LA JOLLA, Calif. -- After it was over, Lee Westwood joked he had his eyes shut when he came within inches of joining Tiger Woods and Rocco Mediate in Monday's U.S. Open playoff, missing a downhill 20-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole that would have given him an opportunity to become the first Englishman to win a U.S. Open Championship since Tony Jacklin did it in 1970 at Hazeltine CC.
"Well, it's sickening not to be in the playoff tomorrow," said Westwood, who was ill with tonsillitis for the two weeks prior to arriving at Torrey Pines, "but, all in all, I played pretty good all week. My nerves were pretty good. My mind was on winning the golf tournament. I didn't have the greatest preparation coming in here. I didn't hardly hit any balls, just did a bit of chipping and putting because, physically, I wasn't up to (it). If you would have said that I'd have had a 20-footer to get in a playoff for the U.S. Open on the last green, I would have been surprised."
Both Westwood and Woods got off to rocky starts in the final pairing Sunday, with Westwood making a bogey to Woods' double. Westwood struggled in the middle of the round, playing the 10th through the 13th holes three over par. But he nearly drove it on the 14th to make birdie and sank a crucial par-saving six-footer on the 17th to give himself a chance to tie Mediate, already in the clubhouse.
On the 18th, the Englishman was forced to lay up when he drove it into the fairway bunker on the right. "I got a little bit too close to the green and I was caught between sand iron and lob wedge. These fairway traps have been difficult all week to play out of. You really need to take them absolutely clean. Sometimes you catch them a bit thin as I did on 10 and as I did on the last and it went just a little bit further. I was looking for like 96, 97 (yards) to the front and I got about 88 or so."
The U.S. Open was just the latest bit of evidence that Westwood, once the fourth-ranked player in the world before tumbling all the way to 256th, has returned to top form. "It's the first time I've really sort of been in the firing line, and I think I came out of it well," he said. "While I'm disappointed, I'm pleased with myself and I think that I've proved to myself and a few others that I think there is a major championship in me. Anytime you get in contention in a massive event like this it gives you a boost for tournaments coming up. Can't wait for the next one. I'm not planning on getting tonsillitis two weeks before the British Open."