Westwood questions major attraction
HEARD the one about the world No 1 who has not won a major? Lee Westwood has heard it until his yawns have survived the stifling. Indeed, Luke Donald is coming under the same criticisms which this time last year were bouncing off his fellow Englishman's muscled frame.
Baffled doesn't begin to describe Westwood's mood when he peers at some of the comments Donald receives on social networks, and even in certain sections of the paid media.
"I don't think people realise how well he's played to not only top the rankings, but become the first player in history to win both money lists in the same year," Westwood told The Independent yesterday as he prepared for today's first round of the Thailand Golf Championship. "All that 'But he hasn't won a major' thing is crap. I don't think anyone should try to demean what he has achieved."
Yet try they will, holding up the ranking system like a lawyer for the prosecution brandishing the charge-sheet. "The ranking system works well," said Westwood, who held the No 1 tag for 22 weeks until Donald usurped him at Wentworth in May. "Of course, if people aren't happy with who's at the top - and that's usually if the world No 1 happens not to be from their country - they'll say it's flawed. But you ask the players and they'll tell you it's not flawed. Play well move up, play badly move down."
Consistency may be a dull word, but in a game of so many variables it happens to be awe-inspiring. Before Donald, who on Tuesday was named PGA Tour Player of the Year, and his 20 top-10s in 26 events, there was Westwood with a spell of week-in, week-out success. "It's a mental challenge more than physical," said Westwood. "So you have a great week, allow yourself to get on a high ... and then two days later you have to tell yourself to rein it back in and regroup for the next tournament. That's why not a lot of people win back to back."
Westwood triumphed on successive weeks in Asia in May and made it a treble for 2011 with his win two weeks ago in Sun City, taking his year's earning past (pounds sterling)3m. But in this 12 months his ranking has fallen to No 3, and so the doubting has inevitably begun. "I've won three times and finished top-10 in two majors and lost a play-off in the biggest tournament on the European Tour [the PGA Championship]," he said. "So it's not been a complete disaster has it?
He added: "I'm at the stage of my career where, if I don't win a major, people think I've had a disappointing year. That's a testament to the level I've been playing at these last few years."
And even when he finishes out of the top 20, like he did at last week's Dubai World Championship, the news is not all bad. His Race To Dubai earnings took him above Ernie Els at the top of the European Tour career earnings chart. In a sport in which so much is decided by the money earned, this is no small feat. "It's not bad for a lad from Worksop is it?" said the 38-year-old. "I've gone past the A26m mark. It could be worse. But all you lot want to ask me about is having not won a major. I find that kind of amazing."
Not that Westwood has diverted his focus from his own major craving as he chases a fourth title of the season in this Asian Tour event at Amata Spring Country Club just outside the Thai capital, where he faces the likes of Sergio Garcia, Charl Schwartzel, Darren Clarke and Ryo Ishikawa. But with him is his fitness instructor, Steve McGregor, for the exhaustive gym workouts he puts in with a view to tournaments taking place next year.
"You have to bust yourself up in the gym at least at some point in a year," said Westwood. "You make sacrifices to make gains. If you want to have a normal lifestyle then you have to work twice as hard. For the last six to seven weeks I have been working with my mind on the Masters in April. You don't just pitch up at Augusta and turn it on for that week."
A fortnight ago he retained his Sun City title after a brilliant third-round 62. "You get in that zone when your parameters are finely tuned in," Westwood explained. "Usually they're a football field apart - but then they're just the width of a train track apart. It's a special feeling. But I didn't feel invincible because you don't know what's around the corner. In this game you never do."