"This was one of the first ones that went in," Westwood said Wednesday. "It's a priority for me to try to come and defend whenever I can, and I like to play the week before a major championship. I was fairly sure I was going to use this as one of my three invites."
Westwood is limited each year on the number of PGA Tour events he can play since the Englishman gave up his tour membership in 2008. But he said he's only missed one chance to defend a title in about 35 opportunities, and that happened only because two tournaments were scheduled the same week.
"So I've always tried to get back," Westwood said.
He also likes the 7,239-yard, par-70 course as a tune-up for the U.S. Open. Count Westwood among those who like the mental tune-up of having to sink 3-foot putts. While the TPC Southwind course is different from next week's U.S. Open at Congressional, Westwood calls it a demanding test.
"It certainly demands that you hit the fairways and hit the greens, which is pretty much the blueprint for playing good U.S. Open golf as well," Westwood said.
Nobody has successfully defended a PGA Tour title yet this year, Westwood will face a field featuring five of the world's top 32 in Robert Karlsson, David Toms, Retief Goosen, Geoff Ogilvy and Zach Johnson.
Toms could be a big threat, having won here in 2003 and 2004. He also won Colonial late last month and was second at The Players and ranks second in greens in regulation.
"I look forward to the challenge," Toms said. "It'll be tough to win this golf tournament with all the good players, and I've just got to go out there and play well and see how that stacks up."
The field also includes Sergio Garcia, past champion and former Louisville, Ga., resident Brian Gay, Padraig Harrington and Brandt Snedeker, who won The Heritage in April. Local favorite John Daly is here again too.
Considering the luck he had here a year ago, no wonder Westwood was determined to return.
Westwood had signed his card and was ready to leave a year ago when advised to stick around. Robert Garrigus blew a three-stroke lead on the 72nd hole, and Westwood won his second PGA Tour title in a three-way playoff in what he called an amazing finish.
"Sometimes you don't win tournaments you think you should have won, and sometimes you win tournaments that some other guy should have won," Westwood said. "If you put yourself in the position often enough, that's going to happen."
Westwood went on to take the No. 1 ranking away from Tiger Woods, though he now ranks second to Luke Donald after losing a playoff in the European Tour's PGA Championship.