HUMBLE, Texas –
Lee Westwood will make his 56th attempt to win a major next week, and for the fourth year running is warming up at the Shell Houston Open.
There is a difference this time, though. He did not stop at Augusta National en route to Texas.
Shell has been the Houston Open’s title sponsor since 1992, giving it the third-longest tenure on the PGA Tour. The oil company’s current contract runs through 2017.
Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are among those who like to start their Masters preparations early, but Westwood has changed his mind on that.
“I didn’t think it was that necessary,” the 38-year-old world No. 3 said. “It’s a nice place to go and soak up the atmosphere with nobody there and get some work done, but the course isn’t really reflective of how it’s going to be on Thursday morning next week.
“It changes so much in three days,” he added. “I just decided not to this year and thought the extra couple of days at home would do me more good.”
Runner-up to Mickelson at Augusta National two years ago, Westwood has not only seen Ryder Cup teammates Graeme McDowell, Martin Kaymer, Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke all win majors since then, but also two more management stablemates in Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel. Meanwhile, he has had six top-three major finishes in the past four seasons.
“I think it proves I’m capable of winning major championships,” he said. “It makes me look forward to major championships a lot more than I used to. I feel like my game is better equipped to tackle major championship golf courses.
“You really should go into it treating it like just another tournament. We have plenty of them and major championships are no different,” he added. “Some of the tests are a little bit more severe — next week’s greens will be faster than most we putt on all year — but I feel like I’ve got a good enough game to cope with those things.”
Clarke, McDowell, Mickelson, Paul Casey and Padraig Harrington are also in this week’s field and so is Ernie Els, who has to win to qualify for the Masters.
McDowell, of course, would have won last weekend but for the return to form of Woods at Bay Hill.
“I’m very excited with my game,” the 2010 US Open champion said. “Every facet of my game is in decent shape and my spirits are high.”
Harrington has dropped to 93rd in the world, but two weeks ago began the Transitions Championship with a 61, the lowest score of his career. Not breaking 70 in any of the other three rounds and slipping from first to 20th was disappointing, but with a seventh place at Pebble Beach early last month there are at least encouraging signs for the Dubliner.
Clarke has not had a top-10 finish since he won the British Open last summer, while Casey — the winner in Houston three years ago — is playing only his third event since dislocating his shoulder snowboarding on Christmas Eve.