Lee Westwood enters Ryder Cup on verge of history
CHASKA, Minn. (AP) Over the last two decades of European dominance in the Ryder Cup, perhaps no player has personified the team's seemingly baffling advantage over the Americans more than Lee Westwood.
When the individual sport adopts the team dynamic for one weekend every two years, the 43-year-old Englishman who has never won a major championship almost always seems to rise to the occasion.
He enters his 10th Ryder Cup with a 20-15-6 record, having felled some of the biggest American stars along the way. He needs 2 1/2 points to surpass Nick Faldo - Westwood's first partner back in 1997 - for the most career Ryder Cup points. Europe is 7-2 since Westwood joined the fray.
''I'd be lying if I didn't say I wanted to get past Nick's record, because anybody involved in sport wants to break records,'' Westwood said Thursday. ''That's what drives us all on, to be able to say you're the best at anything.
''But if you give me a choice of not winning any points and the Europeans winning the Ryder Cup, then that would definitely come first before getting in front of Nick's record or getting near it. It's all about the team this week.''
The camaraderie among the European players has always been viewed as a big reason for their success against the higher profile Americans, who have more often than not entered the weekend as the heavy betting favorites. And more often than not, the Europeans have been the ones accepting the concession handshakes.
Westwood captures that spirit as well as any of them, pairing easily with partners across the board to take down some of America's heaviest hitters. And this year, the Europeans are captained by Darren Clarke, one of Westwood's favorite playing partners over the years. They were 6-2 together, with three of those victories coming against American teams featuring players ranked Nos. 1 and 2 in the world.
''We've had some crackers,'' Westwood said with a grin.
None bigger than at Oakland Hills in 2004, when Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson took a 3-up lead early before Clarke and Westwood roared back, an upset that set the tone for an 18 1/2- 9 1/2 steamrolling that was the largest margin of victory in Europe's history.
So it is no surprise that Clarke made Westwood one of his captain's picks. The Ryder Cup features one of the most raucous environments in golf, filled with heckling and jeering for the visitors from the first tee to the final putt. It can be a disorienting experience for players who are used to much more respectful and supportive galleries. But Westwood revels in it.
''I love the atmosphere out there. I like the rowdiness of it all,'' Westwood said. ''I was talking to my caddie, Billy (Foster). We were on the range and there was music playing and all that, and that's what golf should be about nowadays, I think. I think it needs to jazz itself up a bit and get a bit more atmosphere in there.''
As he has gotten older, Westwood has become a valued elder statesman. He has been paired with rookies in each of the last five Ryder Cups, serving as the big brother for the nervous youngsters who find their knees knocking and their hands shaking as they try to put the ball on the tee at No. 1.
Clarke paired him with newcomer Thomas Pieters on Friday morning. They will face Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar.
''He brings a lot of calmness and peace into the team room,'' said Martin Kaymer, who was paired with Westwood as a rookie at Celtic Manor in 2010. ''But also a lot of strength, because if you see him as a person, he's a very strong character, a very strong player. And I think that mix is very rare.''
As Europe tries for its fourth straight victory in the biannual showdown, something that has never been done before, it may need Westwood's comforting guidance more than ever. Clarke brought six rookies with him to Hazeltine National, and they really have no idea what they're in for.
''We've all said how excited and nervous we are, and we don't know what's coming,'' Chris Wood said. ''Lee has said exactly the same. He's excited. He's nervous. But he knows what's coming.''
If history is any indication, what is coming is another win. Westwood has yet to win in 2016, having finished second at the Masters.
Perhaps he was saving his best for this weekend, as he so often does.