Golden opportunity for Westwood

NO Tiger Woods, no Phil Mickelson. Surely then no better opportunity for Lee Westwood to win his first World Golf Championships title.

Except for one thing. In nine previous attempts in the Accenture Match Play he has never been made it beyond the second round, let alone all the way to a title now worth nearly £900,000.

So poor is Westwood’s record that when five-year-old daughter Poppy asked on Sunday when he would be back home from Tucson, Arizona, the world number four had to laugh.

“Historically Thursday, optimistically Monday,” he said, adding that both Poppy and eight-year-old son Sam then looked at him “quizzically.”

Never before, though, has Westwood been the second seed. He has been lifted to that lofty perch not only by his own stellar form, but also by Woods staying out of sight of the world since his private life went into meltdown at the end of November and then Mickelson deciding he was not going to play this week either.

It is only a couple of years ago that Westwood, who faces stablemate Chris Wood in the opening round today, considered skipping the event as well because the long journey had yielded so little reward.

“It’s debatable, but I had no tournament on the week before and nothing the week after,” he said.

“I think it’s worth being here because obviously it’s a prestigious title, there’s plenty of world ranking points and we don’t get to play much match play. Everybody’s quite capable of shooting a 63 or 62 out there and that can happen against you, so you need a few breaks.

“You’re going to play poorly one round this week and hopefully when you do the other guy plays a little bit worse. But on the reverse side of the coin you can shoot 65 and lose.”

Only once has Westwood been thrashed. Five years ago he suffered what was then a record-equalling seven and six defeat to Davis Love III in the second round. That was while the event was at La Costa near San Diego, where he also lost in 2006 to Scott Verplank at the eighth extra hole – matching the record for the longest ever match in the event.

Westwood’s main target for this season is, of course, a first major but, asked where he would rank a World Golf Championship victory, he said: “Just behind a major and the money list.

“I like the money list (he won that for a second time in November) because it shows consistency over a whole year. But it’s certainly only just a tier below that.”

Although his seeding means that “statistically you should have a better first round”, Westwood is not taking 22-year-old Wood lightly.

It is a clash between Europe’s number one and the continent’s Rookie of the Year last season and the last time he played match play, at September’s Vivendi Trophy in Paris, Wood top-scored with 4 1/2 points out of five in Britain and Ireland’s victory over Continental Europe.

They are two other all-European duels in the first round – Luke Donald against Graeme McDowell and Oliver Wilson against Miguel Angel Jimenez.

Wilson is hoping Jimenez is still celebrating his Dubai Desert Classic triumph two weeks ago - he beat Westwood in a play-off - while Donald is looking to follow up his runner-up finish in Los Angeles on the same day. The player to beat him there was American Steve Stricker, who went to world number two as a result and is accordingly the top seed now.

Stricker opens against England’s last man in Ross McGowan, while fifth seed Rory McIlroy tackles world number 61 Kevin Na. Twenty-year-old McIlroy reached the last eight last year, but two other British players got further. Ross Fisher was a semi-finalist – and in October won golf’s other World Match Play title in Spain – but was beaten by Paul Casey, who then lost to Australian Geoff Ogilvy in the final.

With no fewer than 25 Europeans in the 64-man field it will be a huge disappointment is none is contesting the latter stages again.

- Organisers have announced Royal Liverpool Golf Club will host the British Open in 2014.It will be the 12th time the Hoylake links has hosted golf’s oldest major.


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