Hate to be Rude: Is this Westwood’s time?

Lee Westwood during a practice round for the British Open

Lee Westwood during a practice round for the British Open

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SANDWICH, England – It’s clear Lee Westwood doesn’t do windows.

The 38-year-old Englishman says to hell with the notion that his window of opportunity to win a major championship will close over the next couple of years.

“It depends on how physically able you are,” he said, “and I’m obviously a finely tuned athlete who can go on well into my 40s.”

Though Westwood is fit after transforming his body a few years ago, that last part drew laughs. But apparently Colin Montgomerie, another majorless European, didn’t draw laughs from Westwood when recently saying the clock is ticking on his friend.

Reader poll

Will Lee Westwood win the British Open?

  • Yes 55%
  • No 36%
  • Undecided 9%

22 total votes.

“Lee is approaching that horrible age of 40 where you don’t tend to improve once you reach it,” Montgomerie said. “The next eight majors for Lee are very important. So the pressure is really on, and he knows that as well as anyone.”

As it happened, Westwood was paired with Montgomerie last Sunday at the Scottish Open. As you might imagine, he couldn’t resist rebuttal.

“I wound him up about that,” Westwood said.

It is sensible to suggest players’ chances of winning majors decline in their 40s. For years, the average age of a Masters champion has been 32, when the mental and physical peaks converge on high. There’s an exception to every rule, of course. If Westwood feels the pressure of time, he is not letting on.

The time for Westwood would seem to be the present. He has five top-3 finishes in his past seven majors, and that doesn’t include the 2008 U.S. Open, where he finished a stroke out of a playoff. He is playing in his homeland. He is No. 2 in the world ranking, behind Luke Donald, and No. 2 with oddsmakers, behind Rory McIlroy.

Yet don’t ask him whether he’s in his prime.

“People would have said I was coming into my prime 10 years ago, and then I dropped to 270th in the world,” he said. “So what’s the point in guessing whether you’re at your prime or not? I don’t particularly think it’s an age thing, either. I think so many players play well into their early to mid-40s.”

The facts are these: Westwood tied for third in the 2009 Open, blowing opportunity down the stretch and missing the Turnberry playoff by one stroke. Last year, he finished second in the Open at St. Andrews.

So, yes, he has become a numbers man.

“Hopefully it’s a mathematical progression: third, second and obviously I’m hoping for a first,” Westwood said. “But we’ll see.”

Is golf better or worse now that Tiger Woods is no longer dominating?

The candid Geoff Ogilvy, 2006 U.S. champion, says there’s no question. This current era of the unknown is preferrable, he says, for there’s more suspense.

“You guys don’t know who is going to win before the tournament starts anymore,” Ogilvy said here. “You guys had to pick out of only one player the last 15 years. It’s a great period for golf.”

Ogilvy, like everyone else, is highly impressed with runaway U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy, just 22. But Ogilvy raised a brow while saying this: “He seems to be annointed already, which is incredible.”

Good as McIlroy is, Ogilvy might have used the word premature, as well.

The wind has been up here at Royal St. George’s. The temperature has been down. The rough is down from past height.

And the greens, they are the fastest British Open greens Lucas Glover, for one, has ever seen. And he said that on Monday.

I get the sense bombers will have a better chance than usual, in large part because the rough isn’t as penal as normal.

McIlroy hasn’t played since winning the U.S. Open by eight strokes. So, you ask, will he be rusty?

Well, he also took three weeks off before the Masters, and he played pretty well there. For 3 1/2 rounds, anyway.

“It’s not a problem, to me, playing competitive golf after having a break,” he said, mentioning Augusta.

McIlroy discovered that winning a major after some close calls spelled relief. It’s relief that Colin Montgomerie never found. It’s relief the likes of Westwood and Sergio Garcia hope to find soon.

“It means that every time I come into a press conference or do an interview, I don’t have to answer that question (about never having won a major), whereas a lot of guys still do,” McIlroy said. “So it has lifted a huge weight off my shoulders. It’s a nice pressure to have lifted off you.”

Got a hunch, bet a bunch. Hunch wrong, bunch gone.

That in mind, I told the chap behind the betting counter in downtown Deal that I think Lee Westwood is going to win. He gave me 12-1 odds, and I gave him a clump of English sterling.

Jason Day at 40-1 and K.J. Choi at 50-1 also got the attention of my money clip.

Caught up with Gary Player over here and asked his thoughts about joining Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus as  an honorary Masters first-tee starter beginning next year. Yes, he’s honored and excited. And yes, his Big Three memories from Augusta, Ga., run deep.

“We wanted to beat each other every time we stepped onto the course, and the desire to win was never more fierce than at Augusta National,” he said.

Player said he and Nicklaus used to talk about retiring “in our mid-30s or so after hopefully winning a few” green jackets. Palmer never forgot that kind of talk.

“Each and every year at the Champions Dinner, Arnold always asks, with tongue firmly in cheek, ‘What are you two still doing here? You told me you were going to retire 20 years ago,’ ” Player said. “Well, the allure of Augusta National is so special that you want to come back every chance you get.”

• Practice-round pairing today features men named Na, Noh and Noren.

Apparently Nein, Nil and Nada aren’t in the field.

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