Lee Westwood returns to action in the United States feeling comfortable with the game which almost brought him a first Major title at Turnberry and confident that a first win of the season is not far away as he contests the World Golf Championship-Bridgestone Invitational and US PGA Championship over the next fortnight.
The 36 year old Englishman has had several near misses of late, most recently at The Open Championship when he three-putted the last to finish a shot behind Tom Watson and eventual champion Stewart Cink. That followed a play-off defeat to Germany’s Martin Kaymer at the Open de France ALSTOM and a top ten finish in The Barclays Scottish Open the previous two weeks.
Westwood described coming so close at The Open Championship as “sickening”, but knows there is no point in dwelling on what might have been and is focusing on dethroning Vijay Singh as champion at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio.
“It has kept me awake since and you do put yourself through the 'What if?' syndrome for quite some time,” he said of his latest close call. “I thought about the US Open (in 2008) for a good four or five months afterwards. But while it's a natural reaction to think about what may or may not have been, you still have to move on because you can't live your life that way.
“It took me a while to get over the US Open, but it still didn't stop me playing good golf. I maintained my progress and I believe I will do the same now. I've just got to keep working. I'm putting in the hard work at the moment and it's obviously paying off because I'm getting closer.
“I was pretty happy with the way I played, hit lovely shots and made some good up-and-downs when I needed to.
“Now I'm preparing for my next visit to America starting in Akron for the Bridgestone event before heading to Hazeltine in the mid-west for the final grand slam event of the season, the US PGA Championship.”
Westwood is one of 52 European Tour members in the 80-strong field, including a host of Major Champions in Angel Cabrera, Ben Curtis, Ernie Els, Retief Goosen, Padraig Harrington, Trevor Immelman, Zach Johnson and Vijay Singh, while four players – Christian Cévaër, Anthony Kang, Danny Lee and Shane Lowry - are making their debut in a WGC event.
Sweden’s Henrik Stenson, winner of the WGC- Accenture Match Play, is also in the field, as is Australian Ogilvy, the man he beat in the final in 2007. Ogilvy made amends by claiming the WGC - CA Championship in 2008 and the WGC - Accenture Match Play title this year, beating Paul Casey of England in the final, while Stenson also has an enviable record in the US this season, winning The Players Championship in May and finishing ninth at the US Open.
Darren Clarke will be hoping to continue his excellent record, having won the WGC- Accenture Match Play in 2000, beating Tiger Woods in the final, as well as clinching the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational title in stunning fashion three years later. The Northern Irishman has also had five other top ten finishes in WGC events.
This year’s first three Major Champions – Cabrera (Masters Tournament), Lucas Glover (US Open Championship) and Cink (The Open Championship) – will all be competing, and World Number Two Phil Mickelson returns after spending time away from the game to be with his wife and mother, both of whom are undergoing treatment for breast cancer. His last appearance was the US Open, where he finished tied second, and in March he won his first WGC event at the WGC CA Championship.
“I have had a great six weeks at home,” said Mickelson. “Things are going very well and I am excited about the opportunity to start playing some tournaments again.”
Defending champion Singh feels he is starting to find some form after perhaps rushing his comeback from knee surgery earlier in the year. The 46 year old returned to competition a month after having an operation to repair a torn meniscus and said: "I just started playing a little too soon and it kind of put me back quite a bit. My golf game is coming around. I can't wait to get out there and do it again."