Lee Westwood (Getty Images)
Englishman Lee Westwood believes he can hit the ground running when he makes his first appearance of 2013 this week at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.
The 39 year old has an enviable record at the Emirates Golf Club, taking the runner-up spot three times, in 1999, 2010 and 2012, and amassing a total of seven top ten finishes, but in 19 appearances he has yet to pick up the trophy.
However, having moved to Florida towards the end of last year, Westwood has spent the off-season practising and honing his short game in the sunshine – a welcome change from the snow of Worksop - and believes he is starting this campaign better prepared than any other.
“I played a lot more this winter than I would normally play,” said the World Number Eight. “There’s no rust. The main reason for moving to Florida was to get more games of golf because I wouldn't play normally when I'm at home because of the weather.
“Last week I had shorts on and was out playing with Luke Donald. Living in England I’ve always finished the year, gone home, packed the clubs away and came back out trying to catch everyone else. My short game is sharper from being out there, especially my putting.”
Westwood has come close to victory over the Majlis course on several occasions, and admits he would love to go one better this time.
“I should have won when I was up against Miguel (Angel Jiménez) in a play-off in 2010, and then last year I had to birdie the last to force a play-off with Rafa (Cabrera-Bello) and missed it, so I feel like I've let a couple slip,” he said.
“It’s certainly one I would like to win. I’ve been back here every year apart from one since 1994 and I have a good record.
“So hopefully this week I'll play as well as I've played the last few years and have a chance again and hopefully finish it off. I feel like I've got a chance come Sunday.”
Although the Majlis course is not one of the longest courses on The European Tour International Schedule, Westwood believes the longer hitters often profit, adding: “You look at the winners from the last few years and they’re not short – Rory (McIlroy), Alvaro Quiros, Henrik Stenson and Tiger (Woods).
“It’s a sand-based course so you don’t get much run from your tee shots. It certainly helps to be able to reach the par fives in two.
“I like the fact that it rewards good, solid play. If you hit good, solid shots, you have a chance. It's a good test, which is probably why it has had good winners on it.”
Spaniard Cabrera-Bello is in the field to defend the title he won 12 months ago, as is the Tour’s latest champion Chris Wood, who won the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters in spectacular style last week with an eagle three at the 72nd hole to leapfrog George Coetzee and Sergio Garcia at the top of the leaderboard and secure his first European Tour victory.
Garcia will have the chance to go one better at the US$2.5million Omega Dubai Desert Classic, the final stop on The European Tour’s Middle East swing.