PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – With apologies for a couple of rather enjoyable events in the UAE, Lee Westwood is on the brink of the biggest victory of a long career that has seen him win around the world.
18 holes remain. Plus, he has to stare at Bryson DeChambeau’s biceps for over four hours on Sunday.
But Westwood has given himself a two-shot lead heading into the final round of the Players Championship. A victory in the so-called “fifth major” of golf would be as popular in the sport as in the pubs of his native Worksop, England.
In 2020, at age 47, Westwood was the oldest winner of the European Tour’s Race to Dubai. He won last year in Abu Dhabi and captured the season-ending Dubai World Championship in 2009.
He has played on 10 European Ryder Cup teams; he’s been on the winning team seven times. He has earned 23 points and being named captain is in his near future.
He never won a major championship. He never won a World Golf Championship event. It never won Europe’s flagship tournament, the BMW PGA Championship.
“Without a doubt,” he said when asked if the players would be the best in his career. “It would be the biggest tournament I have ever won.”
There is some irony in all this. A decade ago, Westwood skipped players – it was ranked number one in the world at the time. He was not a member of the PGA Tour at the time, but played primarily on the European Tour. It was seen then as a slight to the PGA Tour, skipping its main event because it did not want to travel to the United States for a single tournament.
That was a different time. And now, Westwood is in a different place.
“I don’t like to compare Lee Westwood of 10 or 20 years ago to Lee Westwood of today,” he said Saturday after a third-round 68 at TPC Sawgrass saw him take a 2-shot lead over DeChambeau. and a 3-shot lead over Justin Thomas and Doug Ghim.
“I’m certainly having as much fun on the golf course as ever. That is probably helping me play great golf.”
A week ago, he led DeChambeau to the 18th hole at the Bay Hill Club, finally coming up short when the longtime US Open champion drained a nervous putt for a 1-stroke victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
The 20-year age difference or the considerable difference in length from the tee compared to DeChambeau didn’t bother Westwood. You have emphasized that you simply enjoy the process and are not so focused on the results.
“I think Helen is a big part of this,” DeChambeau said, referring to Westwood’s caddy and fiancée, Helen Storey. “She keeps him steady and level-headed. She’s a rock. She keeps her mind focused on the right things. She’s been amazing to him. And that’s one of his secret weapons, I think.”
Storey has been his caddy almost full time since 2018 (he has occasionally used his son, Sam) and the partnership has produced good results. Westwood is now ranked 31st in the world, the highest since 2014.
“I think at my stage in my career there is not much a caddy can tell me,” he said. “But obviously Helen puts me in a great mood. Psychologically, she can help me and say the things I need to hear. She helps me in that regard a lot.”
Westwood remained patient Saturday after making nine consecutive pairs to start the round. Then he birdied holes 10, 12, 16 and 17. He had no ghosts and enters another Sunday on center stage. The big stage, however, is where the problems lie.
He has 25 victories on the European Tour, ranking eighth. He has 44 professional victories. But he’s also never won a Major despite nine top-10 finishes, including 12 top-5 finishes.
In 2008, when Tiger Woods, with a broken leg, made a birdie putt on the 72nd hole to force a playoff with Rocco Mediate, Westwood was the forgotten character in all of that. He missed a putt just before Woods rolled his that would have landed Westwood in Monday’s playoff. In 2009, when 59-year-old Tom Watson came close to winning the Open before losing on extra holes to Stewart Cink, it was Westwood who missed the playoff by just one shot. In 2010, when Phil Mickelson landed his memorable shot through the trees at 13 en route to a Masters victory, it was Westwood who finished second.
Westwood wouldn’t go so far as to say that winning on Sunday would be the equivalent of winning a major.
“This is such a prestigious title and a great tournament to win,” he said.
However, at 47 she would be incredibly sweet.