Published April 05, 2011
AUGUSTA, Ga. – Amid the euphoria of winning the Masters for the third time, Phil Mickelson couldn't help but feel empathy for Lee Westwood as they sat in the scoring hut behind the 18th green to sign their scorecards.
Westwood is regarded as the best player to have never won a major.
It's a label that dogged Mickelson for years.
Westwood for sure has come close. He missed two playoffs by one putt — the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, the British Open a year later at Turnberry — and had a 54-hole lead at the Masters last year until Mickelson rallied to beat him by three.
The words from Mickelson only help him believe his time is coming.
"I sat in the scoring cabin and he said, 'Just keep doing what you're doing and it will happen for you sooner or later,'" Westwood said.
The 37-year-old from England has reason to believe it could be sooner. He started the year at No. 1 in the world, a position he earned not so much by winning a lot but by contending just about every time he played, particularly in the majors. His runner-up at Augusta National showed he could win. And then came Monday evening on the putting green with his father.
Westwood has been struggling in the greens this year, particularly last week in the Houston Open when he played the first three rounds with Mickelson and watched the three-time Masters champion shoot 63 in the third round to pull away.
No one has watched him develop more than his father, so they worked on his alignment and realized his mistakes were simple to fix.
"Feels and looks a lot better," Westwood said. "I'm getting quite confident now. I've been struggling with my alignment a little bit, so we worked on that and getting a bit close to the ball with my eyes over the ball a little bit more. The path the putter is now making is better."
Of course, just getting to Augusta National was a big deal in so many ways.
Westwood was on a private jet from Houston when smoke began to fill the cabin a few minutes after takeoff. It gave everyone a brief scare as the pilots donned oxygen masks, quickly turned the plane around and returned to the airport, where fire trucks were waiting.
Westwood downplayed the scare on Tuesday, making light of his agent, Chubby Chandler.
"You talk to Chubby, there were flames coming up between our legs and things like that," Westwood said with a laugh. "It was a bit nervy for three or four minutes, but not as drama-filled as some would have you make out. If you read The Sun, you would think we were on fire and landing like Memphis Belle or something like that."
Westwood put out one humorous tweet about the fire trucks on the tarmac, noting that they surely weren't there for his putter. It's been on the ice cold side of golf in recent months.
Westwood got off to a slow start, as he often does, and wound up losing the No. 1 ranking to Martin Kaymer. His focus now is on winning that first major, especially after so many close calls.
Especially after last year.
"I understand where Lee is at, and he's been the No. 1 player in the world for a few months until Martin took over," Mickelson said. "And I think his game is at such a high level right now that I just think it's a matter of time."
No one has had a more consistently good record in the majors over the last few years than Westwood — at least those who haven't won a major. He tied for third in the British Open and PGA Championship in 2009, had the runner-up finish at the Masters and British Open last year. And here comes his next try.
"I feel like everything's coming together," Westwood said. "I'm generally a pretty slow starter most years. But this year, I've shot some good scores and played some good golf at times. So if it all clicks into place this week ... I know if I'm on my game, it's good enough to win."