Westwood faces major challenge
The old adage says you can't win the tournament on the first day but you can lose it.
Lee Westwood is on the brink of testing that out.
The Englishman was feted by many as the Open champion-elect at Royal Lytham this week, given the way he consistently knocks on the door in majors.
Westwood has finished in the top three in seven of the past 16 of golf's big four tournaments, and plenty of pundits think it is only a matter of time he wins, although at 39 time is probably also running out.
But his pin-point tee-to-green game, on an intricate bunker-infested track, and an experienced, unruffled demeanour, born from several scraps at the sharp end of majors, were supposed to pave the way to a first major title, at the 58th attempt.
England - starved of an Open champion since Nick Faldo in 1992 - expected, and Westwood - or maybe Luke Donald - was supposed to deliver. Let's be clear - he yet might.
But a first-round 73 in calm, dry conditions that begged to be taken advantage of, left Westwood nine shots off the lead of Adam Scott. The Australian did make Lady Lytham blush and shot a 64 to equal the Lytham course record in an Open.
Westwood has 22 European Tour wins, but is searching for his first major Photo: Reuters
Westwood, who began with two birdies but quickly leaked a double bogey on the third, could not get past first base.
Four bogeys after the turn brought him home in 40, and afterwards he confessed he has been struggling for some time. If only he had told us before we all trooped down the bookies.
"The start was a bit of a lie, really," said the world number three.
"I don't feel in control of the ball at the moment and you get found out pretty quickly around an Open Championship course. I've been working on it for three or four weeks now, since the US Open. I didn't hit it that great there, I got away with a lot."
Straight after his media duties Westwood headed back out to the practice range with coach Pete Cowen. The pair worked through his issues for two-and-a-half hours, before a stint on the chipping green and practice bunker and then a spell on the putting green.
"He's just losing stability in his lower body and leaning into the ball," Cowen told me. "He's losing everything out to the right.
"Everyone reverts to type now and again. It happens. It's just disappointing it should happen now. He'll just have to work hard to get through it.
"He never gets down but it's disappointing because he's been playing great recently."
One man refusing to get too downbeat is BBC commentator Ken Brown, who witnessed - as his playing partner - Seve Ballesteros's wayward route to victory at Lytham in 1979.
"Westwood will have come in here with a lot of expectation and anticipation and he will know he has missed an opportunity," Brown told me.
"He had a good starting time, and there wasn't much breeze about when he played, but still, 73 is right, right in it.
"It's not insurmountable at all. It happens at Lytham. You've got to look at the end of the week. Who knows what the winning score will be but if you finish on 275 - five under - you've got to say 'I've got a chance'. It depends on the breeze and everything but normally around here anyone breaking par has done pretty well.
"So it's not his greatest day but there are miles to go yet. If he shoots three rounds in the 60s, whatever 60s they are, I would say he has a great chance of winning."
The forecast for Friday is dry and calm with winds of less than 5mph in the afternoon (Westwood tees off at 14:21 BST). It is set to get slightly windier on Saturday and there are gusts forecast of up to 30mph on Sunday afternoon.
According to Brown, it is "swings and roundabouts" whether it is easier to chase or defend a lead in windy conditions.
"If you shoot a low score on a windy day obviously you make up a lot of ground, but it's that much harder to do," said Brown.
Of course, Westwood is not alone. Phil Mickelson, runner-up last year, also shot 73, and Justin Rose took 74, while defending champion Darren Clarke finds himself 12 back. Donald is six adrift after a level-par 70.
Rory McIlroy, right in contention at three under, knows only too well how the game works.
His infamous Masters meltdown, and a second-round 80 at St Andrews after a course-record-equalling 63 on day one in the 2010 Open, are testament to how fortunes can change.
"You're just trying to play well and put yourself in position going into Sunday," he said. "It doesn't matter what the leader is on on Thursday."
Westwood et al would also do well to remember that Paul Lawrie, one off Scott's lead at Lytham, came from 10 behind on the final day to win at Carnoustie in 1999.
So you can lose the tournament on day one, but what Westwood has really done is make it a bit more difficult to win.