Hole 11 of the Atlanta Athletic Club course.
Hole 11 of the Atlanta Athletic Club course. Bob Maynard - Courtesy of The PGA of America

Westwood refuses to court lady luck

LEE westwood is not about to court Lady Luck as he heads into the USPGA. The Englishman is refusing to wallow in all the sympathy thrown in his direction since his friend Darren Clarke won the Open. For Westwood it is simple. Play well enough and you don’t have to rely on good fortune.

“I’m sure you need breaks in any tournaments, not just majors but I think if you get to a certain level and play well enough then you can eradicate luck to a certain extent,” said the world No 2. “I’m fairly sure that Tiger [Woods] hasn’t been lucky 14 times or Jack [Nicklaus] been lucky 18 times. That is why you practise. To get so good that luck doesn’t come in to it.”

This last week here at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational has witnessed Westwood making the improvements which he believes will help him make the breakthrough to claim a first major title. As revealed in The Independent on Tuesday, he has signed up with a sports psychologist in Dr Bob Rotella and a putting doctor in Dave Stockton.

After the Open, Westwood decided enough was enough. He led the tee-to-green starts but his putting was so poor he somehow contrived to miss the cut. “You can’t just keep on doing the same thing over and over and expect different results,” he was told by his agent Chubby Chandler.

So, after more than a decade of resistance, he finally sought the assistance of a mind guru. Rotella told him to “putt like he did when he was 14” and stop over-analysing the space between the ball and the cup. Stockton introduced drills to make him grip the putter with less pressure. The result has been a more rhythmic motion.

Westwood has been pleased with the progress although, as he set out in the final round here, he stressed the need for patience.

“I’ve been stuck in a rut for two years now so it’s not going to come out in a couple of weeks,” said Westwood, who claimed not to have enjoyed a good putting week since winning in Dubai in 2009. “This is something I’ve got to keep working on, getting a bit of continuity.”

Not that Westwood is writing off his chances at Atlanta Athletic Club, which hosts the season’s final major. He says he was in a “rut”, but in these two years he has won four times and held the world No 1 ranking. Furthermore, he has finished runner-up in both the Masters and the Open and finished third in a US Open. Some players would refer to this as a “groove” rather than a “rut”.

This self-deprecation is indicative of the scale of his ambition. But he is refusing to get caught up by all the emotion of the “Chubby Slam”. Clarke has stated his desire to see Westwood win the USPGA and complete the four-timer for International Sports Management, who also oversee the US Open champion, Rory McIlroy, and the Masters champion, Charl Schwartzel. Chandler has said a Westwood win would “complete” the year. Westwood, however, sees it differently.

“If the year was all about Atlanta now I’d have been putting too much pressure on myself,” he said. “I don’t really compare myself to anybody else and it’s not something that particularly bothers me. Obviously somebody like Darren winning who’s nearly 43, that’s five years away and it’s a way of not putting pressure on yourself.”

Rotella’s main mantra is to play “unconscious”. The trick to winning majors is not thinking about winning majors. Westwood is a convert. “You try not to think of it as a major because it puts undue pressure on you,” he said. “You want to approach it like any other week. Try to hit that first fairway on Thursday morning and go from there.”

And Woods could do with hitting that piece of cut grass. On Saturday he hit only four fairways all day and yesterday his driver was once again misbehaving as he went through the first 10 holes in three over.

A double-bogey on the sixth, after a wild hook off the tee, undid all the good work of his birdies on the second and fifth. On the 10th he dropped another with another wicked pull.

It is fair to say that, at three-over for the tournament, the Westwood comeback was not going to plan.

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