Golf Australia

Westwood: Aussie Open my favourite win

Lee Westwood
Lee Westwood kisses the Stonehaven Cup after his win in 1997.

Lee Westwood isn’t playing in the 102nd Emirates Australian Open at the Australian Club this week. But many of the 44-year old Englishman’s thoughts will be with those that are. Exactly two decades on from claiming the Stonehaven Cup at Metropolitan in Melbourne, the ten-time Ryder Cup player still calls his play-off victory over then world number-one Greg Norman, “my favourite win.”

  Which is saying a lot. Over the course of his 25-year professional career, Westwood has finished first as many as 42 times around the world.

  “I was playing great at the time, on a bit of a roll,” he says of what was his third victory in five weeks. “I’d won the Visa Taiheiyo Masters in Japan - the first time I had ever successfully defended an event - and the Volvo Masters in Spain just before that. And it was not long after my Ryder Cup debut at Valderrama. So it was all happening for me at the time.

  “Looking back, my biggest memory is of how good the golf course was. Metropolitan is a brilliant place to play. I don’t think I’ve ever seen better greens. Of course, I putted well all week on what were the fastest surfaces I’d ever come across. And I beat my boyhood hero in a four-hole play-off. It really doesn’t really get much better than that.”

  Indeed, after the pair had earlier tied on 274, 14-under par, every one of the extra holes proved to be just as nail-biting. As has forever been the case in golf at any level, the stroke-play contest took on a whole new level of excitement when it morphed into match play.

  On the first play-off hole, it was Norman who got up-and-down from a green side bunker to stay alive, eventually holing from four feet. One hole later, Westwood’s long putt from the front of the green was headed well past until it struck the flagstick and finished inches away. On the third, Norman again displayed his virtuosity from sand when his 40-yard recovery expired no more than one-inch from the pin.

  All of which made the Queenslander’s eventual demise all the more anti-climactic. Having just missed from 25-feet for what would have been a fifth victory in his national Open - and third in succession - Norman lipped-out from four feet to hand the title to a grateful Westwood.

  “The play-off was really nerve-wracking - at least for me,” he says. “I remember that putt from the front of the green on the second hole. It was travelling a bit when it hit the pin dead centre and stopped stone dead. Then Greg missed to let me win on the fourth hole. Which was understandable. By then, the greens were getting a bit rusty and a bit shiny.

  “It was a huge victory for me at the time. The Australian Open is one of the great titles. It has everything, such a great history. So I’ll never forget beating my boyhood hero. It was a dream come true really. And Greg was world number-one at the time. I grew up wanting to be like him.”

  Last word however, must go to another former Australian Open winner at Metropolitan. In the immediate aftermath of Westwood’s victory, 1979 champion Jack Newton made the following comment on Channel 7: “Lee Westwood has a big future in this game. Not only is he a good player, he’s a good bloke.”

  As predictions go, not a bad shout. Not bad at all.

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