Westwood back in the Middle East with a target on his back
By STEVE DOUGLAS
With the weather fairly miserable and golf courses closed during Britain's latest lockdown, Lee Westwood opted to fly out to the Middle East to do his preseason work ahead of a 28th year on the European Tour.
It might have felt like a homecoming.
It's a part of the world which served the 47-year-old Westwood pretty well in 2020, a stop-start year that opened with him winning the Abu Dhabi Championship in January for his 25th title on the tour and ended with him becoming - against the odds - Europe's No. 1 golfer for the third time in his career at the World Tour Championship in Dubai in December.
No wonder Westwood is raring to get going again after an offseason of only three weeks, with the tour's first event of the 2021 season being the defense of his Abu Dhabi title this week.
"I was saying to Helen (his fiancee and caddie) this morning that I've done everything and I'm getting bored," Westwood said Tuesday on a video call. "I just wish it was Thursday."
Now an elder statesman of the tour and with a nagging back complaint that he just has to manage, Westwood has no intention of slowing down this season. Abu Dhabi begins a run of three events in the "Gulf Swing" - the Dubai Desert Classic and the Saudi International come next - before he heads to the United States for six tournaments in seven weeks culminating at the Masters.
Up to No. 37 in the world, Westwood is enjoying what might be a glorious twilight to his career and has another target to aim for in 2021: making the European Ryder Cup team for an 11th time for the postponed match at Whistling Straits in September.
Qualifying resumes this week, having been put on hold since March because of the pandemic, and all points earned on both the European and world points list will be multiplied by 1.5 until May. Westwood would currently make the team on the back of his placing in the world points list.
Many of Europe's Ryder Cup hopefuls will be playing in Abu Dhabi, including Rory McIlroy - making his first appearance in a regular European Tour event since November 2019 - and Tommy Fleetwood, the winner in 2017 and '18.
On the American side, Justin Thomas will be playing in the tournament for the first time in what will be only his fourth start in a European Tour event, and first since Ralph Lauren ended its sponsorship deal with him after he was heard muttering a homophobic slur to himself after missing a putt two weeks ago in the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii.
Westwood said he understands why players are being miked up, calling it a "demand thing."
"TV are looking for more. They want to get closer and closer all the time, and they pick up more chat," Westwood said, without mentioning Thomas specifically. "We're all aware that they are there."
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Updated January 19, 2021