Going into 2021 Masters, Lee Westwood doing his best to defy Father Time

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Bob Spear
·5 min read
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He turns 48 in a few days, a time most golfers look fondly toward the Champions Tour and competing on shorter courses against guys their own age. Getting hammered on a regular basis by the game’s young guns wears thin.

That can wait, Lee Westwood says. First things first.

Quite content to be the “old man” on the tee, he defies Father Time, looks forward to another Masters, his 20th, this week and down the road this year is another Ryder Cup and ... and why not?

To illustrate his goals are more than wishful thinking, he won the European Tour’s 2020 Race to Dubai and started this year by chasing Bryson DeChambeau to the wire in the Arnold Palmer Invitational and Justin Thomas to the finish in the Players.

Second by a skinny stroke each time to a top-five player in the world makes confidence the 15th club in his bag for the 85th Masters.

Those tournaments, Westwood said Tuesday, are “very fresh in my mind and it’s just validation, really, that I’m still good enough at my age to be out here and contending.”

That those performances came on two “very different golf courses” served to reinforce his belief in his game.

Paired with defending champion Dustin Johnson and U.S. Amateur champion Tyler Stracafi in Thursday’s first round, Westwood will be giving up distance off the tee. But that’s OK, he said; he’s one of the best iron players in the world and his experience at Augusta National is an asset without price.

“This is such a strategic golf course,” he said. “A slight miss really gets you in a lot of trouble. I mean, even a good shot — say, five yards too long — can get you in trouble, or short can get you in trouble.

“You learn a lot from previous Masters. That’s why I think you get a lot of repeat winners, and the likes of Fred Couples and Bernhard Langer, people who have played it over and over, can get themselves in contention because you learn where not to hit it.”

Westwood comes to Augusta ranked 20th in the world and 28th in the FedExCup standings, and his Masters’ record — five top 10s, including two seconds, in his last nine tournaments — is yet another reason to believe.

“The golf course plays four different ways depending on flag positions the four difference days,” he said with the voice of experience. “There are very few golf courses where the pin position dictates where you hit the tee shot.

“It’s very strategic and you have to plan before you go out there. Obviously, depending on conditions, you have to adapt that plan. ... This week, it should play fast and firm, and that’s how it is at its toughest. I think you’ll see people who have a lot of experience around here at the top of the leaderboard again.”

That number includes Westwood, although he said he doesn’t have any real expectations.

“I don’t have any at any tournament anymore,” he said. “I just put in the preparation, hit it off the first tee, try to find it, hit it on the green and hopefully have a birdie chance and make a few of those.”

But he is well aware he has the opportunity to become the oldest Masters champion, replacing Jack Nicklaus, who won at 46. Should that come to pass, circumstances would be eerily similar; Nicklaus’ son Jackie caddied for him in 1986 and Westwood’s son Sam, 19, will be on his dad’s bag this week.

“Even without (their sons caddying), Jack has always been an inspiration the way he played the game. ... There are the similarities with age and it would be great to break his record,” Westwood said.

“I still remember the first time I played this tournament (1997). I played the final round with Jack, and I went out on Saturday night and bought the picture, the iconic one where he’s following the ball into the hole on 17 with his putter (in Nicklaus’ 1986 victory). After we finished, I asked Jack, ‘Would you mind signing this picture for me?’ ”

Nicklaus did, and Westwood treasures the framed picture today.

“He wrote, ‘Lee, enjoyed our round, best wishes, Jack Nicklaus,’ ” Westwood said. “There’s very few people you would do that with. He’s a legend of the game and arguably the greatest player every to play the game. ... To have a chance to break one of his records would be very special.”

A longshot? Maybe. But he refuses to act his age.

Oldest major champions

  • Julius Boros: 1968 PGA Championship, 48 years, 4 months, 18 days

  • Old Tom Morris: 1867 British Open, 46 years, 99 days

  • Jack Nicklaus: 1986 Masters, 46 years, 2 months, 23 days

  • Jerry Barber: 1961 PGA Championship, 45 Years, 3 months, 6 days

  • Hale Irwin: 1990 U.S. Open, 45 years, 15 days old

  • Lee Trevino: 1984 PGA Championship, 44 years, 8 months, 18 days

  • Roberto de Vicenzo: 1967 British Open, 44 years, 93 days

  • Harry Vardon: 1914 British Open, 44 years, 41 days

  • Raymond Floyd: 1986 U.S. Open, 43 years, 9 months, 11 days

  • Ted Ray: 1920 U.S. Open, 43 years, 4 months, 16 days

Oldest Masters champions

  • Jack Nicklaus, 1986 (46 years, 2 months, 23 days)

  • Tiger Woods, 2019 (43 years, 3 months, 15 days)

  • Ben Crenshaw, 1995 (43 years, 2 months, 29 days)

  • Gary Player, 1978 (42 years, 5 months, 8 days)

  • Sam Snead, 1954 (41 years, 10 months, 16 days)

  • Mark O’Meara, 1998 (41 years, 2 months, 3 days)

  • Ben Hogan, 1953 (40 years, 7 months, 30 days)