Lee Westwood Column: On Tiger, Rory, Course Set-ups And More
Professional golf is in a fascinating place at the moment.
Would I say it’s as strong as it’s ever been? Well, there’s certainly a great spread across the board.
You have lots of guys from my era playing well – the likes of Phil Mickelson and Henrik Stenson – Tiger is obviously back in the mix and there are lots of quality youngsters on the scene.
It’s very competitive and picking obvious winners is much harder nowadays.
Take The Masters, for example. In the past, you could probably look at the field list and select 25 players who you thought had a chance to win.
Now that number is probably more like 50.
Even though Tiger Woods winning was unlikely, he was in that group of 50.
It’s been really interesting monitoring his comeback and I think he’s been motivated to challenge himself against the young players, most of whom idolised him growing up.
Many of these guys haven’t seen him anywhere near his peak in the flesh and I think he’s keen to come out and show them just how good he is.
He loves the game so much and he’s so driven to compete.
It’s certainly been a stronger comeback than his previous attempts and he’s actually got back into it quicker than I thought he would.
People were panicking about his short game not so long ago but now it looks fantastic.
At Bay Hill, he didn’t exactly hit it straight, but he still contended – he found a way to get the ball in the hole and that’s exactly what he used to do.
He’s never been a fairway machine. If he stays fit and healthy, I see him winning tournaments again.
I don’t know if he’ll win another Major – there are just far too many variables. The key thing is that he’s fit enough to play again.
If everyone plays their best golf for a season, I think Rory McIlroy comes out on top in the rankings.
It’s certainly close, and I think there are maybe six players who are at a similar level: Rory, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas, and then Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson when they are on and firing.
They are all great players and excellent putters – you can’t be a bad putter and be at the top of the world rankings.
There’s been a lot of discussion about the distance pros are hitting it recently, but there are so many factors involved – driver and ball technology are better, players are stronger, work more on their swing and crucially know more about the results good technique can deliver, data analysis is more prevalent, course set up is different with fairways cut shorter resulting in more roll, and there are more factors still.
For me, courses play at their most difficult when greens are really firm and the rough is unpredictable – somewhere like Sun City, which has kikuyu grass, where sometimes the ball sits up, sometimes it sits right down, sometimes it flies when you don’t think it’s going to and other times it comes out dead.
I think course designers and people who set courses up need to use their imagination a little more, rather than positioning another set of tees further back.
Venues like Valderrama, Hong Kong GC and TPC River Highlands (host of the Travelers Championship) are all less than 7,000 yards and scoring is always tough.
Erin Hills was 7,800 yards, but it had 60-yard-wide fairways in places and Brooks Koepka shot 16-under!
As for my year thus far, I’ve seen good signs at times. I haven’t played many tournaments, but I shot a 62 in Malaysia and finished 11th there, and then led the following week in Australia after two days.
I’m not playing badly – I just need to go on a run of tournaments and find something to light the fire.
The way the European Tour schedule has fallen, and the fact I’m not in the top 50 so not automatically in all the Majors and WGCs, means I haven’t played much yet this year, but I look forward to getting going again very soon.
I think the golf season is pretty long and people need a break at times, players and fans alike.
All other sports have time off, but golf is virtually 12 months of the year.
I’m 45 years old now and I can’t play 30-plus tournaments a year.
The PGA Tour will finish in August in 2019, so I think the European Tour could stage some key events later in the year and attract marquee names.
But I think we almost need to be assertive and set our own schedule, not to fit in with anyone else – to do what’s right for the European Tour.
Lee is sponsored by Audemars Piguet, Bioflow, Close House, Druh Belts, Flannels, ISPS Handa, Nike, Ping, Titleist, UPS and Your Golf Travel.