This weekend sees the start of the US Open, held this year at the scenic Pebble Beach course in California. Hopes of seeing a rare European victory in this event (the last European winner came in 1970 courtesy of Englishman Tony Jacklin) improved at the weekend when Lee Westwood recorded a somewhat unlikely victory in the St Jude’s Classic in Memphis.
The Englishman was handed the chance of victory by a Jean Van De Velde-esque collapse on the final hole by American Robert Garrigus. Standing on the 18th tee, the American held a 3 shot advantage but somehow contrived to fritter this lead away, driving the ball into the water and finding the trees with his third shot, to card a three-over-par 7 at the last hole to force a play-off between himself, Robert Karlsson and Westwood; A playoff which the in-form Englishman duly won after four tough extra holes.
The omens of a repeat success this week in California however don’t seem to be on Westwood’s side… Or do they?
Certainly it is a rarity for a golfer to win the week before a major tournament and then go on to win the major itself seven days later. Ernie Els won two tournaments in a row earlier this season, but in the history of the four major Championships, only ten Golfers have won the week before a major and then followed that up with victory in the major itself, the last being, unsurprisingly, Tiger Woods in 2007, who won the Bridgestone Invitational before lifting the US PGA Championship. Indeed in the field that is likely to tee off at Pebble Beach on Thursday, there will only likely be Woods and Phil Mickelson (who won the BellSouth Classic in 2006 the week before lifting the Masters) who have achieved the rare feat.
So the odds don’t look too promising for Westwood on that score. Those odds get worse when you consider that no golfer has ever won the week before the US Open and then gone on to lift the prize itself.
Then of course, Westwood will also be fighting nearly 100 years of almost total American dominance in the event itself. Europe has provided the winner for the US Open a grand total of four times since 1911; the last being Tony Jacklin in 1970. This is an event that European golfers in particular have had enormous difficulty winning.
However Westwood fans can take hope from other indicators. The Worksop born golfer has always enjoyed playing on the West Coast, particularly in the US Open. In 1998, at Olympic he finished seventh, and in 2000 at Pebble Beach he was fifth. Torrey Pine in 2007 saw Westwood finish third. There is a natural progression in that sequence that sees Westwood crowned US Open champion come Sunday night!
Then of course there is Westwood’s form over the past 12 months or so, particularly in the majors. The consensus of opinion is that Westwood is due a major win sooner rather than later after some spectacularly consistent performances in golf’s biggest event. A fact which has been recognised in the betting as Westwood is now a clear third favourite (behind Woods and Mickelson) with Betfair at 10/3. Westwood is now clearly one of the best players in World Golf, ranked 3rd in the world with both Mickelson and Woods firmly in his sights.
Upsetting the odds, tradition, the history books and trends to lift the US Open trophy on Sunday night, would be a fitting way for Westwood to close the gap still further on the two American’s who sit above him in the World Rankings.