PONTE VEDRA BEACH Florida (Reuters) - A tour professional for two decades, Lee Westwood knows all about the vagaries of golf and he rebounded from a missed cut last week in impressive style at the Players Championship on Thursday.
The former world number one took advantage of an unexpectedly early tee time and ideal morning conditions at the TPC Sawgrass to fire a five-under-par 67 in the opening round.
Westwood, who has been working hard on his swing with coach Mike Walker, reeled off five birdies in a bogey-free display to finish two strokes off the lead in the PGA Tour’s prestigious flagship event.
”I played really well,“ the 41-year-old Englishman, who missed the cut in last week’s PGA Tour event at Quail Hollow, told reporters. ”I got off to a nice start ... then got a bit of momentum. I hit it good all day.
“It was a really solid 67. I couldn’t have really done any worse.”
Westwood ended a title drought of almost two years with a commanding seven-shot victory at the European Tour’s Malaysian Open last month before failing to qualify for the weekend on his next start, at Quail Hollow.
”I‘m experienced enough now to have patience and wait it out,“ he said. ”I know what golf is like.
”I found it (good form) in Malaysia, but lost it at Quail Hollow. When you are making (swing) changes, some weeks and some days it feels like you can do it and other times it doesn‘t.
“I got Mike on the range at Old Palm on Monday and it came back within a half an hour. He’s given me a few drills to work on that will gradually engrain that, and I find it quite easy to take onto the golf course.”
A 23-times champion on the European Tour, Westwood was delighted to return to the winner’s circle in Malaysia where he ended a barren title run dating back to the 2012 Nordea Masters in Sweden.
“There’s nothing like winning a tournament to give you confidence, more mentally than anything, that when you get into a position to win, you can finish it off,” he said.
“I’ve won 41 times (worldwide), so I‘m obviously good at winning when I get a chance. But it’s always nice to reaffirm that whenever possible, and I did everything right in Malaysia.”
Getting an early tee time at the TPC Sawgrass on Thursday came as a welcome bonus for the Englishman.
”Actually I had a little chuckle and thought, this is great,“ smiled Westwood. ”This is like having a handicap again, getting a shot. Being first out is brilliant; it’s a great tee time. I love it.
“It’s better than being last out. Pace of play is nice, no spike marks. Nice playing partners to play with. Yeah, it was a nice morning to be playing golf.”
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Frank Pingue