Lee Westwood has been crowned European No 1 for the third time after a thrilling finish to the 2020 season, but can he shed the tag of “best player never to have won a major”? Robert Lee thinks he can…
He was always such a good player, and not that much different to how he was 20 years ago. Tee to green, there really weren’t that many better than Lee, although he didn’t have the best short game.
But if he had a great ball-striking week, didn’t have to chip too much and leave himself a bunch of awkward-length putts, then he’d be up there contending, for sure. He’s always been a brilliant ball-striker, and the ball-striker’s tend to have longer careers.
Lee has been the top dog in Europe three times now, 20 years apart, and he’s obviously enjoyed a remarkable career. He’s played very well on a course he’s had success at before, and he’s won the Race to Dubai by the narrowest of margins.
That’s now 44 wins as a professional, lifting silverware in all parts of the globe, three times European No 1, but he’s also still widely regarded as the best player never to have won a major. Whether that label in enviable, or unenviable, is another argument.
Can he still land a big one? He turns 48 a couple of weeks after the Masters next year, so it’s a big ask. He’s certainly had his fair share of chances before but, for whatever reason, it’s just not happened for him.
It wouldn’t be a life-changing event for Lee to win a major, he’s had plenty of success both individually and for Europe in the Ryder Cup, but a major would be an endorsement of just how brilliant he’s been throughout his career.
I’m not going to say it’s too late for him to make that major breakthrough now. He is still highly-rated by his peers worldwide. He’s an extraordinary player who’s had an extraordinary career, but if I could grant him one wish for 2021, it would be that elusive major win.
Sergio Garcia, a good friend of Westwood’s was the previous incumbent of the “best player without a major” title, and he wriggled out of those shackles in spectacular style at Augusta National in 2017.
I’m absolutely certain and convinced that Westwood will have another good crack at a major, maybe more than once. It’s up to him to defy history and get over the line, but you cannot rule it out, particularly after what we’ve seen from him this year.
His game is more than good enough to contend in the big events against the big players. Lee’s swing has not changed much over the years, and that’s a gift. He’s not a guy that’s had to go through a huge transformation to get his career back on track.
He’s never had to dig deep to find something that works, he’s been so consistent with his action since he first arrived on Tour, he’s won in every continent in the world, and on all different types of courses in varying conditions.
So if he is to make break his major curse, which one is his best chance?
He’s been up there in all of them, and he’s come close at the Masters on numerous occasions. From 2010 to 2016 at Augusta, he was runner-up twice and had three further top-eight finishes, so his record there is very good.
The way he plays the game, you would think he is possibly more suited to the US Open. He’s adept at hitting fairways and greens, and the 2021 US Open returns to Torrey Pines, where he was only one shot behind Tiger Woods and Rocco Mediate the last time the event was played there.
But if he is in a good place mentally and physically, Lee can contend at any of the majors. That’s why it’s tough to single out one in particular. Why can’t he win an Open at Royal St George’s? Or the PGA at Kiawah Island?
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There is no venue he can’t contend at. I don’t see Westwood being limited by what any course demands of a player, whether it’s a major venue and set-up or not. His game translates to any golf course, so don’t rule him out at any of them.
If the golfing Gods smile on him next year and he lands a long-overdue major win, that would be mint.
Ryder Cup record tilt?
Another big target for him in 2021 will be to qualify for his 11th Ryder Cup, and I wouldn’t bet against him toppling Sergio Garcia as the all-time leading points scorer in the competition.
He’ll be determined not to bow out of Ryder Cup competition after a disappointing 10th outing at Hazeltine in 2016, when he was nowhere near his best all week, but his overall record is superb.
I remember his debut at Valderrama in 1997, when a fresh-faced Westwood was paired with Nick Faldo for all four sessions over the first two days, winning twice including a brilliant 25-footer from the newcomer to secure victory over Open champion Justin Leonard and Jeff Maggert in a match that started late on Friday and finished after that one putt on Saturday!
Westwood qualifying for the side next year would be great for captain Padraig Harrington. The beauty of having Westwood in your team is that you can pair him with absolutely anybody, any type of player, experienced or not.
And it wouldn’t matter if it’s foursomes or fourballs. Lee has proved in the past that he is versatile, and able to adapt to any format, with any partner. He’s the kind of reliable, dependable player that captains cherish.
I’ve got a feeling that Harrington will be delighted to see Westwood qualify for his team to take to Whistling Straits. It would give the Irishman so many options, and he would be an asset to the team both on the course and in the team locker room.
If he does make the team, he’d probably only play a maximum of once per day to protect his 48-year-old legs, so he’d need to win all three of his matches to get to 26 points for his Ryder Cup career and go ahead of Garcia by half a point.
Of course, much depends on whether Garcia makes the team. Right now, it doesn’t look like the Spaniard will be on the plane to Wisconsin, but at least he’s got the best part of eight months to get back in the kind of form that would attract Harrington’s attention.
Hopefully, 10 months from now, the world will look a whole lot better, we’ll have thousands of fans in to make the Ryder Cup the spectacle it deserves to be, and Westwood will have a legitimate shot at another record.
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