Westwood arrives after scare in Houston

Lee Westwood plays his tee shot on the 16th hole during the first round of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.

Lee Westwood plays his tee shot on the 16th hole during the first round of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.

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AUGUSTA, Ga.–Other than Phil Mickelson and perhaps Tiger Woods, perhaps no one is as happy to be back at the Masters than Lee Westwood.

Not because he feels he has a score to settle after finishing second here last year. Not because he dearly wants to win his first major.

Rather, because he’s happy to be breathing.

Westwood, fellow Ryder Cupper Ross Fisher, manager Chubby Chandler and two caddies were aboard a Cessna Citation Excel that started malfunctioning a few minutes after it took off from Houston on Sunday night. Smoke in the cabin prompted the pilots to put on oxygen masks and return to the airport for an emergency landing.

How traumatic was the experience?

“Depends who you talk to,” Westwood said. “You talk to Chubby, there were flames coming up between our legs and things like that.”

Westwood said the plane was in the air about 3-4 minutes. Chandler thought it was more like 7-9 minutes. Several fire engines awaited as they landed, and they flew to Augusta on a different NetJets plane.

“It was a bit nervy for three or four minutes,” Westwood said. “But it wasn’t as drama-filled as some would have you believe. If you read the (British tabloid) Sun, you would think we were on fire and landing like Memphis Belle (B17 bomber in World War II).”

The ordeal was such that Westwood said he consumed a “very large double vodka” on the next flight.

Chandler said he was told the smoke occurred because of a problem with the auxillary power unit.

“The number on the tail of the plane was N688QS,” Chandler said, smiling. “And I won’t get on it again.”

The agent said he and Westwood were trying to be humorous as smoke sifted in while Fisher was “very quiet.”

“I looked out the window and wasn’t sure if I wanted the plane to go up or down,” Chandler said. “But when the pilots put big masks on, you know something is not right. They did a good job (getting back safely), but they’ve got one plane in the fleet I’d like to avoid.”

Later Chandler was interviewed by the BBC. His opening remark? “Do you want the real story or do you want one with flames coming up?”

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