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Serene Westwood sets course for Masters cruise

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Rob Hodgetts | 08:01 UK time, Friday, 6 April 2012

Lee Westwood bridled earlier this week when asked about the impending Tiger v Rory show at the Masters.

But after hitting a serene 67 to lead the Masters by one after the first round, the laconic Englishman appeared vindicated.

Westwood's response to questions about a "two-horse race" was to pointedly remind the press there were other players in the field.

"I didn't really try and remind everybody," he grinned on Thursday. "I was just trying to be a voice of common sense."

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Westwood's imperious round, set against a context of muddy balls and tough pin positions designed to counter the soft, and theoretically easier conditions, tied his lowest score at the Masters.

And it emulated his opening round from two years ago when he led after three days and finished second to Phil Mickelson.

The Englishman has now shot par or better in 11 of his last 12 rounds at Augusta.

"This is a golf course that I love playing. It seems to suit my game," he said. "It was originally designed as a second-shot golf course. And my iron shots are one of the strengths of my game.

 "I hit pretty much every fairway and 16 greens in regulation and rolled a few nice putts in from sort of five to 10ft, which, when you're hitting it close a lot, is productive."

Westwood, who has worked hard to improve a weakness in his putting, insists he wasn't particularly motivated to prove a point or to show he was a worthy favourite alongside Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Luke Donald and Phil Mickelson.

"No more than normal. Just trying to cruise my way into the tournament and get in a good position and then hopefully stay there," he said.

As Westwood well knows, a first-round lead is just that, nothing more. Everyone will have their own route from A to D, in this case Sunday afternoon.

World number one Donald, who is eight shots adrift, might do well to get there. He nearly didn't make Friday's second round. Disqualification loomed before an administrative error was blamed for an apparent wrong score with his signature on it.

Before the controversy was brought to light, and despite obvious disappointment as one of the top tips, he said all the right things about Friday being a new day, no doubt inspired by his guru Dave Alred.

Donald has realised of late, with five wins in 14 months, that he can close out a tournament even when is not at his best. But with the cut set to trim anyone more than 10 shots off the lead, his belief in that had better be strong.

Woods's fighting qualities have never been in doubt – winning 14 majors and managing two fourths here despite difficult personal circumstances in the last two years are testament to that.

And he praised his patience after a round in which his supposedly firing new swing let him down. Twice the world number seven needed drops from unplayable lies, from a hazard on the second and from behind a tree on 18.

"Same old motor patterns," said Woods, alluding to the swing of former coach Hank Haney, whose controversial book "The Big Miss" about their six years together was published just before the tournament.

"I made some bad swings. That's fine. I said just, 'stay committed'. I really grinded and stayed very patient. At least I have something to build on."

McIlroy, too, struggled to find the fluency that saw him hold at least a share of the lead in the first three rounds last year.

But a two-birdie finish for a one-under 71 gave him plenty to be positive about. In many ways it might be better than leading again and attracting all the attention and memories of 12 months ago.

"It only leaves me four off the lead, and with 54 holes still to play, that's nothing," he said. He, of course, should know.

And what of Mickelson? An adventurous triple-bogey seven he termed "Tarzaneous" - courtesy of a lost ball in the trees to the left of the 10th - could have prompted his own McIlroy-esque meltdown, but he, too, dug deep to limit the damage. With his short-game magic and gamblers' instinct, seven shots may not be too far back either. Nick Faldo (1995) and Woods (2005) have done it from there after 18 holes.

Back at the front, Westwood is well aware of the chatter that accompanies each failure to win a first major as he nears 40 - he will be 39 later this month - but insists his life should not be defined by it.

"I prefer people to remember me as the person I am rather than the golfer," he said.

Obviously if I sit down at the end of my career and there's no major championship wins, I'll be disappointed. If there's five or six, I'll be delighted."

One player who proved he is a class act, even before he teed off, was Mickelson. The three-time champion rose early and donned his Green Jacket to stand behind the first tee at 0740 to watch golf's "big three" from yesteryear - Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player - hit the ceremonial drives, even though his own tee time was six hours later.

"It's an experience that I really enjoyed," he said. "They have brought the game to where it is."

As Westwood stressed, there is a whole field out there with hopes and dreams of slipping into a Green Jacket.

And the likes of Louis Oosthuizen, Peter Hanson, Paul Lawrie, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Francesco Molinari, to name just the next five on the leaderboard, have just as much right as the superstars.
.

It's a start, but that's all it is.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    i love the masters. i literally sat for 6 or 7 hours yesterday and watched it all haha. anywayyyyy. as for the winner, i hope it comes from one of the 3 me bet is on- woods, mickelson or westwood ( westwood was not even backed by one player in 2012 masters predictions rather surprisingly! ) these are not the most adventurous selections but hey ho.
    it would also be nice, as a Scot, to see Paul Lawrie mount a serious challenge. he has been on very good form this year and deserves his place on the ryder cup team that he has earned. since his 1999 Open championship win he has never really pushed on. this year he may do so, although i more suspect around a top 20 finish for him. anyway, good article and good masters so far. long may it continue and good luck especially to Westwood, who deserves a major, and ofcourse Lawrie :)

  • Comment number 2.

    A great first round by Lee, time to kick on now and prove his doubters wrong. yes, we have said the same thing in similar situations in the past, but hopefully this is his time. Come on Westwood we have the faith!

