Tucked between leaders J.B. Holmes and Shane Lowry (8 under par), follower Tommy Fleetwood (7 under par) and contenders such as the formidable Brooks Koepka and Jordan Spieth (both 5 under par), there it was on Friday night: WESTWOOD, alongside Fleetwood.
It looked as baffling as the sport it inhabits.
Once the No. 1 player in the world for 22 weeks beginning in autumn 2010, 46-year-old Englishman Lee Westwood spent the latter part of this decade in a steady fade into the populous realm of the forgotten. A longtime major threat who finished the 2016 Masters tied for second with Spieth behind winner and younger countryman Danny Willett, Westwood slackened through his next seven majors until he fizzled out of sight. He has missed the last two Masters, the last two U.S. Opens, and one of the last two PGA Championships.
He tied for 61st at the British Open last year at Carnoustie, missed the cut at the PGA Championship this past May at Bethpage Black on Long Island, and that’s it. He had gone MIA with his DNPs.
Then, boom: Golf!
“I haven’t got any expectations,” he said Friday after his swell 67, and that was the most edifying thing he said until this gem: “I literally don’t care anymore.”
Golf (noun): a game in which it can help to literally not care anymore.
The bewilderment of this is one of two reasons a Westwood win might make the Guinness taps even more crowded than usual. The other would be the appreciation. It’s not just that at 46 years and 88 days old by Sunday, Westwood would slide into third place in the oldest major winners’ division, behind 48-year-old Julius Boros at the 1968 PGA Championship and Old Tom Morris at the 1867 British Open, back in those primitive times when 46 years and 99 days could get you the nickname “Old.”
It’s not just that he would slide ahead of Jack Nicklaus, who was 46 years, 82 days at the 1986 Masters.
It’s also that a Westwood win would feel like a form of justice.
What a record he has in the cherished, diabolical and finicky majors. He has three runner-up finishes, six top-three finishes, 11 top-five finishes, 18 top-10 finishes and zero wins, even though he has won events on five continents, all but South America and the ever-elusive Antarctica. It’s 10 years since he contended achingly at Turnberry (where Tom Watson almost won but Stewart Cink did), six since he contended at Muirfield (where Phil Mickelson won). Westwood and countryman Luke Donald are the only two players to reach No. 1 without a major title.
How many players of a caliber inferior to Westwood have major titles tucked away at home? Tallying them up could stoke some proper pub arguments.
“I’ve never felt under that much pressure, to be honest,” Westwood said to the largely British press mass. “You lads write about it. If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen, and if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. Just go home and have dinner, go on holiday the next week.”
If that might seem another case of the detachment from reality golfers deploy against the spiteful game they play, consider his caddie this week: his girlfriend, Helen Storey, a fitness instructor from Newcastle, England. While she has caddied for him before and has alternated in that role with his 18-year-old son, Sam, she has not done so at a major and so, Westwood said, “She’s delighted because they’ve got their own rakers. She doesn’t have to rake the bunkers.”
So: “Obviously I get on well with Helen. She doesn’t know too much about golf but she knows the way my mind works. So she keeps me in a good frame of mind and focusing on the right things at the right time. There’s more to caddying than carrying and getting the wind direction. I enjoy doing it all myself. Get the yardage, pull the club, it’s all my responsibility, and I’m a hundred percent clear in my mind what I’m doing.”
On-course discussions include: “Dinner. Where we’re going on holiday. Whether there’s a nail file in the bag.”
Then: “You’d be surprised the things we talk about out there. The favorite one was from Denmark the first week she caddied for me, and I took out a divot because it was big and soft and she’s walking back with the divot (with a wary expression), and I said, ‘What’s wrong?’ She said, ‘I hope there’s not a worm in this.’ It makes me smile. It’s a big advantage.”
Yeah, of all the possible stories come Sunday, this would be the doozy.