Circumstances had combined to strengthen Lee Westwood’s case for Ryder Cup inclusion even before his form in marquee events which suddenly renders an appearance for the Englishman at Hazeltine in September as a no-brainer.
Westwood’s tie for second place at the Masters, added to further prominence at the US Open for the first three rounds, means he has already proven a continuing capacity to perform on the biggest stages. Crucially, with Hazeltine in mind, both of these majors are US-based.
The odds would now be in favour of the 43-year-old qualifying automatically for Darren Clarke’s team but if not, he has a valid case for a captain’s pick. At the turn of this year, neither scenario had looked likely. By Sunday afternoon at Oakmont, Westwood found himself in the second to last group of the year’s second major.
“Patience is always a key thing in any major championship,” Westwood said. “It’s an extreme test and an extreme mental test. The US Open is the toughest one. You can’t let things frustrate you too easily. I’ve been in contention a lot in major championships. So that has helped me a lot. It’s just nice to be in contention in a major again, where everyone wants to be. The atmosphere has been fantastic.
“To play well at Augusta with the world’s best players, and that’s a golf course I’ve played well on in the past, it really sort of gave me a bit of confirmation that I’ve still got the game to compete.”
Clarke will be grateful for Westwood’s return to form. The man from Worksop has never been the type to shout and bawl but a record of nine Ryder Cup playing appearances has clear merit. Other players look up to and take inspiration from Westwood in a team environment. He has been a successful partner for a wide range of Ryder Cup competitors.
Ian Poulter’s injury problem was a great shame, not only for the player himself but the Ryder Cup platform he has relished. It was an act of common sense for Clarke to hand Poulter a vice-captaincy post when the extent of his foot problem was known. There was a widely acknowledged subtext, though; one of Europe’s tried and tested performers would not be competing at Hazeltine meaning others, including Westwood, would be even more valuable.
Victory for Chris Wood at Wentworth last month, Shane Lowry’s performance at Oakmont, the consistency of Russell Knox and Matthew Fitzpatrick, Rafa Cabrera-Bella’s surge to the point where he is close to qualifying already, plus the points statuses of Danny Willett and Andy Sullivan, means the European team may have an even more fresh-faced look than was predicted.
That has benefits, beyond the basic fact of players doing so much right to make the team in the first place, but experience is invaluable in the biennial meeting with the USA. Europe’s recent dominance of the Ryder Cup means those who have so regularly played a part should have something to offer.
Whisper it, but Paul Casey’s refusal to make himself available for selection may have rising status. Graeme McDowell, Martin Kaymer and Luke Donald have serious work to do to get back into Clarke’s thoughts but in the context of a potentially debut-heavy Europe team, might have attraction on the basis of former glories. Westwood already had that; now his golf is doing the talking.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010