  • Comment number 3.

    2005 is a long way to have to go back before you find a golfer who has made up more than seven shots (in the case of mickelson). I tend to go with more recent trends and recent trend suggests that if you are 4 or more shots off the lead after round 1, you can forget it.

    Thats not set in concrete though, I'm just pointing out the more likely scenario. There will of course, always be exceptions - especially at such a strange event as the masters, where seemingly anything can happen.

    What would really throw the cat among the pidgeons would be some bad weather. Thats when the masters becomes even more of a lottery than it normally is. Fascinating tournament.

  • Comment number 4.

    As for Lee, I'm saying nowt. I'm a Nottingham lad and it should be more than obvious what I'm wishing for. But I'm not saying it, I'm not saying owt. I'm just going to watch with a curious hope in my heart.

  • Comment number 5.

    It's a really positive start for Westwood and gives a bit of hope that he can go on to win but experience as an English sports fan suggests it's not wise to get our hopes up...

    http://samhopwood.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/hope-deferred-makes-sporting-fan-sick.html

  • Comment number 6.

    If we're looking for omens - only one first-round leader (or co-leader) of the Masters has gone on to win the tournament since 1985 - Trevor Immelman in 2008.

  • Comment number 7.

    Fantastic round from Lee but has he missed an opportunity to go really low given how many opportunities he gave himself? Of the 44 players who shot par or better yesterday only 3 had more putts than Lee! However if he plays this well tee to green for the remainder of the tourno and can hole a few more putts then I think its his Masters for the taking. Can't wait to see it unfold over the weekend.

  • Comment number 8.

    I'm afraid Westwood's putting game won't hold up over the weekend when the greens dry out and speed up, another top 10 at a major looms for him. Rory on the other hand played some rubbish golf yesterday and still shot a 71. If Tiger can keep it out of the trees we may see some fireworks over the last 36 holes. Personally i would love to see Harrington make a charge up the leaderboard, he is one the genuine good guys on tour and has demonstrated that he has the mental toughness that is required on the Sunday of a major.

  • Comment number 9.

    Hilarious comments from most of the above - seriously now - does anyone who reads / writes believe they actually have predictive powers ? Even the so-called experts get it wrong 90% of the time....so I ask myself what's the point of even trying to predict a winner. I wonder if ANY of the last 15 major winners were the bookies favourite ? So why should this year's Masters be any different ? I even saw one player saying that he thought that there were only "ten players who could win it"....I wonder if that same player had put Johnson, Immelman and Schwartzel in that 'Top Ten' in recent years. Bottom line is that with ALL the majors - the winner could come from 75% of the field. We might as well pick a name out of the hat.

  • Comment number 10.

    @9 Breadman. But not quite as hilarious as your stupidly inane comments! "Seriously now.....actually have predictive powers?" But of course we have haven't you heard we golf bloggers can predict the future!!! Makes me wonder why you even bother to read the blog let alone post on it.
    @8 Nedthenoodler. A big IF for Woods but wouldn't rule anything out with that guy at Augusta. Harrington implodes too often to remain in contention I feel. Rory played average at best but still shot under par which was impressive in itself. Take your point about Lee's putting....but if he starts to hole a few he will take some beating.

  • Comment number 11.

    Anyone to win except the pompous "Look at me I'm such a great golfer" Westwood.

  • Comment number 12.

    I think that come Sunday, we'll realise how crucial those birdies on 17 and 18 were for McIlroy. Really fancy him to make a surge today, carrying on the momentum so to speak.

    @#3 Woods is more than 4 shots back, but I would argue that in his case you can throw history out of the window, he's good enough to shoot a couple of mega-rounds and win this comfortably.

    I hope a European wins though. I'll be rooting for Lawrie (who's a hero for the magnificent foundation he set up), Jimenez, Westwood and Rory.

  • Comment number 13.

    What on earth? Idiotic comment from CKatBBC. Westwood is one of the most humble (least pompous) golfers on the planet bar none (out shopping at a supermarket for the family when he heard he got to world No.1, still mucks around with some of his schoolmates from Worksop, etc.). He comes across as brittle and awkward because of all the inane questions from journalists (i.e. for the 250th time this week, now your approaching 40 what does it feel like...). Moreover, his experience in the US was hardened by his Ryder Cup mentors experience (Monty) of cruel media abuse, really bad sportsmanship, and crowd hooliganism. I think anyone of us would be slightly guarded under those circumstances...

  • Comment number 14.

    @ indahood193193

    Nobody strongly backed Westwood because his putting is poor in comparison with a Woods or a Donald.

    I have to admit I had my doubts about Westwood, but he played exquisitely yesterday. His driving and iron play was world class and if you were being hyper critical he should have shot much lower considering he had makable birdie puts at each of the last 9 holes.

    For Westwood, it is all about maintaining that superlative driving and iron play which hopefully won't put his short game under scrutiny.

    My each way bets were - Rose, McIlroy and Billy Haas. Would like to see Justin make a move this afternoon.

  • Comment number 15.

    Like I said I feel Sergio can win this. He is playing with a bleeding finger yet look where he is in the leadboard. If not Sergio I'd like to see Phil Mickelson win this. What a great comeback from the treble on the first day. Woods is simply not firing. Couples and Dufner will fall away, Westwood and Mcilroy are clearly big threats at the top but I see Sergio pulling this one off.

 

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