Tuesday 21 October 2014

Westwood and Poulter reach dizzy heights to turn McGinley's head

James Corrigan

Published 08/08/2014 | 02:30

Lee Westwood watches his tee shot on the 16th hole during the first round of the USPGA Championship at Valhalla
Lee Westwood watches his tee shot on the 16th hole during the first round of the USPGA Championship at Valhalla
Lee Westwood lines up his putt on the 15th green during the first round of the USPGA Championship at Valhalla
Lee Westwood lines up his putt on the 15th green during the first round of the USPGA Championship at Valhalla

Paul McGinley, Europe's Ryder Cup captain, asked him for form so Lee Westwood gave him some. At 41 years of age, the Englishman shot a 65, equalling his lowest score in a Major, sent himself to the top of the US PGA leaderboard and perhaps all the way to Gleneagles in the process.

Can he dare to dream that on his 67th attempt, after eight top threes in the Majors, this will finally be his week? Westwood is not the dreaming type.

But after trampling all over his Valhalla ghosts from the 2008 Ryder Cup, the excitement in his voice was unmistakable. The four missed cuts in succession, which took in the US Open and Open, are now but a mere memory.

He was in the clubhouse lead with American Kevin Chappell and feeling re-energised.

"Last week was big for me – I felt like I turned the corner in Akron," Westwood said. "I was starting to swing it a lot better but that's no good unless you start converting it into low rounds. The first three rounds were frustrating because I played a lot better than three over.

"Then I got it going the final day and shot 63. This is just a continuation of that really."

AGONY AUNT

During this spell, which has seen him slip to 34th in the world and 16th in the Ryder Cup standings, Billy Foster, Westwood's caddie, has played the role of agony aunt.

"I'm not a patient person and I get frustrated really quickly," Westwood said. "That's where a good caddie comes in, sort of talks to you calmly and says 'Just keep doing what you're doing and it will come'. Hate those words from him. But he's right."

But for a double bogey on the first hole (his 10th), when his drive ended up in a divot, this round, which featured nine birdies, would have been even better.

On a day when the pins were tucked away, Westwood went hole chasing and by the end he was finding them with ease, making five birdies in the last six holes.

Westwood hit a wedge to four feet on the fourth (his 13th) but from the sixth it was his oft-lamented putter which did the damage. A 20-footer was followed by a 10-footer, then by another 20-footer and finally there was a 40-footer to finish.

How different it all felt to the last time he was here, when Nick Faldo's disastrous captaincy led to one of just two Ryder Cup defeats Westwood has suffered in eight appearances. "I have blocked that out," Westwood said.

Maybe he has, but it would be ironic if the venue for what he describes as "one of my biggest golfing disappointments" handed him a Ryder lifeline this time around. Looking on from the Sky Sports commentary booth, McGinley would have been delighted.

"I have had chats with Paul and he said 'Try to show some form'," Westwood said. "I don't know whether he's just looking for a reason to pick me, but I have shot 63 last Sunday and I am leading a Major this week, so I am ticking that box for him. I am still trying to qualify for the team to free up a pick for Paul. I don't want to rely on a wild card."

There was also Ian Poulter's 68 to cheer McGinley. Westwood's countryman has also been out of form after a run of injures, which was compounded last week by a horsefly bite which became infected.

"It has been two steps forward and one step back all the time this year," Poulter said. "You feel like you are in position, you feel good about things and you pick something up and you have to rest again so all the good work you've done gets taken away.

"It has really p***ed me off. I'm happy I have been able to work as hard as I want this week and have taken the rewards from that today by playing some very solid golf."

Poulter spent five minutes chatting with McGinley on the practice green before teeing off and has a similar aim to Westwood. "I want to make that team by right," he said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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