Baker-Finch tips balance for 'calmer' Westwood
Considering the depths to which Ian Baker-Finch plummeted in response to winning the British Open, it is somewhat of a surprise to find him threatening to take such an influence in the 142nd version of the Major.
Particularly as the tale is about an Australian helping an Englishman. Lee Westwood was quick to credit Baker-Finch with the putting display this week thus far which has seen him take 18 one-putts in the first 36 holes.
When contacted last night, Baker-Finch, who has been watching on American TV, welcomed the transformation. "Lee looks different on the greens – more confident and calm," he said.
That much has been obvious, as Westwood has cut his way through the field, using the putter as his scythe. Westwood had "a light bulb moment" when he had an hour-long session with Baker-Finch a fortnight ago.
The scene was the Old Palm practice putting green. Westwood lives about half a mile from Baker-Finch in the Florida gated community and had been playing when they ran into each other in the locker-room. The pair entered a discussion about putting, before Baker-Finch offered to look at Westwood's stroke. He is now so delighted he accepted.
"Ian gave me a couple of tips on the getting tension out of my arms and having a bit more control," Westwood said.
"It's a mental thing. I need to go out there feeling comfortable and he's tried to get across a way of softening everything so I hit putts like a 10-year-old. We all wish we could putt like we did as kids."
In truth, it was anything but child's play, with the greens firming up beyond treacherous levels. They have needed a gentle touch and with Westwood acting on the advice of Baker-Finch to make his arms "almost lifeless" he managed to turn what could have been a 76 and a 72 into a 72-68 and a two-under total which left him tantalisingly poised to win his first Major.
Putting has so often been Westwood's stumbling block. Nobody in the top 20 took more putts than him at last month's US Open, a failing which seemed depressingly familiar. So to find him at the top of the one-putt charts, alongside Tiger Woods, feels excitingly notable.
Baker-Finch will doubtless believe so, having been in the commentary booth for so many of Westwood's close calls. When it comes to golfing agony, nobody is better placed to judge than the 53-year-old.
After winning the 1991 Open at Birkdale, he embarked on a nose-pinching dive which culminated in a 92 at Troon in 1997 that forced him to all but retire. But he has always retained the magic on the greens and it is being put to good use again.
It should escape nobody that the last two British Open winners – Darren Clarke and Ernie Els – were both in their 40s and credited their wins to putting tips. Westwood refused to acknowledge that either of these provided inspiration, although he believes that experience will have been a factor if he does become the eighth player to win their first Major post-40.
"There won't be many people up who haven't played links courses very often in these conditions," he said.
The leaderboard was backing him up. (© Daily Telegraph, London)