Starting next week, Lee Westwood will try again. He will try to shake the ghosts of so many runner-up finishes, try to get just a couple more putts to fall and try again to grab that elusive major championship.
He left Firestone Country Club on Sunday thrilled with his four-day performance at the Bridgestone Invitational, where he finished 9 under and tied for ninth, his second top 10 finish of the season. His 5- under 65 on Sunday followed a 2-under 68 on Saturday, earning him $152,500 for the tournament.
“On the weekend, tee to green, that’s probably the best I’ve ever played,” Westwood said. “It was that good.”
Now he’ll focus on next week’s PGA Championship at Atlanta and the opportunity to join his elite group of pals. Charl Schwartzel ,Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke have all won their first majors this season. They’re all represented by golf mogul Chubby Chandler, who also represents former majors champions Ernie Els and Louis Oosthuizen. He also represents Westwood, the world’s second-ranked player who can complete the “Chubby Slam” with a victory next week at Atlanta Athletic Club.
“If I was a gambling man,” Clarke said last month after his British Open victory, “I would have a substantial bet on Lee Westwood winning the PGA. I hope he does.”
He’s certainly playing well enough to be considered a favorite. Westwood sank putts from 10, 13 and 17 feet on the front Sunday, showing signs of finally correcting a putting problem that has ailed him for years. He sank an 8-footer on 18 for par, clinching his second top 10 finish in his past three events.
“I’ve been hitting the ball as good as I’ve hit it all year,” Westwood said. “If I can carry on playing like this next week, I’ll be happy.”
Feeling lost around the greens for the better part of the past two years, Westwood began the week by consulting American sports psychologist Bob Rotella and former U.S. Ryder Cup captain Dave Stockton.
Rotella worked with Clarke before his victory at Royal St. George’s and Stockton has worked recently with Mc-Ilroy, who won the U.S. Open in June. Stockton, a known putting guru, changed Westwood’s grip pressure and decreased the amount of time he stands over a putt.
“[Rotella] says you’re going to have a lot of birdie chances, don’t put pressure on each one,” Westwood said. “One isn’t that important and you’ll have a lot more as the round goes on. That’s taken a lot of pressure off my game.”
The results are already evident. Westwood needed just 27 putts on Sunday and said the only time he really struggled to make par was on 18. Sunday was his only bogey-free round of the tournament.
“I’ve been stuck in a rut for two years,” Westwood said of his putts. “It’s not going to come out in one or two days. It’s something I need to keep working on.”
Now his focus will turn to another major. He has been painfully close many times before, finishing second last year at the Masters and the British Open. He tied for third at both the British Open and PGA Championship in 2009 and he was third at the U.S. Open in ’08.
“He’s such a good player and most of the majors, he’s had a good week,” Oosthuizen said. “The way he’s playing, he’s still got loads of opportunity. He’s in good shape with a lot of golf left.”
Added Clarke: “Things haven’t gone his way, but I’m sure that they will go his way because he’s too good. The game is fickle. It hammers you, it hammers you and then it gives you something. Of all people, I think Lee Westwood deserves something to be given to him.”
Westwood will try his best to approach next week like any other and not fret about the hole in his record. He said it simply adds too much undue pressure during a week that is tense enough.
“I’m a lot more excited than I was going into the [British] Open,” Westwood said. “I want to hit that first fairway Thursday morning and go from there.”
Jason Lloyd can be reached at email@example.com.