Lee Westwood is a permanent part of the picture at Close House, dedicating most of his season to advertise the arrival of the British Masters, but is determined to return to competing.
Lee Westwood opened the Colt course in 2011 and six years later brought a European Tour tournament back to the North-East for the time since 2002.
Revealing in Tuesday’s press conference he was ‘delighted’ that the week had finally come and a year of planning could speak for itself as players took to the turf.
“It’s great that it’s now here and the course is looking fantastic,” he said. “Got a great field together. It’s nice to do a build up and be here ready to play, almost.”
The Englishman is feeling rejuvenated after admitting the process had been a ‘long road in the making’, with almost three years of preparation on the clock, and said it was nice to ‘get back to being a golfer’.
Westwood won the British Masters during the tournaments first spell on tour, clinching victory at The Belfry in 2007 and narrowly missed out twelve months later, losing in a playoff to Gonzalo Fernandez-Castańo.
The pressure was on this year to see if the host could win their own golf tournament, with neither Ian Poulter or Luke Donald posting a challenging score during their tenure of the revived event.
But the timing of his chances couldn’t have been better, the 44-year-old has made four top-10’s this season and has seen his game pick-up over the last month:
“I started hitting the ball really well. I finished ninth in the Czech Republic and played okay in Switzerland. Played well last week too in Holland and finished third.”
“My game is definitely trending, in the right direction. I feel like maybe a win is just around the corner.”
“It would be great if it was here this week but obviously, you know, whenever it comes, it will be fantastic.”
With winning at the forefront of his mind, the 23-time European Tour winner relished the opportunity to get away from his duties and just be a player-caddie team out there.
“I’m just going to go out and hit a few balls for two hours and play a few holes to be a golfer.”
When it was Close House’s turn for the Spotlight, Westwood didn’t shy away and was immediately involved with courses changes, lengthening six holes with new tee box additions and three big green alterations. He had to assure himself that there would be no home advantage on a course he feels more than comfortable on.
“People have said ‘you must know the course really well’. But, when you turn up on a Saturday morning, and you are playing with your mates, you are going to play it slightly differently to the way I am going to play it in the tournament this week,” he explained.
Touching on the fact that he and Close House owner, Graham Wylie, have previously played in the clubs team four-ball.
“I was standing on a couple of the tees out there (yesterday) thinking ‘this is not driver, this is a 3-wood and leave a full shot in’.
“I am going to go round the course and really clear my mind and look at it from an ‘if I’d never played it before’ kind of aspect.
“Obviously, I know a few breaks on the greens and where to miss it and where not to miss it.”
Westwood admits he is flattered and surprised by the strength of field he has been able to attract for this week’s British Masters.
The host did not drop a shot in 46 holes and finished on 10-under in T15 one shit behind Ian Poulter on -11, narrowly missing out on a top-ten.
Rory McIlroy’s late entry gave a further boost to the event at Close House, which also featured the likes of Masters champions Sergio Garcia and Danny Willett. Two-time major winner Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell, Ian Poulter and Matt Fitzpatrick.
‘It means a lot,’ said Westwood, who is following in the footsteps of Ian Poulter and Luke Donald in hosting the £3million tournament. “I don’t know whether it’s me, the reason why the players have turned out, but if it is, then that’s fantastic.”
“It’s one of the strongest fields we’ve had year on tour I think. I can’t believe how good a field it is.”
Sergio Garcia has been in solid form after bouncing back from an opening 73 to finish 10th in the Tour Championship in Atlanta, but an opening total of one-under didn’t see him make the cut in the North East.
His sights are now set on a first Race to Dubai title battling out the rest of the season on the European Tour.
“If I’m playing well, it should be enough. If it’s not enough, I’ll congratulate whoever gets it.”
“At the end of the day, I know what clicks for me and I don’t want to overdo something now towards the end of the year and then feel it throughout next year.”
Job well Dunne
Paul Dunne claimed his first European Tour victory last week at the British Masters, closing out four-time major champion, Rory McIlroy, by three shots.
The 24-year-old Irishman reached the turn in five-under and had to dig-out his best golf when McIlroy birdied five of the last seven holes at Close House.
Dunne did not falter and marched on to card four birdies on the back-nine, with a spectacular chip-in on the 72nd hole to win his first professional victory.
“It feels great. I feel like I’ve been up there a few times and never put my foot down to win it. I have come close, so it’s nice to put the demon off my back and get my first one.”
World number six, Rory McIlroy, adds a second runner-up finish to 2017 and only has one more start to stop the draught of a winless season.
“It was just nice to have a chance to win a golf tournament. I think that was the big thing and the more chances I have like that, I seem to play better.”
McIlroy will play his final tournament of his season at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship with his father Gerry before taking a three-month break to dial in his game and get back to full fitness following a rib injury.
“I’m taking a ten-day holiday after the Dunhill. Then once I get back, doing quite a bit of testing, sort of 19th October and 20th October. Then it’s sort of, I’ll start to execute the plan that we have going forward.”
“I’m looking forward to it,” he added. “My dad rang me a couple of days ago and said he was pleased I’d got my game into shape for him.”