Lee Westwood climbed off his sick bed today and gave a performance that ought to make every European – not just Ian Woosnam – want him in the Ryder Cup next month.
Suffering from suspected tonsillitis and felling jelly-legged and generally “rotten“, Westwood returned a four-under-par 68 to be only off the lead after the opening round of the BMW International Open in Munich.
The event is the last leg of the year-long race for places in Woosnam’s side for the K Club in three weeks’ time and while the former European number one cannot qualify on points any more, he and Darren Clarke are favourites to be given the two wildcards on Sunday night.
With Ian Poulter, another possible pick, crashing to a 76, 10th-placed Paul McGinley managing only a 75 and Jose Maria Olazabal, who may end up needing one, controversially deciding not to play, the ailing Westwood had done himself a power of good.
“If it was not the last Ryder Cup event I would certainly be in bed,” said the Worksop golfer.
“I spoke to Woosie on Tuesday and he said ’if you are really ill you should not come, but if you do I’ll be pleased’.
“My legs started to go at the end of the round and my head’s spinning, but I don’t think my mental strength has ever been in doubt. You don’t win 27 events without being mentally strong.
“I’ve been getting tonsillitis twice a year and getting run down very easily. It makes me wonder why I am bothering to play both tours (America and Europe) - my schedule’s been very poor this year.”
Westwood, who pulled out of last week’s event in Akron before the final round, is due to continue going east next week, but his participation in the Singapore Open is now doubtful.
“I don’t have to fly until Monday night and I’ll just see how I feel,” he commented.
Even without his illness Westwood has been worried about fatigue late in rounds and a physiologist is with him this week taking readings off patches on his body and measuring the distance he walks and the fluid he loses.
Twice a winner of the European Open at the K Club, Westwood has not won anywhere for three years and earlier this year missed seven cuts in a row.
He added: “That was after my gran died and obviously Heather (Clarke’s wife, who died of cancer on August 13) played on all our minds the last few months. For a year really.
“I would have taken level par today. Trying to impress is all pressure, all draining, but I just wanted to prove why I was there.”
An eagle at the 482-yard sixth certainly did that as he moved onto the heels of the four joint leaders – fellow Englishmen David Howell and Gary Evans, Welshman Garry Houston and Swede Martin Erlandsson.
All but Howell, the holder of this title, are seeking their first victories on the circuit.
Meanwhile, in the battle for the last three spots in Woosnam’s side, Colin Montgomerie became a central figure in the drama – not just by how he played, but also by what he said.
Like Howell the Scot is already in the team, but his two-under 70 puts him on course to achieve the top-47 finish that would put the absent Olazabal in danger of missing out.
Montgomerie said after hearing that tiredness was one of the reasons for the Spaniard’s decision not to make the trip: “There’s a long winter to be tired.
“I am very surprised not to see him here. If I was in his position I would be.
“I think the team’s weaker without him and I feel for Ian (Woosnam) in a way if he has another problem with picking.”
McGinley, out of bounds for a double-bogey seven on the same hole Westwood eagled, was the one who had cause to be most pleased about Montgomerie’s round.
If Olazabal drops to 10th in the table he moves up to ninth and two others would have to go past him to deny him a third cap.
Paul Broadhurst, Johan Edfors and John Bickerton are close enough on the table to be able to do that, but Broadhurst, who needs a top-three finish, fell from three under to level par in the last five holes, Edfors returned the same score and Bickerton was one worse.
The biggest danger to Olazabal could yet be Thomas Bjorn. The Dane cannot catch McGinley, but he can catch the twice Masters champion by winning, and with a one-under 71 that is still a possibility.
Woosnam played with Howell and Luke Donald and could only be delighted by what he saw, although whether he was is not known because he did not want to speak afterwards.
Donald was the star of the threeball for most of the day and posted a 68, but Howell suddenly stole the show with a birdie-birdie-eagle finish.
After three months of sub-standard golf by the level he now expects himself to perform at the Swindon golfer was delighted, especially by the eagle – he had not had one since the Qatar Masters in January.
A drive and 263-yard three-wood to eight feet brought it about and Howell said: “They were two of the purest shots I’ve hit in a long time.
“My poor form came as a bit of a shock and it would be nice to challenge for a tournament again.
“If the ball’s not going where you want it to it’s hard to be confident, but this is my first title defence for seven years and I’d like to make a good fist of it.”
Padraig Harrington, paired with McGinley, came into the week not totally certain of his cup place. But after a 70 he is not sweating like his fellow Dubliner.
Damien McGrane was best of the Irish today on three under par. Gary Murphy is one over, with Peter Lawrie a further shot behind.
David Higgins is on four over par.