End of a Ryder Cup Era for Lee Westwood
THOMAS BJORN brought the curtain down on an era in European golf when he named Lee Westwood and Graeme McDowell among his four Ryder Cup vice-captains for the match to take place against the United States at Golf National near Paris in September.
The pair join Padraig Harrington and Luke Donald in an impressive backroom team but for Westwood in particular it is also recognition that his days as a world-class golfer have finally come to an end. The man from Worksop is one of the most prolific winners in European Tour history, with 23 victories. He also won twice on the PGA Tour, nine times on the Asian Tour and has won in Africa and Australia.
He played in 10 Ryder Cups, making his debut way back in 1997, and has been a member of seven victorious teams. He would be the first to admit that he was pretty much a passenger in 2016, when the USA regained the trophy at Hazeltine. He failed to score a single point, but it made him all the more determined to qualify for Bjorn’s team this year.
However, at 45 years of age, Westwood has now tumbled out of the world’s top 100 and has played little competitive golf in 2018. He was bitterly disappointed not to make the field for The Masters, the point at which he finally realised the game was up.
It is worth taking time to reflect on some of his achievements in what has been a storied career.
He won his first European Tour title in 1996 at the Volvo Scandinavian Masters, soon afterwards adding the Taiheiyo Masters in Japan, a title he would successfully defend the following season, along with the Malaysian Open, the Volvo Masters and the Australian Open, where he defeated Greg Norman in a playoff, going on to make his Ryder Cup debut at Valderrama under the eccentric leadership of Seve Ballesteros.
His best year came in 2000 when he won seven times and topped the European Tour order of merit, finally bringing to an end the domination of Colin Montgomerie. It is often forgotten that Westwood suffered a slump in form after the birth of his son, Samuel, in 2001. He rebuilt his swing and had to wait until 2003 before he would win again, but it was 2007 before he fought his way back into the world’s top 50, and so began a purple patch that saw the Englishman regularly contend in majors, only to come up agonisingly short on several occasions, most notably at the US Open in 2008, where he finished third, and in 2009 when he finished third at both The Open and the US PGA Championship.
His third-place finish at The Open came at Turnberry, when Sewart Cink defeated the then 59-year-old Tom Watson in a playoff. It was a tournament that Westwood should have won. But he bounced back with victories in the Portugal Masters and the Dubai World Championship to become the first Race to Dubai winner.
The following year he had his best finish at The Masters, finishing one shot behind Phil Mickelson. It was yet another agonising near miss. Incredibly, Westwood has had 18 top-10 finishes in majors and arguably remains the best golfer never to have won one.
His crowning glory came in 2010 when he replaced Tiger Woods as world No 1. He famously heard about his elevation while in a supermarket with his family. When he lost in a playoff to Luke Donald at the 2011 BMW PGA Championship, Donald became the new world No 1 - like Westwood, he also now finds himself outside the top 100 in the rankings.
He was the first British golfer to top the rankings since Nick Faldo and he held the position for 22 weeks. That same year he also won the St Jude Classic and finished second behind Louis Oosthuizen in The Open at St Andrews. He was gaining a reputation as golf’s nearly man.
A beautiful driver of the ball, Westwood would be the first to admit that it was his putting that was his weakness when the chips were really down. Time and again he would hit majestic iron shots, only to get on the green and watch the ball slip past another hole. Had he been able to putt like Mickelson or Woods, there is little doubt that he would have won five or six majors - and that was no more than his talent deserved. He also possessed a wonderful temperament, and had the ability to block out those missed putts and all those near misses. He would simply pick himself up, dust himself down and head off to the next tournament. And more often than not, he would either win it or find himself in contention.
He did it again in 2011 when he finished third at the US Open behind Rory McIlroy. And so it continued. He was third in The Masters in 2012 and was in contention after three rounds at the US Open the same year before finishing 10th. And he led the 2013 Open going into the final round before shooting a final round of 75 to finish in a tie for third. Mickelson won the Claret Jug.
His last European Tour victory came in 2014 at the Maybank, but there was still time for one more Masters disappointment. In 2016 he finished joint runner-up with Jordan Spieth as Danny Willett claimed the Green Jacket. Only Jay Haas appeared in more majors than Westwood (87) without winning.
He has won more than 50m euros in prize money and has inspired a generation of young golfers to take up the game through his golf academy, and is now turning his hand to course design. He may never have managed to land the major he craved, but the record books prove that he is one of the best golfers Europe has ever produced.
Westwood possesses a dry sense of humour and is extremely popular among his peers. He will prove to be an invaluable member of Bjorn’s team in France.
McDowell, the 2010 US Open champion, played in four Ryder Cups, holing the winning putt at Celtic Manor in 2010; three-time major winner Harrington was a member of six Ryder Cup teams and Donald played in the match on four occasions. They all know what it takes to win the trophy and will all play a key part in helping Bjorn to ensure that his team is ready to take on a strong American side.
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