Putting remains major obstacle for Westwood
The word was, Lee Westwood couldn't leave Georgia fast enough. The word was wrong, both physically and mentally.
Having caught the 10.45pm flight from Atlanta to Manchester, Westwood, courtesy of "technical problems" was still on the runway at 5.30am yesterday morning. "It's been a long day," he said. Indeed, it had. Some 12 hours before he had signed for a 68 for his seventh top-three place in his last 15 majors. So many near misses would drive a hypnotised monk to distraction, but Westwood was not about to go down the Sergio Garcia route. "I'll never win a major," said the Spaniard. For Westwood just delete the "never".
Of course, his doubters will roll their eyes with a lot more predictability than he can roll his golf ball. But his conviction cannot be queried. Unlike Garcia, Westwood knows what is holding him back. That damnable short stick continues to beat him without mercy.
"It's the weakness of my game and it's costing me majors," said Westwood. "I work hard on my putting but I can't seem to turn it around. But when I do, I know I'll win. It will happen."
This was no false sentiment of a man determined to clutch at the straws, either. His manager, Chubby Chandler, is not prone to sugar-coating, regardless of his nickname.
"I've never seen him more upbeat after coming close in a major," said his manager, who narrowly missed out on a fourth major in five because of Louis Oosthuizen's play-off defeat. "I thought he would be disappointed, but he said, 'I played great'. In fact, tee-to-green it's probably the best he played in the majors. He has just got to hang in there till he has a good week putting and then he won't just win a major but win by a few. I think once he's knocked one off, he'll knock off another pretty quickly. Lee left here believing more than he's ever believed."
Westwood's caddie, Billy Foster, concurred, calling his employer "unstoppable".
"Lee's hit it better than anyone all week, but the short stick has let him down very badly," said the Yorkshireman. "He was amazingly impressive out there as he never got down and just carried on hitting the flag out, as you saw on that back nine, when he was exceptional. He will knock one of these off very soon. He is unstoppable, because he is that good a player right now. All he needs is a little confidence with the putter and that will be that. Just look at the stats from this Masters. He has made the most birdies of everyone, but for the last three rounds has barely made a putt. He'll get there."
The stats make painful or encouraging reading depending on the number of fluid ounces in one's pint glass. Westwood led the greens hit in regulation – with 58 out of 72 – and nobody made more birdies over the week (20). But with 128 putts, only three of the 62 players took more jabs on the green than Westwood – and none of them finished in the top 40. Incredibly, he took 21 putts more than Phil Mickelson, but finished alongside the American. Westwood may have been buoyed by his last day's putting display, but he yanked one from a foot on the third green.
Attention will inevitably fall on Westwood's putting coach, Phil Kenyon, particularly after Chandler's comments. "I don't know how much difference he has made – I don't think he has made any," said Chandler. But The Independent understands Westwood is happy with the advances he has made in the six months under Kenyon, whom he refers to as "The Gerbil". His desperation to speed up the progress, however, was captured in the sight of Westwood's father, John, giving him tips on the practice putting green late on Saturday night.
Westwood eventually arrived back in Worksop last night and will spend a few days at home before heading to Jakarta for next week's defence at the Indonesian Open. He then has a week off before re-crossing the Atlantic for the Quail Hollow Championship and The Players. An appearance at the BMW PGA Championship and the Scandinavian Masters will then lead into the US Open. Chandler is just one of many who feels the Olympic Club in San Francisco will suit him. "I've always thought the US Open or our Open favour him best," he said. "The Olympic Club is right up his street."
Another Englishman who will be heading to the West Coast with the optimism burning will be Ian Poulter. Criticised by the Likes of Sir Nick Faldo in the build-up, Poulter had a message for those who continue to feel he doesn't spend enough hours on the range. "Funnily enough, people have made all these comments that I don't practice hard enough, but the fact is for the last month or so I haven't been able to practice anywhere near as much as I would have usually because I've been ill," he said. "And what happens? I finish third at Bay hill and top 10 in the Masters. So hey ho – what do they know?"
Poulter's seventh place was his best finish in The Masters and he was clearly surprised he fared so well. He is still feeling the after-effects of the pneumonia he contracted at the end of February, although he believes "the next week in the gym will restore my energy levels". "Then I'll be excited to really get into the summer of golf and looking forward to the rest of this year's majors," said Poulter. "Actually, I haven't played any of those three courses. But d'you know what? I'm not going on any reconnaissance missions before the majors, like usual. I'm going for the full relaxed approach. Because it worked in Augusta."
With Justin Rose producing a later charge for 10th, this was the first time England could boast three finishers in the top 10. Of course, with so many players in the world's elite the ambition should be – and is – so much greater. It has been 16 years since an Englishman has won a major. Like Westwood, the country's time is plainly now.
(US unless stated, par 72)
278 B Watson 69 71 70 68, L Oosthuizen (SA) 68 72 69 69 (Watson won sudden death play-off at second extra hole). 280 L Westwood (GB) 67 73 72 68, M Kuchar 71 70 70 69, P Hanson (Swe) 68 74 65 73, P Mickelson 74 68 66 72. 283 I Poulter (GB) 72 72 70 69. 284 J Rose (GB) 72 72 72 68, A Scott(Aus) 75 70 73 66, P Harrington (Ire) 71 73 68 72. 285 J Furyk 70 73 72 70. 286 K Na 71 75 72 68, G McDowell (GB) 75 72 71 68, S Garcia (Sp) 72 68 75 71.