Westwood out to be the main man at Medinah
Every team has a natural leader, an inspirational talisman that all players look up to, and for Europe, that man is Lee John Westwood.
When Lee Westwood arrives at Medinah Country Club on Monday he will begin his preparations for his eighth Ryder Cup match, embracing the unique atmosphere of The Ryder Cup and relishing the challenge of taking on the might of the United States.
“At a tournament, you see a good shot and you applaud because you are not emotionally linked to anybody,” he said. “At the Ryder Cup everyone takes sides. You're taking on not just the USA team, but the whole country. It's a challenge I like.”
In his seven previous appearances stretching back to his debut in 1997, he has been on the winning side five times and tasted defeat only twice, and a glance through the record books shows he is already up there among the greatest Ryder Cup players of all time.
Heading into the 2012 contest, the 39 year old from Worksop boasts an impressive record of having won 16, halved six and lost only 11 of his 33 matches. He has won 19 points in total, only six shy of the record 25 points won by Sir Nick Faldo. Only Faldo, Bernhard Langer, Colin Montgomerie, Seve Ballesteros and, his Captain this week, José María Olazábal, have won more points for the European cause.
Twice he has been unbeaten through all five matches – in 2004, when he won 4½ points out of 5, and then again in 2006, when he claimed 4 from 5 – and he was on the cusp of equalling Arnold Palmer’s record of 12 unbeaten matches in succession when he was rested by Faldo for a session for the first time in his Ryder Cup career.
It is perhaps in foursomes that Westwood has been at his most formidable, losing only twice in 13 matches, during which time he has forged some magical partnerships. Two in particular stand out – firstly with his close friend Darren Clarke, and secondly with Sergio Garcia.
Clarke and Westwood gelled beautifully, winning six of their eight matches together, while the partnership with Garcia was equally solid as they have lost only once in seven ties.
Who he partners this year remains to be seen but in a team bursting with experience, perhaps the on-course leader will take the team’s only rookie, Nicolas Colsaerts, under his wing, just as he did with Martin Kaymer two years ago at Celtic Manor, and Søren Hansen in 2008 at Valhalla.
With 24 of the top 35 players in the world in action next week, and every one of the them currently playing at the peak of their powers, The 39th Ryder Cup is set up to be a classic.
“With the Americans at home and the crowd behind them, and with Europe trying to defend the trophy, it's like the perfect storm,” said Westwood. “It will be close – but I think we'll win. Rory is on fire, myself and Luke are in the top four in the world; Paul Lawrie, Sergio Garcia and Peter Hanson have won recently; [Nicolas] Colsaerts and Ian Poulter have won the World Match Play in their time; and Francesco Molinari is ‘Mr Reliable’.”
Justin Rose is on fine form, as he has shown the Tour Championship by Coca-Cola on the US PGA Tour this week, Martin Kaymer is back on form with his recent top five finish in Italy, while Graeme McDowell is always the man for the big occasion and can draw on the unforgettable memories of Celtic Manor, where he secured the winning point in such dramatic style.
“This Ryder Cup could be a classic,” he predicted. “It's a long time since I saw two teams with such high quality players in them.”