Sunday 21 January 2018

Clarke’s loyalty to Westwood is laudable – but is a mistake

Captain's right-hand man has not shown form to repay the faith in him

Europe's Lee Westwood looks dejected after missing his putt on the 18th. Photo: David Davies/PA Wire.
Europe's Lee Westwood looks dejected after missing his putt on the 18th. Photo: David Davies/PA Wire.

Oliver Brown

There had never been any question that Darren Clarke would select Lee Westwood, his closest friend on tour, for this Ryder Cup, but the decision has curdled horribly for both of them. Westwood arrived at Hazeltine a stalwart and has left, by his lofty standards, a husk.

With defeats in both of his pairs matches - one by an emphatic margin on Friday morning, and the other a tone-setting loss on Saturday evening, settled by a horrible missed putt - and a last-hole loss to Ryan Moore (having been three-up with two to play) that handed the trophy to the USA, Westwood must be held at least partly culpable.

The Englishman had arrived in Minnesota with aspirations of surpassing Nick Faldo as Europe's greatest Ryder Cup player. The sadness is that he might never have an opportunity to seize the mantle again. For he leaves Hazeltine with his reputation as a matchplay titan a touch diminished.

At 43, he is three years younger than Phil Mickelson but demonstrably more fragile. This is not the stage of one's career to be assailed by brain-freezes over short putts, and Westwood clearly has a case of the yips that defies easy resolution. The memory of his missed two-footer in the Saturday-night gloaming is likely to test his sanity for some time.

Clarke has been loyal to Westwood, understandably, but this has been one instance where friendship has scrambled golfing logic. A veteran of this European side, appearing at his 10th Ryder Cup, Westwood performed lamentably in the first morning's foursomes and was psychologically shredded. A wildcard too far? On this evidence, yes. At no stage here has he even come close to justifying his place. But Clarke still insisted him on fielding him for the Saturday fourball match that ultimately cost Europe their momentum.

Westwood had been distraught as he left the green, not stopping to answer questions. It was left to Willett to express the shared sense of dismay. "We just couldn't quite back each other up on the putts," he said. That would be an understatement: between them they missed four inside 10 feet on the final two holes.

A fine player does not deserve to be airbrushed from history on the basis of one poor Ryder Cup, and Westwood bequeaths a record to stand comparison with anybody's. Ever since his debut at Valderrama in 1997, he has been a contributor of metronomic consistency.

But the past three days have cruelly exposed the fact that his game is not where it needs to be to cope with the pressure of such a stage.

Clarke, predictably, would not hear a word against Westwood. They are, in many ways, kindred spirits, even if Clarke is much the more splenetic, hot-tempered of the two. They have forged their careers almost in parallel and share a manager, in Chubby Chandler as well as some memorable Ryder Cup history.

In recent years they have been almost inseparable, renting houses together at several major championships.

When asked diplomatically about the rough finish on Saturday evening, Europe's captain replied, gruffly: "Well, I don't know how much golf you watched, but Lee played fantastically all day.

"It was a downhill, right-to-left putt that he would probably make nine times out of 10. But you add in Ryder Cup pressure, he missed it. He was more disappointed for the team than himself. He's a veteran, . . he's fine."

Except that Westwood has patently not been fine at Hazeltine. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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