With the Dubai World Championship less than a month away, Fintan Collier looks at the performances of Lee Westwood and Irish golfers alike in the Portugal Masters
The stunning Oceânico Victoria Golf Course in Vilamoura played host to a long-awaited victory for Lee Westwood in the Portugal Masters. There is no sport more frustrating to play, especially when you are playing badly, than golf – so it was satisfying to see a return to form for the veteran English golfer. Westwood kept focused throughout the Algarve tournament and played very consistently over the four days, shooting impressive scores of 66, 67, 66 and 66.
The Englishman seized his opportunity when rival Francesco Molinari failed to make a short putt on the 16th, leaving the Italian with a bogey. Westwood kept his nerve on the 17th and overcame a flushed ball, which left him with a tricky shot on one of the longest holes with the smallest green on the course.
Westwood tapped in for a birdie, putting pressure on Molinari who in turn missed a five-foot putt that would have brought back the gap to one. Westwood’s ultimate score of 23 under was a welcome delight for the Englishman, after losing three playoffs and having two near misses in Majors over the past two years.
Padraig Harrington took a third place in the competition finishing six strokes behind Westwood. Harrington was unfocused on the greens, and changed his putter in an attempt to improve his play. He later criticised his reading of the greens in his performance, but his bronze is by no means a small feat.
Ireland’s golfing underdog, Shane Lowry, achieved a joint 30th place with fellow Irishman Rory McIlroy; they took home €24,128 each. Lowry has come a long way since his amateur status earlier in the year, and left Portugal on a wave of confidence after achieving four birdies in his final five holes. McIlroy for his part was unhappy with his performance, and like Harrington, struggled with the greens. Veteran golfer Darren Clarke also featured in the event finishing in 41st place.
Westwood’s victory in Portugal has brought back his competitive spirit, which in turn has set his sights on the Race to Dubai, the new branding for the European Tour’s Order of Merit. With the season-long competition worth US$1.5 million and a ten-year exemption to the Tour, it is no wonder Westwood has perked up his game – he now enjoys a narrow advantage over earlier leader Rory McIlroy. It had been two years since Westwood’s last tour victory, at the 2007 British Masters, and he is keen to not fall into a losing pattern again, saying “winning is definitely a habit and I got out of the habit. Hopefully now I have won again I can win more.”
Westwood will next compete in the Hong Kong Open against fellow Englishman Paul Casey, currently ranked fourth in the world. Westwood looks set for a challenge but is also looking forward to the event, adding that “I understand Fanling is a tight, old-style course that places a lot of emphasis on accuracy, so hopefully it will suit my game and I can put on a good show for the fans.” It should be an exciting week in golf as McIlroy, Casey and Westwood contend for the prize money to pip their rivals in the Race to Dubai.