Lee Westwood has seen the glittering prize slip through his fingers in his last three major starts.
But following his play-off victory in the St Jude Classic in sweltering Memphis on Sunday he’s hoping to maintain his red-hot form in the cool sea breezes of Pebble Beach and finally end his major drought at the 50th attempt.
While Ireland’s Rory McIlroy, his stablemate and Europe’s No 2, is playing in just seventh major and only his sixth as a professional, Westwood is battle hardened like no other.
He’s fitter than he’s ever been and at a venue he describes as his favorite golf course in the world he’s likely have playing partners Tiger Woods and Ernie Els keeping an eye on him rather than the other way around.
Nobody has ever won the US Open the week after a regular tour victory, but Westwood is a no-nonsense sort of guy and 37 year-old from Worksop in Nottinghamshire looks and sounds like a man on a mission.
A European player has not won the US Open since Tony Jacklin triumphed at Hazeltine 40 years ago. But Westwood sees no reason why that losing streak can’t change his week and he’s ready for the challenge.
“I think it’s coincidence and we have not played well enough,” he said of Europe’s US Open drought. “We have had a lot of good chances recently. Obviously Faldo had a couple of good chances and Monty’s had a couple of decent chances. I had a decent chance at Torrey Pines. I’m sure there’s more that I’ve forgotten, but we have not finished it off and if you don’t finish it off, you don’t deserve to win.”
He certainly knows how tough it is to get over the line having finished third in the Open at Turnberry and in the US PGA last year before coming closer than ever in this year’s Masters, where he was overhauled by a brilliant Phil Mickelson on the final day and finished second.
The left-hander gave Westwood a short game lesson that day but this week’s test will require the kind of precision game from tee to green that is the hallmark of Westwood’s game and the European No 1 is bursting with confidence following his win at TPC Southwind at the weekend.
Asked what he took from his win in Tennessee, he said: “It gives you a lot of confidence obviously but it’s practicing playing under pressure and having to make putts when it counts. And obviously to come out on top last week is a big confidence boost going into a Major Championship.”
Playing alongside Woods and Els won’t faze him in the slightest, as he proved at Turnberry last year when he was paired with the world number one for the first two days and outscored him by seven shots
He’s now ranked third in the world and he’s hoping that his decision to repeat his Augusta preparations by playing 45 holes in solitary practice here last Sunday and Monday will pay dividends again this week.
“I don’t recall going to a venue a U.S. Open venue and practicing before anybody’s really got here,” he said. “So it’s just something that I decided to do this year. I did it for the Masters and it was successful there. So I figured I better do it for the U.S. Open as well.”
McIlroy hitched a lift to Pebble Beach with Westwood and he’s hoping for an improved performance off the tee in the cooler climes of California after struggling to find fairways at the weekend in scorching Memphis.
“It is a lot nicer than it was last week,” said McIlroy. “It was very hot. I’d rather have this.
“My game is alright. It’s pretty good. I didn’t hit enough fairways at the weekend and you can’t play that course from the rough because the greens were quite firm.
“The first two days were really good with no bogeys but when you don’t hit fairways it is tough to get it going.”
Excited by the test in store, McIlroy is not surprised by what he’s found so far.
“It’s exactly what I was expecting with the views and the small greens,” he said. “But the rough is a lot tougher than it actually looks.”