Lee Westwood, who claimed his third European Tour title of 1998 in the Standard Life Loch Lomond, returns to the spectacular Scottish setting in search of his first victory of the season this week.
Westwood will be hoping the Loch Lomond scenery inspires him to hit the heights as it did twelve months ago when he fended off the challenges of five players, Ian Woosnam, Eduardo Romero, Robert Allenby, David Howell and Dennis Edlund.
The Englishman’s addiction to winning tournaments saw him safely home by four strokes and he went on to finish a sensational year with a total of seven titles on three continents to his name.
Westwood won in New Orleans before hitting a rich vein of form in Europe, capturing the Deutsche Bank-SAP Open, TPC of Europe and the English Open in consecutive weeks before completing the hat-trick at Loch Lomond.
The Worksop-based Ryder Cup player has still to win in Europe in 1999 but has hinted at a return to form recently, finishing strongly in the Compaq European Grand Prix at Slaley Hall and the Murphy’s Irish Open at Druids Glen.
As he prepared for his defence of the title Westwood said: “That’s the best I’ve played for about ten months, since Belgium, so I’m delighted.
“I am learning a lot more about my swing. I had a good lesson on Tuesday from Pete (Cowen), sorted out my putting now even though I putted badly the last three holes, three putting them all. That can’t be helped. I am just improving as an all round player.
“ I worked on my putting for an hour. It’s never far away. I was cutting across the ball and I needed to get out of it and I did do and I putted quite nicely. I holed a couple of nice ones on the second and third holes in my final round in Ireland..
“When I entered last week’s tournament late I said I was on a build up to the Open and it’s all going well. It wouldn’t be nice to go into the Open too high profile and that’s probably why I hit it into the water at the 17th on the last day!
“I was concerned three weeks ago when I playing pretty dreadfully but it’s never too far away and it’s just a case of fine tuning when you get to a certain standard and I think that’s the best I’ve hit the ball in a long time. I hit some great shots.”
One of the major attractions is certain to be the presence of Sergio Garcia, the new Murphy’s Irish Open champion, who on Sunday became the fourth youngest winner in the history of the European Tour.
Just 19 years and 176 days old, Garcia played near flawless golf to shoot a closing 64 at Druids Glen to win the title by three shots from Argentinian Angel Cabrera, who is also in the Loch Lomond field.
He is joined at Loch Lomond this year by past winner Thomas Bjorn and course record holder Retief Goosen as well as major winners Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer, Sandy Lyle and Woosnam, six-time Volvo Order of Merit winner Colin Montgomerie and Darren Clarke, the leading European in the recent US Open.
John Daly, the 1991 US PGA champion and Open winner at St.Andrews in 1995, has withdrawn following a disappointing finish to the Murphy’s Irish Open. Daly may now also opt out of the Open Championship at Carnoustie.
The American, winner of two majors, said he will make a decision on Friday or Saturday about competing at Carnoustie.
US Tour winners Billy Mayfair and Glen Day will be aiming to emulate Tom Lehman, who won the title in 1997 in breathtaking fashion from a quality field including Greg Norman, Ernie Els and Montgomerie.
Ryder Cup contenders Thomas Bjorn, Andrew Coltart and David Howell are also in the field along with the man who has to decide whether to play or captain, Mark James.
James, currently riding high in the qualifying table, has set himself a deadline of four weeks to resolve the issue of whether he should be a player or a captain at Brookline Country Club. One thing is certain – he will not play and captain the European side.