and having a massive advantage.”
Graeme McDowell described the rough at Oak Hill as “brutal” following a recent practice round, but Westwood believes it is a “pleasant golf course” despite missing the cut when the US PGA was last played here in 2003 with rounds of 73 and 78.
“I couldn’t remember a lot from 2003, I probably wasn’t here long enough to remember too much about it,” Westwood joked.
“But it’s in great condition. There’s a lot of rough so it’s obviously going to be a premium on hitting the fairways, hitting the greens.
“I’m all for thick rough. I think there should be a proper penalty for missing fairways. You shouldn’t be able to score from the rough.
“That’s the defence a golf course should have.”
Westwood has certainly left no stone unturned in his bid for that elusive major title, working with Sean Foley on his swing – the Canadian also coaches Tiger Woods and Justin Rose – former Open champion Ian Baker-Finch on his putting and psychologist Ross Mackenzie on the mental side of the game.
His putting was the main reason behind his performance at Muirfield and although it was not as sharp as he finished 40th in the Bridgestone Invitational last week, more work with Baker-Finch is on the agenda.
“I haven’t seen him on the putting green yet but I saw him last night in the (hotel) lift and he gave me a couple of things that we might want to work on,” Westwood added. “I’ve been making a lot of changes and working on a lot of different things, so there’s no surprise really that there was a significant difference between the Open and last week; until changes take effect, then you’re going to be a little bit inconsistent.
“(At Muirfield) that’s the first time I’ve putted well in I don’t know how long. It seems to be what everybody else does every week, so that’s a level of consistency that I’ve got to try to get to on the greens.”