Westwood confident after staying away over virus concerns

Britain’s Lee Westwood, who skipped last month’s PGA Championship over coronavirus concerns, is confidently chasing his long-sought first major title after an opening 67 Thursday at the US Open.

The 47-year-old Englishman, who could become the second-oldest major winner in golf history, was two strokes off the pace being set by Justin Thomas after 18 holes at Winged Foot.

Westwood has 12 top-five finishes at major championships without a victory, three of his near-misses coming at US Opens, but he still squandered a chance to play in a major last month at the PGA in san Francisco, reluctant to risk catching the deadly virus despite two months of safeguarded US PGA Tour events.

“It’s just a strange world that we’re living in right now, and people have different opinions on things, don’t they?” Westwood said Thursday. “They evaluate things and see things in different ways. You’ve got to respect the individual’s view on it.

“I don’t really criticize anybody that takes an opinion opposite to mine. It’s just that you shouldn’t be at a golf tournament if you don’t feel like it’s right.

“I’m not saying it isn’t right for certain people, but just for me it wasn’t right… It felt too early coming out — not even out of it. We’re going into second waves here and there. Felt too early to start traveling 10 hours on an airplane. So that was the view and the route I took.”

Westwood changed his mind, however, after talking to other players and hearing about the precautions in place.

“Just feedback from other people that have been at tournaments and telling me what’s going on at tournaments and stuff like that,” Westwood said. “I felt comfortable coming here.”

He played that way as well, sinking a 12-foot birdie putt at the ninth hole, his last of the round, to join Rory McIlroy and Louis Oosthuizen in a share of fifth.

The only major winner older than Westwood will be on Sunday is Julius Boros, who was 48 when he won the 1968 PGA Championship.

Westwood shared 10th at the European Tour Andalucia Masters two weeks ago after a 67 in the last round at Valderrama, a round that has given him confidence this week.

“I’ve built on that and fed off confidence again from that,” said Westwood. “In the practice rounds, I hit it well. I hit a lot of fairways. I’m driving the ball well. I felt like, if I did that, then there’s a low score out there for me.”

Westwood made five birdies and two bogeys on Thursday with a focus on fairways and putting.

“I don’t consider myself long by any means out here,” Westwood said. “You get it in the fairway regularly around here, you can score well.

“As the golf course firms out and a little bit of wind picks up, which is likely, and pin positions obviously get tougher, it won’t yield as many low scores. Today was the day to get off to a decent start and get some credit.” (AFP)