If not now, when?”
iT HAS been said that the origins of the quote date back to a Babylonian rabbi before the time of Christ. Bobby Kennedy copied it, Ronald Reagan aped it, Barack Obama has used it himself when beseeching his nation to embrace change. Lee Westwood might be the latest to say it after leading the Open after not just 54 holes but 61 holes before falling away. Falling and falling into painfully familiar territory.
In the aftermath, Westwood smiled and said all was well, that he wasn’t too disappointed and that he’d had a good week. Not good, actually. “Great. I finished top-3 in a major championship. I would like to have won but you can’t not take the positives from top-3 in a major. I’m a philosophical person. It just doesn’t wind me up or get to me any more.”
Westwood might be philosophical but he is not delusional. In his heart of hearts this will hurt. How could it not? The smiles and the shrugs looked like coping mechanisms, looked like his way of keeping his emotions in check and avoiding giving vent to his heartbreak and giving the newspapers a headline about his torment and his angst.
When asked to pour out his soul, he declined. His despondency was a private thing. Nobody was invited in, but you didn’t really need to be to know what disappointment he must have been feeling. Westwood might be philosophical, but he’d want to be Confucius, Plato and Aristotle rolled into one to accept what happened yesterday with the ease he was attempting to portray.
When Westwood walked off the fifth green at Muirfield he led the Open championship by three clear shots, his birdie coming despite a drive into a bunker, his lead extending despite a patchy beginning to his final round. Westwood was serene. He waved to the crowd and carried on his way. And everything went downhill thereafter.
His career has been – and is – an extraordinary one, but the great breakthrough of a major is no closer. You might even say it is further away than ever. Fifteen top-10s have now become 16, nine top-5s have now become 10, seven top-3s have now become eight. These statistics are wounding and are getting even more wounding. Westwood is now 0-62 in the major championships.
Since the foundation of the Masters in 1934 no golfer has come so close, so often to winning one of the sport’s great prizes without having won one. That’s the burden Westwood carries on and on. Yesterday was not his day. You wonder when, if ever, his day will finally come.
The sickening part is that, even if Phil Mickelson hadn’t produced one of the greatest final rounds in the history of the Open Championship, then still Westwood would not have won. That’s the heartache. When it came to the push, his game buckled and broke. He would come here with a target in mind. Maybe that target was a level-par 71 for a total of 3-under. Level par would have been good enough to take Mickelson to a play-off regardless of the American’s brilliance. A 70 would have been good enough to take the Claret Jug and would have rendered Mickelson’s four birdies in the last six holes an amazingly plucky effort rather than a gobsmackingly historic charge that will be remembered for all time. Westwood shot 75, his worst round of the week by three shots.
“I didn’t play well enough,” he said. “I didn’t play badly but I didn’t play great. It’s a tough course and you’ve got to have your A game. I missed a few shots. I said on Saturday night that sometimes you play well and sometimes you play poorly. I didn’t do either and Phil obviously played well. You’ve got to play well to give yourself your own momentum and I just couldn’t get there.”
From early on he was fighting it, putting himself under pressure to make par, wrestling with a game that had been in such control for three days but which was now buckling badly. The 7th hole was a case in point. A dangerous par-3 where he found sand to the left of the green. He took two to get out of there and had to hole a ten-footer to avoid double bogey. By that time he was still one ahead of Henrik Stenson, still being roared on by the crowd, still smiling and appearing calm, but it was different now.
“I hit the wrong club on the 7th. I tried to hit a 9-iron and it was never going to get there. Plugged in the front trap. It was the wrong club and really I should have known. The wind like it had dropped. Two hundred yards is a long way for a 9-iron.
“I plugged it in the trap at the 8th going for a flier and a poor tee shot on the 9th as well. Plugged in that trap as well, so it was three plugged lies in three holes. You’d like to go par-par-bogey but I went bogey-bogey-par. Going from 3-under back to 1-under just halted my momentum.”
Nothing good was happening. Everything was a grind. Cheers came sweeping across the course from Ian Poulter country. Later, even more cheers from Mickelson’s army. People were doing things out there, but not Westwood. It was all he could do to hang on. He couldn’t do it.
His lead had gone. The two-shot advantage he started the day with, and which soon became three, had vanished in eight holes. It wasn’t until the 10th hole that he managed to find a fairway. Up by that green the scoreboard flashed an update. Adam Scott now led the Open.
Westwood was behind for the first time since the 5th hole on Saturday when he rolled in a monster putt for eagle and started to look like a man who had this championship in the palm of his hand. Scott was in front, but now Mickelson’s presence loomed large on the leaderboard. The writing was on the wall for Westwood.
The throngs that cheered him began to lose faith, you sensed, out by the 13th green when his tee-shot at the par-3 found the hay short and left and Westwood failed to get up and down for par, a blow that was followed by another on 14 when a 15-footer for birdie, and for momentum so badly needed, was left short. The 17th runs alongside 14 on Muirfield. As Westwood was failing to take his opportunity Mickelson was simultaneously taking his, two “career” 3-woods putting him on the par-5 and setting up the birdie that took him to 2-under and a two-shot lead.
Westwood was done for at that point. He knew he couldn’t win. Everybody knew. “I didn’t really feel like I had my A game this week,” he said. “I didn’t feel like I was striking the ball well. I was amazed to be in the lead going into the fourth round because, every time I turned into the wind, I was really struggling. I’m not too disappointed. I don’t really get disappointed with golf anymore.”
If that is right then the game really has eaten him up – and you can understand why. This was only the second time in major championship golf that Westwood had the lead after 54 holes and back then, Augusta 2010, it was also a Mickelson charge on Sunday that denied him. Deja vu in many ways. Turnberry, too. Three bogeys on the last four holes of his final round to miss the play-off by a stroke. We could go on and on. So close and so far. The story of his life in the majors.