Fully-fit Westwood ready to lead Europe from the front

By Mitch Phillips

NEWPORT (Reuters) - Lee Westwood, Europe's number one who will next week trail only Tiger Woods in the world rankings, said he has fully recovered from his calf injury and ready to lead from the front in his seventh Ryder Cup.

The Englishman has not played competitively for a month after finally succumbing to a calf strain suffered in June and at one point his participation at Celtic Manor this week looked in severe doubt.

However, Westwood told reporters on Thursday he had no concerns over his fitness and was happy to take on the leadership role, hinting he would be the first European teeing off in Friday's opening fourball matches.

"I'm going to go out there and try and hit the first fairway in my match," the 37-year-old said before setting off for his final practice round in benign conditions.

"Try and knock it on the green, try and win that first hole, try and win a point that first morning.

"And I want to see 11 people stood there right behind me following me," added Westwood, who is by far Europe's most experienced Ryder Cup player at Celtic Manor.

"We have got 11 great players who are well capable of following me and playing to the best of their ability."

Westwood was paired on Thursday with 21-year-old Rory McIlroy, who had partnered fellow Northern Irishman Graeme McDowell earlier this week.

With McIlroy and McDowell likely to play together in the fourballs, Westwood and McIlroy appear set for the alternate-shot foursomes format.


In all probability, European captain Colin Montgomerie will pair Westwood with one of the six rookies in the Cup fourballs to help them cope with what is always a nerve-wracking first-time experience.

Westwood, who will overhaul American Phil Mickelson to lie second in the world rankings next week, said he has full confidence in Europe's debutants.

"One is a major champion (Martin Kaymer), another (McIlroy) is 21-years-old and already won in Europe and America and he's the top-10 in the world," Westwood added.

"Two of them have won the last two qualifying events going into the Ryder Cup (Edoardo Molinari and Peter Hanson) -- so they can play under pressure.

"One is about as steady as it gets from tee-to-green, Francesco (Molinari), he's unbelievably impressive and qualified quite easily and the other (Ross Fisher) is a World Match Play Champion, and we are playing match play this week.

"What I'm trying to get at is they are fairly handy and they have travelled the world, played majors and proved they can cope with the ultimate pressure, which this is this week."

Westwood, who made his Ryder Cup debut under Seve Ballesteros in 1997, has played 29 matches and has a particularly impressive pairs record. In foursomes he has six wins and three halves from 11 matches while in fourballs his return is six wins and two halves from 12.

"I have a good record in the Ryder Cup because I enjoy match play," he said. "I'm very passionate in match play but I don't think I give too many holes away. I hit a lot of fairways and greens.

"And I've always been very fortunate to have great partners with similar games to myself. I've always been paired up with Monty who hits a lot of fairways, or Sergio (Garcia) and Darren (Clarke) who are great drivers, and Nick Faldo, Soren Hansen.

"It's not hard to play well when you've got partners like that. But I think the record is partly due to the intensity that I sort of get together for Ryder Cups."

(Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes)