In Dubai this week Lee Westwood will attempt to top the Race to Dubai, 20 years after his first money list title
Next week Lee Westwood will bring the shutters down on his 27th season on the European Tour and, remarkably, it could be one of his greatest yet at the ripe old age of 47. Should things work out his way – he won here in 2009 – then he could capture his third money list title to put a smile on plenty of people’s faces in one of the strangest and most forgettable of years.
Even after his 44 wins around the world you might still say that Westwood is a bit underrated. Our obsession on the majors means that he’s somehow seen as a bit of a nearly man even though he might be one of the best ball strikers Europe has ever produced. A lot is made of Tiger Woods being able to hit all the nine basic flights with his irons and the only player that Robert Rock, now his coach on tour, has seen do that on the European Tour is Westwood.
“I watched him in Portugal and he was able to move them all over the place and he was manufacturing them all to the various flags on the range.”
In three years he’ll likely captain the European team in the Ryder Cup in Italy, next summer he might well be playing himself.
These are the days of the bombers and a send-it-out-there approach and, while Westwood certainly isn’t short, he’s understandably lagging behind some of his younger peers. This year he averages 290 yards off the tee, which is 12 yards down on the average, and good for 129th on the standings. The good news is he’s still arrow straight – in his pomp he might have been the best driver of a ball on the planet – and he’s revolutionised his putting where he sits in 9th place on Putts Per GIR.
He began his career with a set of Ping Eye 2s and he’s been with the same company ever since. He’ll rarely change his clubs and he’ll never change his Ping JZ stiff shafts.
“I like the clubs to stay the same and then, if I’m hitting them bad, then I know it’s me.”
He often has his son or his fiancée on the bag and the approach these days is as relaxed as it’s ever been. If ever there was a picture of contentment on a golfer it would be Westwood these days; dropped shots are brushed off as he knows the good stuff is just around the corner.
And he’s still inside the world’s top 50 and ahead of the likes of Matt Wallace and Rickie Fowler even after missing out on plenty of points when golf resumed in the States this year. When he captured the first Tour Championship in Dubai he played the four rounds in 23 under which has only been eclipsed by Henrik Stenson five years later. He won by six and it gave him the inaugural Race to Dubai crown 15 years after making his debut on the European Tour – and here he is still in with a shout of finishing as top dog all over again.
When he won that week he explained how his long-time caddy Billy Foster played a big role in his trouncing of the field.
“He said that I had been paying too much attention to the other people around me, looking at boards too much, worrying what other people were doing. He said, "You've won seven times in a year and 30 times in your career, which is more than the other three guys that were trying to win the money list put together probably,” explained Westwood.
“It’s a terrible word but he said, "you've got to bully them on the course. You've got to be yourself again and get back that instinct I had in the late 90s and 2000."
After two days Rory McIlroy was so mentally battered by Westwood’s brilliance that he let slip that he would be glad of the break over the weekend.
It might be more of a softly-softly approach these days but his 567th start on the European Tour could very well be one to remember.