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Westwood glad to have turned around in 2003

Lee Westwood arrived wearing cuff-links featuring the cross of St. George for the Golf Writers' annual dinner at Royal St. George's during The Open last summer. Enticing leading sportsmen to such occasions is not always easy, but around half the Ryder Cup team from The Belfry in 2002 were present to see their captain, Sam Torrance, receive the Golf Writers' Trophy.

Westwood would be glad he had made the effort, and not just for the fine speeches by Torrance, John Jacobs, who collected a lifetime-achievement award, and two men who have straddled the worlds of writing and broadcasting in golf and cricket, Renton Laidlaw and Christopher Martin-Jenkins.

Westwood sat next to Bernhard Langer, then a week away from being confirmed as the captain for next year's match in Detroit, and on the other side of Langer was the president of the PGA of America, M.G. Orender. The week may have ended with a man from Kent (Ohio) being Open champion, but in another bizarre link with local geography, Orender started his career as a club professional in Dover, Fla.

At the end of the evening, Orender made his farewells and, turning to Westwood, said: "See you in Rochester." The PGA Championship, staged by Orender's organization, was due to be played at Oak Hill in Rochester, N.Y., the following month.

"Only if you can get me an invitation," came the reply from Westwood. During a slump in form that saw the Worksop man fall outside the world's top 200, Westwood had stopped being a regular at the game's major championships.

"See you in Rochester," Orender repeated. A week later an invitation to the final major of the year arrived, and Westwood's luck was beginning to turn.

Not that it was immediate. After missing the cut at The Open, he missed it at Oak Hill as well. But apart from being a boost to his confidence, getting the invitation to the U.S. PGA allowed Westwood to spend three weeks in the States at a crucial time in the rehabilitation of his game, a process that had been going on since the start of the year with coach David Leadbetter.

Westwood was already competing in the NEC World Invitational, as a Ryder Cup player from 2002, but he also added an appearance at The International.

"If I had not got into the PGA I would only have gone to the NEC," Westwood said. "Going to the States for three weeks allowed me to feel I was starting my season again.

"It allowed me to spend a lot of time on my short game, turning three shots into two around the greens consistently. When you are working so hard on your long game, you tend to forget about the short game. And I decided to switch to the belly putter and was able to practice on fantastic greens. I had played well at the European Open and the Irish Open but felt my putting had let me down, so I thought a change would do me good."

In the first round of the NEC at Firestone, Westwood was 4-under at the top of the leaderboard when he drove into a bunker at the 17th and was plugged. He took a triple bogey there and a bogey at the last. "When you have been playing badly, the game doesn't let you get it back all at once," he said.

At the time he said to reporters: "You tell me why I should be optimistic after that." The following week Westwood won the BMW International in Germany -- his first win for three years.

A month later at the Dunhill Links he held off the likes of Ernie Els and Darren Clarke to prove his return was no fluke. In four rounds he had only one bogey. "I have always been comfortable under pressure," he said of his amazing ability to convert being in contention into victories. "You don't lose just because you have played badly. You either have it or you don't."

A thoroughly contented Westwood has been relaxing this month, but is eyeing an early start to the season in order to get into the world's top 50 -- he is 63rd -- and earn a return to Augusta in April. Then there will be the Ryder Cup in September, for which Westwood is in a strong position to qualify.

As for M.G. Orender, he sent this Christmas greeting: "While Lee may have had difficulty at times with his game over the past few years, his victories, Tour record and Ryder Cup play are the reasons why he was invited to play in the 86th PGA Championship.

"Lee is a great guy and champion, and if the PGA of America, by extending the invitation to play at Oak Hill, inspired him, we are pleased to have played a small role in his impressive comeback."

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