Inside the Ropes: Westwood enjoying his first trip to PGA Tour playoffs

The SportsXchange

Lee Westwood rejoined the PGA Tour this year almost exclusively for the playoffs.

Westwood, No. 4 in the World Golf Rankings, felt left out last year watching from his couch in Worksop, England, as the rest of the best players in the world competed in the FedEx Cup tournaments.

"That's the reason I joined the Tour this year, I suppose, watching the playoffs on TV last year and thinking that I was missing out on playing in some big tournaments," Westwood said. "After the majors are over there can be a bit of an anticlimax. But these come so quick after the PGA Championship that it's almost like there's something to go at.

" ... It's been great to play (in the playoffs). The PGA Tour does a great job putting on these events. After the major championships there's some big tournaments to play for, and they've managed to put together a great series.

"Been really sort of a bit of a second wind for me. Moving (to the United States) here shortly and committing myself more to this tour and playing these bigger events has given me sort of a new challenge."

After a solid start to his PGA Tour season, with four finishes in the top five in his first six events, the Englishman went into a midseason slump. His only high finish in five tournaments was a tie for 10th in the U.S. Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco.

That left him 51st in the FedEx Cup standings at the end of the regular season and guaranteed to play in only the first three playoff events, with the top 30 reaching the Tour Championship at East Lake in Atlanta.

However, he remedied that quickly with a tie for fifth at the Barclays, which lifted him to a tie for 27th in the standings. He tied for 13th in the Deutsche Bank Championship and tied for second in the BMW Championship, leaving him eighth in the FedEx Cup standing heading to his first Tour Championship next week at East Lake in Atlanta.

"It's a bit of a mad rush, isn't it, to the finishing line," said Westwood, who ranks 10th in the European Tour's Race to Dubai, which culminates with the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai.

"You have to play well this time of year to do well in it. ... There is a certain buildup to the rest of the year. But these are worth more points. You play poorly, you don't progress. You play well, you get a good chance to win it."

Westwood's quick turnaround in the Barclays at Bethpage Black came after he sacked swing coach Pete Cowen and part-time caddie Michael Waite after missing the cut in the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island.

Waite, who was filling in for injured Billy Foster, was replaced by Mike Kerr, who has worked with Ernie Els. The big change was hiring respected short-game coach Tony Johnstone.

"I've never really worked with anybody on my long game. That's in good order," said Westwood, one of the best ball-strikers in the game. "But I did four days work with Tony last week and I might have a few good ideas to try over the next few weeks.

"It was amazing how quickly I've seen the improvements. I made so many up-and-downs at Bethpage, which, when the greens are as quick as they were, is a treacherous place. I felt my feel on chipping has really come back.

"Tony just took me back to basics and simplified things. I'm impressed how it's going."

The improvement has been evident in the playoffs. Westwood has often gotten up-and-down for par from difficult situations and seems to be putting with more confidence than ever before.

Said Johnstone: "Lee wanted a go-to chipping method he could use on 90 percent of his chips because he had lost some confidence. He had got a bit long in the backswing. But the boy has such talent, it's frightening."

And just in time for the playoffs, not to mention the Ryder Cup late this month at Medinah, outside Chicago.

But for now, Westwood has his mind on Atlanta.

"I won't pretend to understand the (FedEx) points system. In fact, I haven't got a flipping clue how it works," said Westwood, who after Christmas will move his family from Worksop to Florida to facilitate a full-time U.S. schedule.

"I try to go as low as I can and see what happens. But I realize that every shot counts and that's how it should be. The cut and thrust is good; it keeps you on your toes. They all feel like big, big events. Yes, I'm now a fan.

"One shot can make all the difference between making the Tour Championship and missing it."

And this time he won't be watching the finale on TV.

COMING UP

PGA TOUR: Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, Sept 20-23.

TV: Thursday and Friday, 1-6 p.m. EDT on the Golf Channel; Saturday, noon-2 p.m. on the Golf Channel and 2-6 p.m. EDT on NBC, and Sunday, 11:30-1:30 p.m. EDT on the Golf Channel and 1:30-6 p.m. EDT on NBC.

LAST YEAR: Bill Haas, who started the week at 25th in the FedEx Cup standings, made a remarkable par out of the water on the second playoff hole before sinking a four-foot putt for par on the third extra hole to beat Hunter Mahan. He earned $1,440,000 for winning the tournament and $10 million for capturing the season-long FedEx Cup race. Haas, who closed with a 2-under-par 70, squandered a three-stroke lead by carding bogeys on the 16th and 18th holes in the final round. Mahan, who finished with a 71 after holding the 54-hole lead, made a birdie on the 15th hole to pull even and force the playoff. On the final playoff hole, Mahan hit into a greenside bunker and missed a 14-foot putt for par.

CHAMPIONS TOUR: Pacific Links Hawaii Championship at Kapolei Golf Course in Kapolei, Oahu, Hawaii, Friday through Sunday.

TV: Friday through Sunday, 7:30-10 p.m. EDT, on the Golf Channel each day.

LAST YEAR: Inaugural event.

LPGA TOUR: Ricoh Women's British Open at Royal Liverpool Golf Club in Hoylake, England, Thursday through Sunday.

TV: Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 9 a.m.-noon EDT, on ESPN each day.

LAST YEAR: Yani Tseng of Taiwan shot 3-under-par 69 in the final round to successfully defend the title she won the year before at Royal Birkdale, this time winning by four strokes over Brittany Lang at Carnoustie. At 22 years, 6 months, 8 days, Tseng became the youngest golfer to win five major titles. Tiger Woods previously held that distinction, having won his fifth major at 24 years, 7 months. She trailed third-round leader Caroline Masson of Germany by two strokes entering the final round, but Masson closed with a 78 to tie for fifth. Tseng carded a three-putt bogey on the first hole but took control with birdies on the third, sixth and 11th holes, then punctuated her victory with birdies on the last two holes.
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