Foster and Westwood looking to master Augusta

Lee Westwood with his caddie Billy Foster.
Lee Westwood with his caddie Billy Foster.
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Aside from the returning champions who pad out the exclusive field of a Masters, no two men can be as experienced in negotiating the nooks and crannies of Augusta National than English golf’s nearly men.

Lee Westwood and Billy Foster have been stalking the lush green fairways of golf’s most iconic venue for more than four decades between them.

A victory has proven elusive, both in tandem at Augusta and throughout their respective careers when it comes to the game’s major titles.

Yet no matter how far Westwood has fallen since moving his family to the United States 15 months ago, and no matter that Foster continues to clock up the miles on a dodgy leg, they are two men who should not be overlooked this week.

In their three Masters as a pairing, Westwood has finished no lower than 11th. The first time they strode golf’s most atmospheric stretch of real estate Westwood was beaten to the green jacket only by the brilliance of the mercurial Phil Mickelson.

And even on their last appearance two years ago, the former world No 1 from Worksop thrust his name into contention with a final-round 68 that saw him finish in a tie for third.

Much has happened since then. Foster broke his leg warming up for a charity football match a month later and underwent three operations and the toughest period of his life before finally returning to the circuit as a jobbing caddie last May.

Westwood, minus his trusted side-kick, waited as long as he could before finally telling Foster he had to move on and get a permanent replacement.

The player himself has been unsettled ever since. As well as leaving Worksop, he has changed coaches twice; firstly dispensing of long-time tutor Pete Cowen and then deciding that Sean Foley – coach to major champions Tiger Woods, Justin Rose and Adam Scott – was not the right fit.

Westwood has since gone back to the Cowen stable and is now under the guidance of Mike Walker, who also coaches Masters debutant and Sheffield’s US Amateur champion Matt Fitzpatrick.

But it is the reuniting of the two old friends that could have the greatest bearing.

Westwood and Foster got back together in November, and although the results have not followed, what price a rekindling of the old magic at a favourite hunting ground?

“We have both got enough experience between us to know that Masters week is about just getting on with it and trying to get into the shake up come Sunday,” said Foster, who has carried the bag for the likes of Seve Ballesteros and Darren Clarke in an Augusta career that dates back to the late 1980s.

“It’s always nice to have plenty of experience of playing Augusta so many times.

“You use all the experiences of the past to ensure that under pressure you’re certain of where you’re playing your shots etc.

“Between us it’s like the rally driver and the navigator. If I say left turn by however many degrees, he knows exactly what I’m saying and what he has to do.

“We both know that at Augusta it’s about not making too many mistakes.

“But the margins between success and failure at Augusta are so fine. You know where you can’t hit the ball to and where you should be hitting it, but if it was as easy as that we’d all be wearing a green jacket.

“There’s a difference between knowing where to hit the ball and actually doing it.”

That responsibility lies with Westwood, who has been on the slide ever since moving to the States.

World No 1 three years ago, he is now 37th in the rankings with a modest 20th place finish at the Northern Trust Open his best result of the year and symptomatic of his average form.

This will be his 64th major with the previous 63 yielding plenty of runner-up finishes, third places and a lorry-load of cash, but no glory.

“Lee’s obviously not been in form,” admitted Foster as the pair prepared to be in the last group out along with American duo Harris English and Russell Henley.

“Nobody’s talking about him and there’s not much pressure on him to do well.

“So he goes in to the Masters with very little expectation on his shoulders and that will suit him.

“He just needs to get one or two rounds going for him. He’s had a lot of changes to his life with the move to America 15 months ago, changing coaches and then caddies. It’s just a case of working with him to get him back to where he was a few years ago.”

As for Foster, he is just happy to be back at Augusta and on a familiar bag a year after thinking this fairytale career was all over.

Many a day was spent looking out over the tops of Bingley from his armchair, wondering if his days of walking the fairways were over and he might have to pursue another career. But he has fought his way back, and while the fitness might never be 100 per cent again – he calls himself a “45-year-old plodder” –the hunger remains.

Why else would he be happy cris-crossing the Atlantic mixing home life in Yorkshire with his employer’s commitments on the US PGA Tour?

“I’ve been back and forth so often that my body feels like the right time is US time,” he laughed. But there’s no plans to move across. The kids are in school here, this is our home and it would mean uprooting everything. Plus I’m a Yorkshireman – I’m no Yank.”

Foster also came to the rescue of Hallamshire’s US Amateur champion Matt Fitzpatrick, 19, by finding a replacement caddie in Ricky Elliott for the youngster’s Masters bow alongside holder Adam Scott and US PGA champion Jason Dufner.

Fitzpatrick was due to have the experienced Lorne Duncan on his bag but officials ruled that he would not be allowed at Augusta because he usually wears sandals due to a foot problem.