Monday, 22 July 2013

Lee Westwood's Downfall

Lee Westwood is one of the best golfers in the world, a former World Number One player, multiple time winner of a victorious European Ryder Cup team where he has become talismanic as his countryman, Ian Poulter.

Yet one thing still remains missing from the Englishman's resume, a golfing major. In recent years, Westwood has been knocking on the door only for the door to be firmly shut.  Yesterday at Muirfield, he probably had his best chance ever of winning, leading by two strokes after the third round, Westwood knew if he could go round in level par or maybe a shot or two under par it would take something pretty magical from someone else to overcome him.

As luck would have it, even if Westwood did go round in level par it would only have been good enough for a play-off with eventual winner Phil Mickleson, whose final round 66 was the best round of the week and rightly deserving of winning his first Claret Jug.

Unlike last year, when Adam Scott's personal implosion of bogeying the last four holes gave the title to Ernie Els, this was more a matter of Mickelson winning the trophy rather than Westwood losing it.  Yet the question must be asked what does Westwood have to do to get the monkey off of his back, and why does he keep falling short.

Westwood did not do the things right, he missed fairways off the tee, failed to make greens in regulation and yet he made putts to save par when he needed to.  So often his putting has let him down, for once it empowered him and it was his play off the tee - wayward and rash - which cost him his chance.

This is now 63 majors without a success, is Westwood destined to be like Colin Montgomerie the best player year-in, year-out who cannot win the big one.

Golf is as much a sport of exterior circumstances, as opposed to your own play.  The performance of fellow competitors can affect your own performance, if you notice a leaderboard changing and a certain player making a charge of birdies it can cause you to become distracted.

Westwood may have been guilty of thinking that maybe this was not going to be his day, which leads to bad decision making and poor shot selection, leading to negative thought patterns such as blaming yourself when really an excuse can be made that the weather was not the best for Westwood's game.  His tendency to hit the ball high and long was not best suited to the windiest conditions of the week, in contrast to Friday and Saturday when the dry still wind led to him being able to control his ball flight.  Look at Mickelson, who used the elements to his advantage due to his imagination.

Westwood could have gained momentum from several par saving putts, yet it all came a cropper when he found a bunker on a Par 3 which took two strokes to escape from, leading to a bogey saving putt.  Yet a stroke was dropped, meaning the overnight leader came closer to the chasing pack, so Mickelson who was five strokes adrift all of a sudden looked capable of getting close.  Mickelson birdied four of the last six holes, the same six holes that people claimed were the hardest of the course.

Westwood needed to remain in control of his emotions and avoid making mistakes, perhaps emulating a hero of his - Nick Faldo's memorable Par 71 round in 1987 which led to his first major would have been the way to go - yet once dropped shots came before the turn and thereafter it was an uphill battle. Even the sight of playing partner Hunter Mahan making an eagle 3 on the par 5 9th must have been disheartening.

With the continual attempts to regain momentum suffering due to bad shots and failure to find the fairway, doubt can start to creep into any erstwhile competitor with the same questions of 'Will I ever win? What can I do different?' repeating themselves in your mind.

Westwood is still capable, and the employment of Sean Foley (Tiger Woods' swing coach) may well add a few strings to his bow, yet the chances are coming shorter yet the success of players after the age of 40 (Angel Cabrera, Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson) in being able to win majors can fill him with confidence.

The only question is, how much of a battering has his confidence taken after this recent collapse at the final hurdle?

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