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PALM BEACH GARDENS — Lee Westwood is in the midst of a grueling stretch of golf. He is one of three golfers to enter all four legs of the Florida Swing and spent two days following last week’s Players Championship playing 54 holes at Augusta National, including 36 on Monday.
Yet, one of the two hottest golfers in the world felt an obligation to the Honda Classic this week, welcoming playing one of the most challenging courses on the PGA Tour, despite admitting to fatigue and “not expecting” too much from himself.
Westwood once called Honda a home game, having lived two miles away at Old Palm for a few years before recently selling his mansion and moving back to Newcastle, England. Westwood maintains a great relationship with Honda executive director Ken Kennerly and appreciates Kennerly offering him an exemption for 2021 that was no longer needed after Westwood finished second at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
“I used to live in this area, so I like to come and support this tournament,” Westwood said. “It means a lot to the area. It’s one of my favorite tournaments of the year, as well. I really enjoy this golf course. I find it a good challenge.”
Would be nice if locals Dustin Johnson or Patrick Cantlay felt the same pull to our area as someone who no longer lives here. Neither’s schedule has been as ambitious as Westwood’s, who at 47 is more than a decade older than Johnson and 19 years Cantlay’s elder, and neither has shown the same appreciation of what the Honda has meant to the community as Westwood.
“I never felt like skipping it or thought about it,” Westwood said Wednesday, after playing nine holes of the Pro-Am.
Westwood definitely is golf’s flavor of the month. He entered the Arnold Palmer Invitational two weeks ago ranked 39th in the world and after back-to-back runner-up finishes, he’s vaulted to No. 19. A world-wide fan favorite with 42 international victories and having spent 22 weeks atop the World Golf Rankings, he’s not one to back down from a challenge or a challenging course, unlike some of his much younger peers.
“This is a tough mental test, probably the toughest of the lot, I’d say,” he said when asked about his recent stretch. “Yeah, I’m a little bit tired, I must admit. I feel a little bit drained. My legs are feeling it a little bit. … but hopefully pull myself together and get ready for (Thursday).”
Westwood’s Pro-Am obligation ended mid-morning Wednesday, so he had more than 24 hours to rest for his first-round tee time (12:53 p.m.). His itinerary for that period: Recharge the batteries by getting a good night’s sleep and eating plenty of carbs.
And while he admits to not setting expectations high, this has been Westwood’s approach for years. He’s done and seen it all, he can have fun without winning, something he has proven each of the last two weeks when finishing one shot off the lead, behind Bryson DeChambeau at Bay Hill and Justin Thomas at TPC Sawgrass.
“I don’t know what to expect from myself at the moment,” Westwood said. “I’m obviously coming off two good results and my game feels good. I’m putting well, and if I’m feeling all right … there’s no reason why I shouldn’t play well. I play well around this golf course. It’s a course that sets up well for me, so I’m looking forward to it.”
Westwood has four top 10s in seven starts at Honda, including fourth a year ago.
Westwood is tempting karma this week by switching up caddies, from his fiancé Helen Storey to his son, Sam. Helen chose to caddy for Westwood the last two weeks, he said, adding “she’s sick” she’s giving up the bag-carrying duty to Sam this week. “She was on a run, wasn’t she?”
Sam is carrying his dad’s bag at Augusta next month and Helen is back on caddie duties for the PGA Championship and British Open. The only solace the field at Honda should have is DeChambeau giving Storey a lot of credit for Westwood’s run the last two weeks. DeChambeau was in the final grouping on Sunday both weekends.
“I think Helen is a big part of it,” DeChambeau said. “She’s keeping him steady and level headed and she’s a rock. Keeps his mind focused on the right things, and she’s been awesome for him, and that’s one of his secret weapons, I think.”
But for Westwood, it doesn’t matter. He says after 28 years as a professional and 817 starts on the European and PGA Tours, there isn’t much a caddie can do to help him.
“I just like being out there with the both of them,” he said. “Both keep me relaxed. We have good chats out there. It’s good bonding time.”
Just a dad and his son, or a man and his future wife, taking a leisurely stroll on a golf course.