Nick Rodger: In turbulent 2020, Westwood’s return to No. 1 gives some solace

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Nick Rodger Nick Rodger

For a pearl of wisdom, the celebrated, adorned Harry Vardon was never at a loss. We must remember never to despair even in our darkest hour,”Even in our darkest hour, we must remember never to despair,”

Another of Vardon’s robust comments was “No matter what, keep hitting the ball,” which in many respects ideally sums up the stubborn ineptitude of those of us who eke out a reasonably modest life in the well-populated, fertile fields of futility of golf and fatalistic tendencies.

Vardon, one-third of the great triumvirate of his day, a six-time Open champion and the man whose name honors the trophy given to the European Tour Race to Dubai winner, would certainly have found a few words to characterize the continued success and durability of Lee Westwood.

The Englishman is Europe’s No. 1 again at a sprightly 47, 20 years after he first topped the rankings in 2000 with a maiden success that ended the run of Colin Montgomerie with seven consecutive Order of Merit titles.

One could have almost imagined the late voice of golf bidding farewell with a hearty “Bravo, Lee” during the week that golf paid its respects to Peter Alliss, himself a Vardon Trophy winner during his heyday in the 1960s, as Westwood won the ranking title for the third time in his career.

And it was – and still is – a remarkable profession. In an exhausting, turbulent year in which officials of the European Tour deserve tremendous credit for saving the season from coronavirus ravages and logistical difficulties, it was appropriate that in its 567th year, a stalwart of the European scene should obtain the award and recognition.

Westwood is so much a part of the European Tour fabric that it is likely that they will release a tapestry in his memory. Once again, the fact that he hosted the British Masters at Close House this year, the first European Tour event to be played since the coronavirus shutdown, highlighted his admirable devotion to the Tour that produced him.

In Sunday’s season-ending DP World Tour Championship, the Ryder Cup star finished second to fellow youngster Matthew Fitzpatrick, but it was enough to relegate Fitzpatrick to the coveted No. 1 spot.

Fitzpatrick was only one of 11 winners on the European Tour this year who were born after Westwood launched his rookie campaign in 1994, to make Westwood feel only a little older. Such a statistic simply highlights the exceptional continuity and insatiable competitive drive of Westwood within the youth movement.

In this great generational game, of course, advancing years have never been a hindrance to success. There may be a few slight aches and pains here and there, and who knows a niggle or two anywhere else, but the worn cranks, rollers and pistons are all in good condition by and wide. Westwood said, with an admission that conjures up some deliciously gruesome memories, “The guys in the physio unit stretched me in places I didn’t think I had,”

Westwood’s drive is unwavering, with 44 worldwide victories, including 25 European Tour titles and two PGA Tour wins, as well as a glittering Ryder Cup record and career wins that would make Rockefeller look like Albert Steptoe. “The motivation has never really changed,” he says of his drive and dedication, which, after falling to No. 288 a few years earlier, propelled him to the top of the world rankings in 2010, among several other achievements. “I get up every day and do the job I love. I’ve always wanted to be a golfer and I don’t want it to stop.”

Next April, Westwood will turn 48. Julius Boros, who was 48 when he won the 1968 US PGA Title, remains the oldest player to win a major championship. When they perfected their corresponding major wins, Jack Nicklaus and old Tom Morris were both 46.

Winning the major, of course, is something that has been elusive for Westwood, but in recent years he has posted 19 top-10 results at major tournaments, including three second-place finishes and six third-place finishes, and has done so while coming within a shot of a date on a number of occasions at Sweeney Todd.

Perhaps time is not on his side.

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