The last time England’s Lee Westwood sat on the stage for a press conference at Oakland Hills, he was consumed by a cocktail of adrenaline, exhaustion
and rather a lot of champagne. With him that Sunday in 2004 were the other 11 members of Bernhard Langer’s Ryder Cup team, which had just inflicted a
record 18 1/2-9 1/2 defeat of Hapless Hal Sutton’s U.S. team.
The party had already started, so Westwood’s recollections are somewhat fuzzy. “I remember the air-conditioning being equally as noisy,” he said upon his return. “Although I had drunk a bit more than I have had right now.”
That was a relief to hear at the 9:30 a.m. conference. But the celebration is not the only fond memory for Westwood. He is excited to be back on the course where he racked up an unbeaten record (4-0-1) and secured 4 1/2 points for the European squad in 2004.
“It was great for European golf what happened here in 2004,” Westwood said. “We should all be buoyed by that.”
And the Europeans are going to need a whole lot of buoying because it has been 78 years since a European won the PGA Championship. Scotland’s Tommy Armour won in 1930, although he was a U.S. citizen at the time.
“It’s amazing that none of us has been able to win in such a long time,” Westwood said. “Especially when you consider how strong Europe has been with Nick Faldo, Seve, Bernhard Langer, Woosie, Sandy Lyle and Monty.”
Westwood comes into the 90th PGA Championship ranked 12th in the world, and he is England’s new No. 1, having just overtaken Justin Rose, who has slipped to 16th. Westwood has also been in top form in the U.S. recently, finishing tied for second at last weekend’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone, and third in the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, missing the playoff with Rocco Mediate and Tiger Woods by just one shot. In a career punctuated by years of winless droughts and periods of multiple victories, Westwood’s confidence is currently on one of his highs.
“My performances in the U.S. have always been disappointing in the past; I never used to feel comfortable on the courses,” he said. “But over the last year, I have become more relaxed as my short game has improved, because it has given me more variety of shots around the greens, which you need on the PGA Tour but not so much in Europe.”
Westwood, whose only victory in the U.S. was the 1998 Freeport-McDermott Classic in New Orleans, has also been learning how to handle the pressure when he goes out in the final group on Sunday.
“You feel a lot more nervous when you know you have a chance to win,” he said. “You try to do things that you think you need to do but you really don’t. You try to set your goals too high.”
He is learning that patience brings rewards, and that he doesn’t have to perfect on Sundays to win. “Take the double bogey I got at the sevnth at Firestone on Sunday,” Westwood explained. “After that it would have been very easy to press too hard to try to get back. It affects your attitude, but it is important to just plod on and stay in touch because you don’t see Vijay (Singh) and Phil (Mickelson) shoot 32 on back nines on Sundays — and strange things can happen.”
A strange thing happened to Westwood on Sunday night. Eager to tap into the good vibes from the Ryder Cup, he popped into the Irish bar around the corner
from Oakland Hills that hosted the European victory party in 2004 — and the bar manager didn’t recognize him. Probably because Westwood wasn’t blazing drunk
and dancing on the tables this time.
“Yeah, I refrained from jumping up and down on the bar,” Westwood said, laughing. “I’m saving that up for Sunday night.”