Westwood back on top

After three play-off defeats, two near misses in majors and an amazing 26 top-10 finishes since his last victory, Lee Westwood was finally back lifting a trophy tonight.

After three play-off defeats, two near misses in majors and an amazing 26 top-10 finishes since his last victory, Lee Westwood was finally back lifting a trophy tonight.

Westwood ended more than two years without a title by capturing the Portugal Masters by two shots from Italian Francesco Molinari and four from Padraig Harrington.

The added bonus – he would have been happy to win the smallest event – was that the massive first prize of nearly £458,000 takes Westwood from fourth to first on the European money list.

And that is not all. When the Ryder Cup star last tasted success at the British Masters in September 2007 he said his goal was to make the world’s top five again.

Now he has done it and the way he is playing it is not difficult to see him climbing even higher.

Not bad for a former European number one and world number four who, in a nightmare slump seven years ago, fell outside the game’s top 250.

Westwood, who pulled off an unlikely birdie at the long 17th when one ahead, said: “It was nice to finish it off, you never know when the next win is going to come and you start to question yourself.

“You always slightly doubt yourself in the back of your mind and to be number one again feels great. It’s been nearly 10 years since I won it.

“I’m also delighted about the world rankings. I always have a good look at that and it’s a reflection of my consistency.

“But winning is definitely a habit and I got out of the habit. Hopefully now I have won again I can win more.”

The 30th victory of his professional career was achieved at the Oceanico Victoria Club in Vilamoura with a 23-under-par total of 265 after a bogey-free closing 66.

After birdies at the first four holes – he resumed in third spot three behind South African Retief Goosen – the 36-year-old from Worksop had to wait until the long 12th for his next birdie.

Goosen had fallen away by then, but Molinari was level until he missed a three-foot par putt on the short 16th.

Then came the decisive hole. Westwood went long and left at the 589-yard 17th and although he was able to take a free drop he still faced a tricky shot.

“All I could see was trees (right in front of him) and water (over the green) - and I had a really tight lie,” he added.

However, from around 30 yards he almost holed it, tapped in for birdie and then Molinari missed a five-footer that would have returned the gap to one.

Harrington always looked to have too much ground to make up on the final day and afterwards blamed dehydration for his costly third-round 71.

The Dubliner had matched the low round of his career with a 62 to be in third place at halfway and knew a closing 67 was never going to be enough.

To his relief a closing three-putt bogey made no difference to his third place.

“In hindsight I think I got dehydrated,” said the Dubliner, whose last Tour win remains the USPGA in August last year.

“I struggled to concentrate. I drank a phenomenal amount, just not enough. My trainer was watching on TV and you can see it in your face – your eyes really.”

Even with a closing 66 Rory McIlroy was only 30th and so drops down to second place on the Race to Dubai standings.

Both he and Westwood are back in action at the Volvo World Match Play in Spain starting on Thursday week.

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