After overcoming his reluctance to travel overseas, Lee Westwood reaped the rewards on the opening day of the US Open at Winged Foot.
Seeking a first major title at the 83rd attempt, Westwood carded a three-under-par 67 to lie just two shots off the lead held by Justin Thomas.
The 47-year-old opted out of the WGC-FedEx St Jude Invitational and US PGA Championship in early August, despite quarantine rules in the United States being relaxed for top sports stars.
But after taking advice from fellow players, the former world number decided to travel to New York for the second major of the year.
Impressively, he seemed to need little time to acclimatise, mastering the challenging Winged Foot layout in some style.
Asked if he was surprised that the golf course played relatively easily and if the players could expect a much tougher challenge ahead, Westwood said: “I don’t think they’ll have to toughen it up much.
“I think it’s gettable if you play well and hit the fairways, [but] it becomes a beast of a golf course if you start missing a few fairways and missing greens in the wrong places.
“I’m sure they can go a little bit harder with the flags as well, but US Open golf courses are never pushovers, and Winged Foot is never a pushover, but I’m sure it’s probably not going to get any easier.”
Westwood last played Winged Foot in the 1997 PGA Championship, and when asked to compare the golf course now with the way it was back then, he admitted it was tough to think that far back.
“It’s 23 years ago, to be honest I can’t really remember,” he said with a smile.
“I remember it being tough that week, obviously it was a little bit earlier in the year, it was in August, because that’s when the PGA Championship was.
“I remember playing with Tim Herron in the last round and I think he went bogey-free, and it was the only bogey-free round of the week, or one of only two, so it must have been playing tough.
“I remember it being thick rough, but I think at the start of the week I had a three-wood made for me with a little bit less loft, because back in the day you struggled to move it right to left, and I thought it was going to be easier with a three-wood.
“I didn’t carry a driver, so it couldn’t have been overly long in ’97, and it must have been running a little bit firm.
“Obviously, Davis won and everybody remembers him holing the putt with the rainbow on 18, but I don’t remember it raining during the week, so I think it was probably just playing hard and fast… and difficult.”
While Westwood is right in surmising that the course isn’t about to get any easier, if he continues to stay out of trouble and keep his ball in the fairway, he might just have a chance of breaking his major duck.
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