This week’s Open Championship will award no fewer than seven individual prizes from the Claret Jug to the winner of golf’s oldest major and the Braid-Taylor Memorial medal to the PGA member who finishes in the highest position.
Just don’t mention to Lee Westwood there’s no prize for the golfer in the field this week who will have played close to the most Open Championships. In fact, the now 48-year-old Westwood will be teeing-up in his 26th Open Championship in an unbroken run from his debut as a then 22-year-old in the 1995 Open at St. Andrews. That’s just one less Open Championship than Phil Mickelson.
Westwood’s best finish in The Open was in 2010 when he was a distant seven shots behind as runner-up to Louis Oosthuizen, and while Westwood had won twice as a junior on this week’s Royal St. George’s course, he missed the cut in both the 2003 and 2011 Open when last staged on this Kent course.
“Coming into this week, I’ve played here twice in the Open Championship, missed the cut both times,” he said.
“I kind of had it in my head, a bit of a mental block that I didn’t like the golf course, but played it yesterday and really enjoyed it. I love the way it was set up. I couldn’t really remember the golf course too much, probably because I didn’t have that much experience of playing on it, only having played two rounds each Open. I really enjoyed it. Enjoyed the conditions and had good company to play with, Dustin (Johnson), Rory (McIlroy) and Danny (Willett), and yeah, sort of turned my head around and made me look forward to the week even more really.
“I’m positive and hoping I can find some form and get into contention. Like all links tournaments, you need a little bit of luck with the weather, and like golf, you need a little bit of luck, you need some good breaks.
“I think the hardest part about this week could be adjusting to the greens. They seemed quite slow yesterday. I don’t know how fast they’re planning on getting them, but I left a lot of putts short and in the middle. That would be kind of frustrating as the week goes on if I don’t start to get it to the hole.
“It’s a pretty straightforward golf course. It kind of tells you where to hit it. Yeah, there’s a couple of fairways that it barrels off. The first, I hit a good tee shot, what I thought was a good tee shot and it was a right-hand semi. The 17th tends to be a little bit like that and 12 does, as well.
“But other than that, it’s a pretty fair golf course. How you play is pretty much what you’re going to get, I think. Yeah, I’m looking forward to it.”
Westwood was asked his memories of Royal St. George’s and revealed his prior success on this week’s host venue.
“Well, being home on Friday night at the last two Opens and watching most of the weekend on TV, that I could stomach,” he said with a half-smile. “But no, I don’t really remember too much of it. I did win around here as an amateur, at least a 36-hole tournament. It was at Royal Cinque Ports and here when they played the English Amateur there were 36 holes on Saturday and Sunday and I won both of them.
“So, I’ve had some kind of form around here in the past. Just trying to look at it more positively than I’ve missed two cuts. There will be underlying facts there; might not have been playing well or my head might not have been in the right place. I don’t really have too many memories of The Open Championship here.”
And then in wrapping-up his pre-Open conference, we got that taste of the now four-time European No. 1’s personality we all love when Westwood was asked to place Royal St. George’s into perspective when compared to other venues on the Open rota.
“Well, it’s the warmest because it’s the furthest south,” he said again with a half-smile.
“It’s always throwing up interesting winners, hasn’t it? As far back as I can remember watching golf, Sandy (Lyle), Greg (Norman), Darren (Clarke) and Ben Curtis. A great variety. You’d say it doesn’t favour one player or another.
“Obviously nowadays if you hit the ball a long way, that’s an advantage, but it’s only an advantage around here if you hit it straight, as well. I don’t think this is one of those golf courses that you can overpower. You can overpower it with a straight shot, but you can’t hit it in the rough and play it I don’t think, especially the way they’ve set it up. I’d say it’s pretty fair to all.
“You bring up Muirfield. I missed the cut when it was played there previously in 2002. I think it was when Ernie (Els) won, and then I go back to 2013 and nearly win it. It’s a lottery. Links golf is even more of a lottery.”
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