Bunker Mentality

Westwood calm descends at Augusta

Bunker Mentality

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Lee Westwood drives off the tea in the opening round of the 2012 Masters

The 76th edition of the Masters was billed as a blazing duel between golf's precocious young prince, Rory McIlroy, and its returning king, Tiger Woods. But as the game's two biggest stars clung on, day one belonged to a man who kept calm, and carried on.

England's Lee Westwood took the overnight lead with a serene, five-under-par round of 67. Westwood hit 16 of 18 fairways, and dropped just a single shot in a poised and polished first round that surely bodes well for his challenge this weekend.

It matched Westwood's best ever round at Augusta and gave the 38-year-old an opening-round lead at the Majors for the first time in his career. "There's as much tension and pressure as you make it," he said afterwards. "I've played here 13 times, I know the course now."

Westwood, as everybody knows, is the best player in golf without a Major. It's he's a title he's carried ever since Phil Mickelson handed it over at Augusta in 2004, when Mickelson put on a green jacket and finally banished talk that it might never happen for him.

During Westwood's glittering career he's enjoyed prolific success on the European Tour, become Ryder Cup royalty and endeared himself to just about everybody in the game in the process. You simply won't hear a bad word said about him. In fact, there are those who consider him the nicest man in golf.

But nice guys, in this case at least, finish second or third at the Majors. Westwood has twice been a runner-up, and four times come third, in his quest to end the drought.

The prize he wants most of all has eluded him in over 50 attempts and as he approaches the twilight years of his career, naturally there are those beginning to wonder if it might ever happen.

Judging by Westwood's performance on Thursday, and the relaxed confidence he showed talking to reporters afterwards, he isn't among them. And when you consider he would have won in 2010, but for a majestic Mickelson, there's every reason to believe Westwood has the tools to remain in contention at Augusta come Sunday afternoon.

One shot behind him on Thursday was South Africa's Louis Oosthuizen, who finished with a flourish of birdies in the closing holes to post a 67. Like Westwood, the 2010 Open champion is a famously cool character and won't be fazed by his lofty position on the leaderboard.

If you needed any further evidence of the opening round being owned by the calm and composed, consider Miguel Angel Jimenez's 69 that puts the cigar-smoking Spanish veteran very much in the mix early on. They don't come any more laid back than Jimenez.

As for Woods, it was day he'll be keen to forget. "I hit some of the worst shots I've ever hit today," said the 14-times Major winner afterwards. Remarkably, an inconsistent Woods could still have finished with a 70, but for consecutive bogeys at 17 and 18. And at even par, he's still very much in contention - though he'll need to make considerable improvements to his driving to be a factor.

The signs for McIlroy were more encouraging, despite his starting with a double-bogey at the 1st. Having exorcised his demons at the 10th, where his challenge collapsed last year, he slumped to bogeys at 11 and 13, but pulled on his considerable resolve to birdie the last two and finish with a one-under-par 71. It was far from his best, but he knew it and we can expect far better on Friday.

Other stories of the day included Mickelson's typically all-over-the-place opening 74, a 69 for Scotland's Paul Lawrie  and a disappointing 75 for reigning world number one Luke Donald

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