Lee Westwood secures 44th worldwide title to open door to potential Ryder Cup return

James Corrigan
The Telegraph
Lee Westwood celebrates after picking up victory in Abu Dhabi - David Cannon Collection
Lee Westwood celebrates after picking up victory in Abu Dhabi - David Cannon Collection

Lee Westwood did not dare risk his back to stoop down to collect his ball from the hole after a comeback victory that makes a Ryder Cup return entirely feasible. Instead, the 46-year employed a device on the end of his putter to spare him the effort. 

“It was because of a bet I made with a mate,” Westwood revealed. “We decided it would be the ultimate way for a veteran to celebrate. And I did it!”

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It was a wonderful old man’s moment to sign off what is sure to be one of the circuit’s most popular wins of the season. Where the likes of Sir Nick Faldo, Seve Ballesteros, Colin Montgomerie and Ernie Els failed, Westwood has succeeded. Only Mark McNulty had ever before won European Tour strokeplay titles in four different decades.

”That fills me with pride and was why I was so emotional at the end,” he said, after lifting the Abu Dhabi Championship. “Sport is all about setting targets for everybody else to follow and it just shows the level I've played at for such a long time. Longevity in sport is difficult to achieve. 

“I feel as healthy now as ever. I don't groan too much when I get out of bed in the morning to put on my socks. I've a new commitment to the gym and the kind of drive that I feel like I can continue to move on. I'm re-energised.”

<span>Westwood secured a £900,000 payday that takes him back into the world’s top 30</span> <span>Credit: Getty Images </span>
Westwood secured a £900,000 payday that takes him back into the world’s top 30 Credit: Getty Images

Nobody can say that Westwood’s 25th Tour title and his 44th worldwide was not of the highest quality; a fact recognised by Faldo in his message. “Congrats, Lee,” Faldo wrote. “Must be a great feeling knowing you can still beat the youngsters half your age!”

Holding a one-shot overnight advantage, Westwood had to withstand everything the young generation had to throw at him and he did so like the former world No 1 that he is.  There was Tommy Fleetwood, on his 29th birthday, coming from six shots off the pace to shoot a 63 to finish in second, two behind.

Alongside Fleetwood, was yet another Englishman in Matt Fitzpatrick, the 25-year-old who was not even born when Westwood first played on Tour in 1993, firing a 67 for his sixth runner-up placing in the last year. And there was the crack young Frenchman Victor Perez also on 17-under after his own 63. 

All of them will be in the Ryder Cup reckoning and so, too, will Westwood after this £900,000 payday that takes him back into the world’s top 30. Fleetwood revealed that he put Westwood in his team when a friend asked him to name his dozen a few months ago. But Westwood, who turns 47 in three months, has a message for Europe captain, Padraig Harrington, as the clamour begins to build for Westwood to emulate Faldo’s record of 11 appearances, after missing out on Paris two years ago. 

“I don’t want a wildcard pick for Whistling Straits in September, but would definitely play if I qualified by right,” Westwood said. “To be honest, I thought I was done in the Ryder Cup as a player. I've played 10, and I really enjoyed watching everybody else suffer in the last one. But, yes,  I would love to play another Ryder Cup, so long as I'm good enough.”

In this form, it would not even be a discussion. There was only one bogey in Westwood’s 67, but the manner in which he bounced back from that five on the 16th was evidence that the winning formula is still very much preserved. He nervelessly parred the 17th and birdied the 18th for his first win since the Nedbank Challenge in Sun City 15 months ago. 

There followed the tears and the thanks. He paid special mention to his sports psychologist Ben Davies, as well as putting coach Phil Kenyon, who introduced Westwood to the “claw” style that effected such a transformation here.  And then there is Robert Rock, Westwood’s fellow Tour player with whom he was been working on his long game since late last year. 

Rock, of course, famously triumphed at this event in 2012 when fending off Tiger Woods down the stretch and had a message for Westwood on Saturday night. “Rocky texted me to say, ‘Don't tell me that I've actually won something that you've never won?’," Westwood said. "And I  replied ‘just give me a day’. I can't wait to text him later.”

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