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Tuesday, February 05, 2008
Don't look now, but there's another Steve Strickeresque rejuvenation happening in the ranks of professional golf. Very quietly, Lee Westwood has turned his game around and is now ranked 18th in the world. This is a guy whom most observers either wrote off or simply forgot existed.
Let's set the scene. Ten years ago, Westwood was the most promising Englishman (and European, for that matter) to come along in a decade. It seemed like he was winning everything he entered, and his career peaked in 2000 with six victories on the Euro Tour and a place atop of the Order of Merit.
Shortly after that, his game sputtered. He ended 2001 #52 on the European money list, which seems almost impossible for someone with his talent to accomplish. It would be like Tiger Woods going from #1 to about #100 on the PGA Tour money list. In 2002, it got worse, as he slipped to 75th on the money list.
Now, one could argue that Westwood never lost his game quite to the extent that Baker-Finch, Duval, or Ballesteros did. However, he had some bleak years after being "The Man" in Europe. Since 2002, he's slowly gotten himself back on track. In 2003 he won twice, but the rest of his year was littered with T-67s. He was showing progress, but doubters still had good reason to doubt.
Around the same time that his game started recovering, many fresh faces appeared on the European Tour who stole the limelight from Lee. These players include Justin Rose, Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter, Nick Dougherty, and Luke Donald. Westwood became a forgotten star almost overnight. Though he continued to improve from 2004 through 2006, he didn't win during those years, and he became known more as an also-ran than a threat to win every tournament he entered.
Fast-forward to 2007, and Westwood is right back where he was eight years ago. He won twice on the European Tour and finished in the top 36 of all four majors. He's currently on top of the Order of Merit for 2008 and has had a recent run that I feel has gone unnoticed by most of the golf press. He has placed in the top 10 in eleven of his last twelve tournaments. Eleven of the last twelve!
I expect to see more good things from this brilliant Ryder Cupper in the years to come. Hopefully he can keep the good vibes going and stay on top. He's only 34 years old, so he should be entering his prime. It should be fun to watch. Maybe other golf fans will start to take notice.