PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – It’s only a matter of time before Lee Westwood wins a major – or so the theory goes.
They used to say that about Phil Mickelson. He’s won four.
They’ve also said that, at different times, about Colin Montgomerie, Sergio Garcia, Adam Scott and a slew of others. Those are much different stories.
Heading into the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, Westwood holds the title of “Best Player Never To Have Won A Major.” He’s ranked third in the world and making a run at shedding that label almost every time he tees it up at one of the world’s biggest tournaments.
Like many of those who’ve had that albatross hanging around their necks in the past, Westwood insists all the pressure comes from within, not the outside.
“The main challenge is fulfilling my own expectations,” he said Tuesday. “And especially over the last couple of years, I’ve been putting myself in a position to win a major and feel like I ought to be expected to win a major now.”
He finished second at the Masters this year, tied for third at the British and the PGA last year and finished third at the U.S. Open two years ago. In two of those tournaments, Westwood was one putt away from making a playoff: Against Tiger Woods and Rocco Mediate at Torrey Pines, he knew the stakes; against Tom Watson and Stewart Cink at Turnberry, he didn’t.
Not that it mattered. Westwood missed them both. He insists that he wouldn’t change a thing, other than the results.
“At Augusta, Phil won it fair and square, and Hazeltine, I wasn’t really there for me to win it,” Westwood said. “I suppose I made a couple of slight errors at Torrey Pines, which in an ideal world I would try not to do. The Open Championship, I let a chance slip. But all in all, I think I’ve played pretty good the last rounds of majors – just haven’t quite done enough, really.”
When Westwood walked off the course two months ago at Augusta, a loser by three to Mickelson, he got advice from someone who knows exactly how he feels. Mickelson was the best without a major for the better part of a decade before he broke through at the 2004 Masters.
“You can’t get lured into the thought that you have to do something drastic,” Westwood said at Augusta, when asked whether he had to change his final-day approach.
The best he can do is keep putting himself in positions to win, and there’s no sign he’ll stop doing that any time soon.
He is coming to Pebble Beach fresh off a victory at the St. Jude Classic in Memphis, Tenn., which halted another talked-about streak of his. Before Sunday, when he took advantage of a triple bogey on 18 by Robert Garrigus and then went on to win in a four-hole playoff, Westwood hadn’t won on the PGA Tour since 1998.
He said breaking the streak probably meant more to the media than it did to him – he had won 18 times on the European Tour since his previous PGA Tour win – though it does set him up for a trip to Hawaii next year for the season-opening SBS Championship, which is open only to winners from the previous year.
Of course, winning the week before a major has other obvious benefits.
“It gives you a lot of confidence. It’s practicing playing under pressure and having to make putts when it counts,” he said.
While many top players like to take the week off before a major, Westwood went for a different approach. He came to Pebble Beach two weeks ago, hired a local caddie and practiced in relative anonymity. Last week, he went to Memphis, and this week, he’ll keep his practice sessions light.
He made the changes at the Masters, as well, and will do the same at St. Andrews for the British. The idea isn’t so much to change his major-tournament karma as to keep things fresh for an event at which, more likely than not, he’ll be in contention, all the way to the end on Sunday.
“I sort of like to ‘de-train,’ ” Westwood said. “You have three practice rounds before the tournament kicks off and you can wear yourself out.”