By John Huggan
Just so you know, Lee Westwood has finished no worse than T-11 in five of the last six Masters. Which isn't too shabby for a man who supposedly can't chip. Not even a little bit. But he must be doing something right. Yes, the last 18-months or so have not been overly kind to the former world No. 1 -- he currently ranks thirty-eighth -- but it would come as no surprise to see the 40-year old Englishman contend again at Augusta National next week.
Westwood, still in the early stages of working with new swing coach, compatriot Mike Walker, certainly thinks so. And his golf at the Shell Houston Open, while far from spectacular, has only encouraged a feeling of optimism. Despite a triple-bogey seven at the 17th -- his eighth hole of the day -- the eight-time Ryder Cup player shot 71, one under par, on Day 3.
"I'm making progress," he says. "I'm starting to feel better things in my swing and see better shots. The trouble is that my few bad ones seem to be getting severely punished at the moment.
"I'm working hard on my swing and the toughest challenge when that is the case is taking it onto the course. So while I'm trying to concentrate on playing and scoring, the odd swing thought is creeping in too."
Still, even with a lot going on between his ears, Westwood is looking forward to what will be his twelfth trip to the course at the end of Magnolia Lane.
"Every time I drive towards the clubhouse, the hairs stand up on the back of my neck," he says. "I love that tingling feeling of anticipation. It's just such a special place, one I've played well at more than once. So I'll be going there on Monday feeling confident.
"Augusta National is a course you can only really learn while playing competitively. And it seems to suit me. A much-underrated quality at Augusta is hitting fairways. You need to do that to control the ball on the second shots. The greens are firmer than they were maybe 20 years ago. And the pin positions are tougher. All of which makes distance control more difficult. Which is why you need to be hitting your approaches from the right spots."
Sounds like, in spite of everything, Lee Westwood is already in a good place.
[Photo: Scott Halleran/Getty Images]