So after ferocious Thursday when a series of thunderstorms wreaked havoc on Oakmont Country Club, Mother Nature was in a gentle mood Friday morning. Thus did Billy Foster sit comfortably, enveloped by a warm, morning breeze.
It had been one of the longest rounds of golf in his lengthy career as a caddie — approximately 26 hours — but Foster laughed.
True enough, he and Lee Westwood had teed off just after 8am Thursday and now it was 10am Friday, but the good night’s sleep in between left him fresh.
Mother Nature is an unbeatable foe, so Foster worries not at all about how to compete with her.
There are enough challenges that he can exert some control over, so there’ll be no stressing the factors that are beyond his reach. There was rain and lightning and stop and go traffic Thursday?
Nothing Westwood could do about it, so he followed directions when they came his way — to the media centre for shelter, to the clubhouse or locker room an escape — and wherever the Englishman went, Foster followed.
Now, if only that route could lead into the winner’s circle of a major championship. And if it did, wouldn’t the US Open be the likely candidate?
“I think I’ve had my chances at the Open, but I think, if you did look at my game, I suppose the US Open should suit me more than others,” Westwood said.
Then, the 44-year-old from Worksop showed the light-hearted side that has helped him keep his sanity, and his game, in this most demanding profession.
Told of complaints that other players had had about Friday’s revolving door — play, stop, play, stop, play, stop — and how proper chances to warm up had not been provided, Westwood said he didn’t need the extra swings.
“I Rolls Royce-it a lot of the time now. I’ll go and play golf when I’m at home on a Saturday morning or a Sunday morning,” Westwood said.
“I don’t hit any balls to warm up. So now when we’re not hitting balls, I don’t stiffen up or anything like that. Being the finely tuned athlete I am, you wouldn’t expect that, would you?”
His smile wasn’t so much an indication that he thought he was funny as it was a testament to his superb play.
From Thursday into Friday, “he played nicely,” said Foster, and with a round of 3-under 67 Westwood was one off the lead.
Westwood knew he had the rest of Friday off, that his second round wouldn’t commence until 8:11am Saturday.
By then, who knows where his standing would be? The bigger deal is, “I’ve been playing really nicely,” and that has carried into Oakmont.
If 18 holes makes a statement, then it is this: Westwood is in contention at another major and once again at the US Open and while being winless in 72 attempts at these biggest of championships might be too big a burden for most competitors, the Englishman is massively buoyant.
He isn’t dogged by his resume of failures at the Masters, US Open, Open Championship or PGA Championship; he’s thrilled to be on top of his game and in possession of another opportunity.
“It gave me a big boost, a big shot of confidence,” he said. “I haven’t contended in a big tournament for a while, so it was nice to get up there and hang about and give myself a chance.”
Perhaps of the premier players in this generation, Colin Montgomerie is the best without having won a major, but you wouldn’t put Westwood’s name too far behind the Scotsman’s.
A stalwart on the world scene since the late 1990s, Westwood owns 23 wins on the European Tour and 20 more from various global circuits.
Ah, but none are of the “major” flavour and so he’s left with a sour taste in his mouth. Not to the extent that he considers his career a failure, because he doesn’t.
It’s just that Westwood understands that in the end, players at his level are judged by how many of the major titles are on their resume.
Painfully close at the Masters (second in 2010) and Open Championship (second in ’10, third in ’13), it is the US Open of 2008 that perhaps sat closest to Westwood’s grip.
He arrived at the 72nd green needing a birdie to tie Rocco Mediate and force a playoff, only Westwood missed from 15 feet and it was his playing competitor, Tiger Woods, who made his 12-footer to tie.
Of course, Woods prevailed in the playoff. Unfairly, Westwood continued to be seen as a quality player who just couldn’t rise to the occasion in the majors.
That hasn’t changed, perhaps, but Westwood will not stop trying to alter history.
He’s in position, once again, to do just that.
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