A week after having to swallow defeat at an event where he had previously tasted glory, Lee Westwood went through the same bitter experience again last night. The British Masters may not be the Ryder Cup, but the Englishman was keen to defend his title and his disappointment shone through in the gathering gloom of The Belfry.
Westwood found consolation in Kentucky in the superb form of the American team and in Gonzalo Fernandez-Castaño he bumped into a player similarly inspired. The Spaniard produced a series of remarkable recoveries to match the world No 13's 12-under total and so take him to a sudden-death play-off. He eventually came through on the third extra hole, when Westwood could only bogey the famous 18th.
The rapidly fading light emphasised what a long day it had been. The fog-delayed third round had to be completed in the morning, meaning that the two protagonists had played 28 holes in a day and the final hole a remarkable five times. That was particularly tough on Westwood after his exertions in Louisville, but the 35-year-old was seeking no excuses.
"I just struggled with my swing all day," said Westwood, who held a three-shot lead over the winner with 10 holes to play. "I didn't feel under control at any point. I felt I really hung in there. When 'Gonzo' chipped in at the 12th I think the writing was on the wall. I feel I am at the end of my tether and running on empty so to get into a playoff was good. I needed the long day like a hole in the head after last week. You just have to dig deep."
Nevertheless, Westwood will still make the trip to Scotland to compete in the Dunhill Links this week as he tries to overhaul Padraig Harrington's lead at the top of the Order of Merit. With the £200,000 runner-up prize he won in Sutton Coldfield, he has leapt to second in the money list and cut the deficit to £180,000 with four events to go before the season-ending Volvo Masters in Valderrama at the end of next month. But for Fernandez-Castaño, Westwood would have been £100,000 closer. And not only that, but Westwood would have been certain to break into the world's top 10 for the first time in seven years.
This was the biggest payday for Fernandez-Castaño in a career which had already boasted three tour titles. "I think this is probably the best of my wins especially beating such a player as Lee," said the 27-year-old who came into the event at 105th on the money list and in danger of losing his Tour card.
"My season was not going very well and I was starting to get worried. The chip-in on the 12th was the key to it all." Some of the 27-year-old's play yesterday reminded of Seve Ballesteros particularly the aforementioned chip-in as well as the pitch from 30 yards left of the green on the last hole of regulation play.
Before he somehow managed to chop it out of the rough to three feet, Westwood looked certain to win his 30th title but in the end had to be satisfied with a week's work during which he restated the quality which defines his game.
The 35-year-old has not won since last year's British Masters, but he has recorded 14 top 10s since then, including a third place in the US Open in June, and is now unarguably one of the most consistent golfers in the world.
Meanwhile, in Atlanta, Sergio Garcia emulated Westwood in seeing the prestigious Tour Championship disappear from his grasp in a play-off. The Spaniard, whose performance at Valhalla was also mediocre, was beaten on the first sudden-death hole by the Colombian Camilo Villegas. But at least Garcia had the consolation of consigning two of America’s Ryder Cup heroes, Phil Mickelson and his singles conqueror Anthony Kim, into third place.