Westwood seeking answer for his major conundrum

Lee Westwood had an answer for almost everything during his pre-tournament press conference at Royal Lytham, from the state of his groin injury to Olympic security and even Nelson Mandela’s birthday.

Now all the 39-year-old needs is to solve the puzzle of how to win a major championship at his 58th attempt, after racking up seven top-three finishes in his last 16 appearances.

Westwood admitted last month that he had yet to find the right way to prepare for a major, most recently choosing to play in Sweden rather than Memphis before the US Open in San Francisco, while ahead of this week’s 141st Open Championship he opted to skip the Scottish Open in favour of some casual games with his father at home in Worksop.

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And the world No 3 insists he is not trying harder than ever to break his major championship duck, despite finding himself in contention so often.

“Less if anything,” Westwood said. “I think I’ve got more relaxed and just sort of played and let the cards fall where they may, really. I don’t find myself pressing particularly harder.

“I think because they are such a tough test, it’s hard to press in major championships. You sort of have to edge your way in there and play sort of conservatively and get in position for the weekend, and Sunday afternoon on the back nine see where you are and then judge whether you should have a go for it or not.

“Going into the week you can’t really press. I don’t press any weeks, really. I know my game is good enough to win when I play well enough, play with everything together. That’s what I try to do. After that it’s out of your hands.

“I’m always pretty relaxed now. There’s not a lot that gets to me, winds me up.”

Perhaps the one thing that can still wind up Westwood are questions over the strength of his short game, with the Ryder Cup star feeling he had “sucked that lemon dry by now”.

But that did not prevent him from answering a question as to whether his ability from tee to green made him one of the favourites at Lytham.

“Yeah, if that’s what it takes to win around here,” added Westwood, who declared himself fully fit after a groin injury he suffered during the recent French Open.

“People have said that the previous winners have all got a great short game and apparently I haven’t got much of a short game.

“I think my game suits most places. That’s why I contend most weeks in major championships recently. They’re the ultimate test, that’s why everyone puts them on such a pedestal.

“And in those ultimate tests, every aspect of your game has got to be strong. I’ve contended most weeks and given myself a chance, so I don’t see any reason why this week should be any different.

“I don’t think you can get to No 1 in the world without much of a short game. I think the thing with professional golf is you’re an individual so you’re lined up there for people to have a look at your game and make criticisms, and if you’re at the top of the world rankings people are going to compare different aspects of your game to other people at the top of the world rankings.

“Those people up there have got strengths and they’ve got weaknesses. Luke’s (Donald) strengths are from 80 yards in. My strengths are tee-to-green. You can’t be the best in the world at everything, otherwise you’d be miles in front.”

Westwood would surely settle for being just one shot in front come Sunday evening, admitting his “selfish” side means he would rather win a major than help Europe retain the Ryder Cup in September.

“I’d like to win the Ryder Cup as well,” he added. “But, no, I haven’t won a major yet and I’d like to win one...or two or three.”

Former European No 1 Colin Montgomerie believes tomorrow’s first day at Royal Lytham will define Westwood’s chances of breaking his major duck.

Montgomerie knows a thing or two about near-misses, having had five runners-up places and one third in 71 majors.

And having watched Westwood force his way into contention with some battling performances he wants his former Ryder Cup team-mate to lead from the front.

“He started the US Open (last month) with a double bogey and he must have thought ‘What the hell?’,” said the Scot.

“He did awfully well to get into contention at all (eventually finishing joint 10th after losing a ball up a tree in his final round).

“At least he won’t start with a double here because it’s a par three so he will get a better start than he did at the US Open.

“The trouble Lee has had is he hasn’t managed to get that lead so the Thursday round is most important for him to get into contention early and then he can fight through.

“What he is (often) trying to do is come back into contention and it is very difficult because the standard is so high and the guys ahead of him are less fearful than they used to be and they don’t back off like they used to.

“It is more difficult to come from behind that way than it used to be, now you have to be there to start with.”