The way Lee Westwood sees it, it’s time.
It’s time to win the first major championship of his illustrious career, and what better major championship to do it in than his favorite one of the four — the British Open?
The 48-year-old Englishman is on the cusp of setting a dubious record, though he’s not sweating it.
Westwood, entering the 149th Open, which begins Thursday morning in Sandwich, England, stands on the wrong end of becoming the footnote of a historic statistic. If he fails to win this Open, he will have played in more major championships without a victory than any other player.
Jay Haas and Westwood each played in 87 majors without a victory. This will be Westwood’s 88th career start in a major.
“I do care about that,” Westwood, a 44-time winner worldwide with 25 wins on the European Tour, said of that stat. “That’s nice, that record. It shows I’ve been a good player for a long, long time. There’s not many people who have played in as many major championships as me.”
When he was asked about being labeled the best player never to have won a major, Westwood didn’t flinch.
“Another accolade,” he said with a wry smile. “Yeah, I love it. Thank you.”
Westwood has come tantalizingly close to winning at least one of the game’s most important tournaments, having posted 19 top-10 finishes in majors, including 12 top-five finishes.
He missed out on the 2008 U.S. Open playoff between Tiger Woods and Rocco Mediate by one shot. He also finished one-shot out of the famous playoff between Stewart Cink and Tom Watson in the 2009 British Open at Turnberry. And he finished runner-up to Phil Mickelson in the 2013 British at Muirfield after holding the 54-hole lead.
Maybe this week, after a strong start to the year, with consecutive runner-up finishes at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and Players Championship in March, Westwood will finally get a kiss from the golf gods, win and remove his name from that pestering best-never-to-win-a-major list.
“I feel like if I get my game where it needs to be and it’s good for that week, I can contend,’’ Westwood said. “I don’t know when it’s going to be in the right place or when I’m going to hole enough putts. But you just kind of load the dice to give yourself the best opportunities possible. You can’t do any more than that, and then you give them a roll and what happens, happens.”
If it were to happen, Westwood would become the first English player to win a British Open in England in 52 years.
For Westwood to hoist the Claret Jug on Sunday afternoon, though, he’ll likely need a little luck.
“Links golf is even more of a lottery than your week-in, week-out golf where the conditions are even more predictable,’’ Westwood said. “Like all links tournaments, you need a little bit of luck with the weather, and like golf, you need a little bit of luck, you need some good breaks.
“I feel like I’m playing well, and obviously I’ve played well this year. I played well last week [at the Scottish Open]. I was in the lead with 26 holes to go, and then a couple of pulls and a double-bogey, par, double-bogey and couldn’t get any momentum going after that.
“When you think 14-under, 26 holes to go, and 18-under is winning it, you should fancy your chances then. But obviously didn’t manage to finish that one off. I kind of look back on last week and take the positives out of it, that the form is there and I’m playing well and I’m making birdies.’’
Westwood, too, is taking a positive approach about Royal St. George’s despite the fact that he has missed the cut in both Opens he has played there.
“[I] kind of had it in my head a bit of a mental block that I didn’t like the golf course,’’ Westwood said. “But I played it [Tuesday] and really enjoyed it. I loved the way it was set up. I couldn’t really remember the golf course too much, probably because I didn’t have that much experience of playing on it, only having played two rounds each Open. [But it] sort of turned my head around and made me look forward to the week even more really.’’
Westwood, too, is counting on his sage experience to boost him this week. He spoke about being motivated by Phil Mickelson’s victory in the PGA Championship at age 50 in May.
“I think when you get to our age, we maybe don’t treat it as seriously as we once did,’’ he said, “and it’s easy to play golf when you’re a little bit more flippant about it and see it for what it is — getting a small ball in a small hole.’’