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Westwood feels same old Masters confidence

Lee Westwood is as ready as ever to end his chase for a major championship at the Masters this week.

Westwood, ranked third in the world, has come close to ending the drought over the past four seasons — including a second-place finish to Phil Mickelson at Augusta National in 2010.

Westwood said he feels an extra shot of confidence whenever he arrives at the Masters and this year's no different.

"I feel pretty confident," he said Tuesday. "Game feels in good shape."

Westwood ended two weeks off at the Houston Open, finishing 21st in his last tune up before the Masters.

Westwood's been a regular on major leaderboards the past few seasons. He was third last year at the U.S. Open and also finished second at the 2010 British Open after his runner-up showing at the Masters.

He's also tied for third at the 2009 British Open and PGA Championship and took third at the 2008 U.S. Open.

Westwood is glad to be in contention so often. Still, there's continuing disappointment that he hasn't been the one hoisting the trophy and hearing the cheers at the end.

"It's quite frustrating at a time when you keep coming close," Westwood said.

Not that Westwood's panicking over lost chances.

He believes the shelf life for top-level golfers has increased through exercise and fitness. Look at what Darren Clarke accomplished last season, Westwood says, in winning the British Open for his first major at age 42.

"It's no surprise that the likes of Steve Stricker, Darren, Vijay (Singh) a few years back; Kenny Perry came close here," Westwood said. "I see it continuing. We are almost more of athletes now than we used to be."

Westwood likes the way he's playing, even if he hasn't played all that often in the season's early months. He finished fourth at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship and fourth at the Honda Classic.

Westwood also tied for second on the European Tour's Dubai Desert event.

"I have started this season better than I do most seasons with some good results this year," he said. "Had a couple of chances to win."

It usually seems like Westwood's in the mix at Augusta National. He had a pair of 11ths in 2008 and 2011 to go along with his second in 2010. Westwood has the distance to handle the 7,435-yard layout and the short game to give himself a chance on the greens.

"I always felt like I could do it here," Westwood said. "I always felt like the golf course suits my game. But when you come close like that, it gives you an extra boost of confidence out there."

Westwood said he returns to the course with an open mind, prepared to deal with the subtle year-to-year changes at Augusta National. He said the 8th and 16th greens have been changed to accommodate new pins.

"Even standing there and just staring at it, you can't see the obvious change," Westwood said. "So it's not a case of relearning the greens because every putt you have out there is a new challenge."

Westwood's not the only one seeking a major breakthrough at Augusta.

World No. 1 Luke Donald has had three top-10 finishes in seven Masters appearances and comes in off a victory at the Transitions Championship last month.

U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy is seeking redemption from his final round meltdown here that cost him the Masters title a year ago. He also enters with a recent victory in the Honda Classic.

And, of course, there's four-time Masters winner Tiger Woods, who is looking to end a four-year dry spell at the majors after collecting his first PGA Tour victory in three seasons at the Arnold Palmer Invitational two weeks back.

"I'm excited to play in the Masters and I'm excited just to come here. I'm not so excited that everybody is playing well, obviously," Westwood said with a smile. "I wish that everybody was playing poorly."