SAN FRANCISCO — Of all the people in position to seal a legacy on Sunday, none has more sweat equity at stake than Lee Westwood.
But don’t expect the long-suffering major bridesmaid to stress out about it. If you think Westwood will get all dark and defeated, you don’t know the Englishman from Worksop at all.
“I’m not made up like that,” said Westwood. “I’m half-full-glass type person. Actually my glass is normally empty.”
Westwood is cracking wise once again as he finds himself in the thick of yet another major opportunity. He’s had green jackets and claret jugs and U.S. Open trophies yanked from his clutches so many times, he’s like the Charlie Brown of the golfing world whiffing at footballs.
Yet here he is again at The Olympic Club, shooting a crisp 67 on Saturday to vault 25 spots up the leaderboard and into fourth with one round left. He’s not thinking that golf owes him anything or that he’s hopelessly jinxed.
“It’s not inevitable, is it?” he said. “It could happen. It could happen tomorrow. It could happen at the PGA, the Open. It could not happen at all. But what control do you got? You have to go out and play as well as possible.”
Westwood is not the kind of guy to fall into a funk because of a few bad breaks. Take Thursday, for instance, when he started the week with a double bogey and was 4-over through the first six holes. While glamour playing partners Rory McIlroy and Luke Donald nosedived into oblivion and early trips home, Westwood grinded out a 73 and bought another day.
“I played a pretty soft golf course last week and the first hole missing it short side and getting a big bounce right, it was a bit of an eye opener,” said Westwood, who won the European Tour event in Sweden last week. “So I learned quickly and I snapped into U.S. Open mode quickly that, oh, yeah, short-siding yourself is not good at the U.S. Open. I realized that very fast.
“Obviously I got off to a worst start – double bogey on the first – but managed to limit the damage after that.”
What’s his secret of whistling through the U.S. Open graveyard while everyone around him looks like they’re having a colonoscopy?
“You got to look at people’s faces out there they’re looking pretty wound up and stressed, aren’t they?” he said. “There aren’t many smiles. Which is a shame because it’s one of the biggest tournaments of the year and one that I would assume everybody looks forward to.
“It’s a golf tournament. It’s the game of golf. I’ll go out and play golf for a living on the best golf courses in the world in the biggest tournaments. It’s not a bad way to pass time. … So I don’t take it too seriously. After you’ve been doing it for 20 seasons out here, I think that it’s time to relax and give yourself a break and enjoy it.”
Was this some kind of major epiphany that came after heartbreaks delivered by the likes of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Tom Watson, among others? No, Westwood insists.
“Not just majors, but the game of golf in general, just beating myself up about it when I don’t win,” he said. “It’s tough to win out here. And I think there’s more to it than all you can do is perform as good as possible and see what happens after that. Somebody might perform better. So winning is fickle. And all I’m trying to do is play as good as I can play and get into contention and see if I can finish it off and have a bit of fun doing it.”
Perhaps nobody in this generation other than Sergio Garcia has endured as much major championship heartbreak as Westwood without having the ultimate payoff. Garcia surrendered to fate during the Masters in April saying “after 13 years, my chances are over. I’m not good enough for the majors.”
Westwood takes a completely different take on his experiences.
“The main thing is just to go out there and believe that I’m good enough,” he said. “I must be. I keep getting myself in contention often enough.”
Westwood has finished top-10 in majors 13 times, including seventh at Olympic in 1998. Since missing the 2008 U.S. Open playoff at Torrey Pines by one shot, he’s finished second or third seven times, including a tie for third in the Masters in April.
“I think I’ve probably been in contention in major championships more than anybody else over the last three or four years,” he said. “So I’m looking forward to (Sunday) and hopefully going to go out and have some fun and see what happens. I think every time you get yourself in contention you learn something new I’ve been in contention a lot in different kinds of positions – leading, coming from behind.”
If he rallies to catch former U.S. Open winners Graeme McDowell and Jim Furyk to win the validation that’s eluded him, Westwood’s glass would finally be full.
“Not for long,” he said with a laugh.