Lee Westwood embraces pressure as he aims to become oldest Masters winner
There are interesting anniversaries in play and an uncanny similarity as Lee Westwood seeks to break Jack Nicklaus’ record as the oldest Masters Tournament champion.
If the Englishman does it, it would come on the 35th anniversary of Nicklaus winning the Masters at age 46. This is the 20th Masters for Westwood, who turns 48 on April 24.
And, in a coincidence, when Nicklaus won the 1986 Masters, he had his son Jack II on his bag. Westwood’s son Sam, 19, will be carrying the bag for his father for the first time in the Masters this week.
“Even without that (connection, of having his son on the bag), Jack has always been an inspiration the way he played the game, especially his record around here,” Westwood said on Tuesday. “You can't help being inspired. There's a few similarities there with age. It would be great to break his record.”
There’s no question Westwood can do it. He won the European Tour’s Race to Dubai season-long points title last year, has a stellar record in the Masters -- two runner-up finishes among his six top-10s -- and is in fine form with back-to-back runner-up finishes in the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the Players Championship in March.
Photos: Tuesday at the Masters
A 25-time winner on the European Tour, Westwood is ranked No. 20 in the world this week. He was the world’s top-ranked player for 22 weeks in 2009-2010.
“Maybe I don't play as well as often anymore, but when I do play well, I tend to contend, and, you know, with the work I've done on the mental side of the game, I feel a lot more comfortable out there,” Westwood said.
“I heard Jordan Spieth say something last week about he feels comfortable under pressure again and he's enjoying being under pressure and he can cope with it,” Westwood said. “And that's how I feel when I do get into the heat of battle and close to the lead; I feel comfortable again. That's a big part of it too, I think.”
If Westwood does win this week, he will not only be the oldest champion but he will set a record for the most attempts before finally slipping on the green jacket. Sergio Garcia has the record at 19, set in 2017.
“Well, I've always loved Augusta National,” Westwood said. “I saw that it's my 20th time here, and I still remember the first time I came here like it was yesterday, really. It's such a special place, traditions. And you feel fortunate to drive down Magnolia Lane, and it's always special.
Lee Westwood Masters Record
“The walk, I think the walk over the 11th down the hill seeing the 12th chills down my spine just to see Amen Corner in the distance there. It's a very special place.”
Westwood tied for 38th place in the November Masters, but he doesn’t consider that a normal test because of the fall date and softer course.
He will be in the spotlight no matter what he does in Thursday’s first round since he’s one of the players paired with defending champion Dustin Johnson. They go off at 10:30 a.m.
“As for expectations, I don't really have any, but I don't really have any at any tournaments I turn up to anymore,” he said. “I just put the preparation in, hit it off the first tee and try and find it and hit it on the green, and hopefully hit it on the green and have a birdie chance and make a few of those. After that, it's in the lap of the gods, really.”
No matter what happens, Westwood will always remember this was the Masters with his son by his side for every shot.
“It's amazing that I'm old enough to have my son on the bag and still be competing in these tournaments, and having Sam here to enjoy the experience with me,” Westwood said. “I have to close his mouth every now and again when we're going around here; he loves it so much.”
Westwood and his son took a two-day Augusta National scouting trip in mid-March, playing 18 holes in back-to-back days from the back tees.
“It's a special place, and to get to share it with Sam was amazing,” Westwood said. “I set him a target of 86 the first day. I think he shot 87 the first day, but he had had a practice round then and kind of got a feel for the place.”
The next morning, Westwood set a goal of 83 for his son.
“It was cold,” Westwood said. “It was 45 degrees and windy, and the greens were fast, and he doubled 16 to go 10-over, and then he bogeyed 17 to go 11-over, and then he chipped in from short right on the last for a 3 to shoot 82. So he took the $20 that morning, and he's never stopped talking about it since. He tells everybody about his chip-in.”