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Lee Westwood trying to rebuild confidence

Three years ago this week, Lee Westwood had a crisis of confidence. A first-round 77 in the Benson and Hedges International left him bemoaning not only that he was playing badly, but that he was having to play at all.

Funny game, golf. The following week the Worksop man went to Hamburg for the Deutsche Bank event, took on Tiger Woods head-to-head for the last two rounds, beat him and won the tournament.

He went on to win five more times in Europe alone, took the Order of Merit from Colin Montgomerie, who had won it the previous seven years, and won more than £2m during the course of the year.

But golf has a distinctly unfunny side. Since that magnificent season Westwood has done rather less than nothing. He went from No1 in Europe to No52 in 2001 and to 75th in 2002. His slide down the snake of the world rankings has been even more precipitous, from fourth to outside the top 200; from a man who was expected to contend strongly for major championships to a man who no longer qualifies to play in them.

In the words of his manager, Chubby Chandler, he "took his eye off the ball" when his son Sam was born at the start of 2001. He did not play or practise for months and when he came back and did not instantly play to his old level, he lost confidence.

It has been a long time in returning and Westwood would still not claim that he was back to his old commanding form. But last week, as a former champion, he was invited to play in the New Orleans event on the US Tour and before he got there, paid a visit to the coach David Leadbetter in Florida.

"I felt that I had all the pieces of the engine," he said yesterday, "but no oil. He provided the oil. I may have only finished 37th but from tee to green I was excellent, probably in the top 10 in the field. My putting was less than average, though. Not that that's surprising. I've been working so hard on my long game I haven't hit many putts."

Last night, on the putting green at The Belfry, he was trying to put that right. He was using a 43in belly putter and holing a succession of 10-footers. "I haven't had the balls to take it on the course, yet," he said, "but it'll be in the bag for today's pro-am."

Could that be the missing link? If it is, then Europe can watch out this week - and also Woods, next.


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