Worksop golf star Lee Westood returned to the scene of one of his greatest triumphs at long last this week to compete in the Emirates Australia Open, which began today (Thursday).
The first European to win the Australian Open, Westwood, and incoming Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke are in Sydney for the 100th national championship which ends on Sunday.
Former World No.1 Westwood, who out-gunned Greg Norman on the fourth play-off hole to win the Stonehaven Cup at Melbourne’s Metropolitan Golf Club in 1997, is a major draw card at The Australian Golf Club.
He is joined by his great friend in Northern Irishman Clarke, who won his first major at the age of 42 with a stirring British Open triumph four years ago.
“I have not been to Sidney and played since 1994,” he said. “I played the Aussie Open at Royal Sydney and the week before I played the New South Wales Golf Club, they are the two times I have played in Sydney.
“The last time I played the Aussie Open was 1997 when I won and I haven’t been back down to Australia since 2006, I think, when I was in Perth.
“So it’s a bit overdue coming back down here and playing the Australian Open, and it’s nice to be back.
On his triumph in 1997, he said: “It still is one of the biggest wins of my career.
“Greg was World No.1 at the time and there was a great feel, Vijay Singh played, Phil Mickleson played, Davis Love maybe, Darren was obviously playing – it was a really strong field.
“Greg was a hero of mine growing up, so to get into a play-off with him and beat him on the fourth extra hole was obviously a very special week.
“I was in a good run of form. It was the finish to 1997 and kicked off a good three years for me. In 98 I think I won eight tournaments, in 99 three or four, then in 2000 eight more and I won the money list.
“Winning in Australia propelled me into some good form and maybe I can do it again this time around?”
So why hasn’t Westwood been back for so long? “It’s a long way here. It’s a long walk,” he smiled.
“There has been a clash of dates a lot of the time. Not having played the course before will certainly be a disadvantage, but you can generally learn a course pretty quickly.”
On his current form, he added: “It’s coming around. I am starting to swing the club a lot better and starting to make a few more putts, so I am just waiting for it to click really.
“It could be this week, it might be next week. But I am just being patient and working on the things that have made me play well in the past.
“I did some good work with my coach last week and he’s given me some ideas to think about.
“I’ve struggled a little bit this year; there’s been a lot going on. I’ve had a few weeks where I’ve played okay but I’ve not really been consistent enough.
“So I am looking to get some form going before the end of the year and then kick off strongly again next year.
“I would love to play in the Ryder Cup, but it’s not something I am looking towards or planning towards. I am more focused on getting my game back into the shape it needs to be for me to contend in tournaments week in, week out. If I do that I will earn Ryder Cup points and hopefully qualify for the team.”