Westwood growling like another Tiger At 25, he's on prowl for British Open title

July 15, 1998|By PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER

SOUTHPORT, England -- Lee Westwood is not to be confused with Tiger Woods, not in the way he looks, in the way he handles himself around his fans and certainly not by his bank account.

While Woods carries 160 pounds of grit and muscle on his lean 6-foot-1 frame, Westwood, recently down to 190, is cut more from the same lumpy cloth as fellow countryman Colin Montgomerie.

And if Woods increasingly ducks behind a phalanx of security guards when he leaves the 18th green, Westwood is quick to wander freely among the eager fans.

Bodyguards?

"Do you see any?" said Westwood, rolling his eyes when the subject was broached yesterday after his practice round at the 127th British Open.

Money? Forget about it. Nobody in golf has Woods' kind of money.

But on the course, Westwood, who, at 25, is almost as young as Woods, is starting to roar every bit as loud as America's favorite Tiger.

"Lee has become the man to beat at every tournament," Montgomerie, Westwood's friend but also his rival for the affection of England, said.

Tom Lehman, the 1996 British Open champion, is another fan. "Lee is one of the players I'd pick to win at Birkdale," he said.

Bookmakers in England agree.

As the world's best golfers converge on this small resort town on the west coast of England for what the British call simply the "Open Championship," Westwood has emerged as the 8-to-1 favorite to win what many predict will be his first of many major titles.

Woods and Montgomerie are 10-to-1 favorites. It's the first time since his victory at the 1997 Masters that Woods has not been the sole betting favorite for any tournament he has played in.

If Westwood wasn't already the European Tour's answer to Tiger, he took a step closer last week with his win at Scotland's Loch Lomond World Invitational, his seventh victory since October.

Unless you've been following the European Tour via satellite, Westwood may have first crossed your radar screen the week before the Masters, when he won his first U.S. event, the Freeport-McDermott Classic in New Orleans.

He officially became a sensation here late last year, when he won the Volvo Masters, the Taiheiyo Masters and the Australian Open -- all in a month.

Factor in the Loch Lomond, and he has seven wins since October in places as far flung as Spain, Japan, Germany, England, Australia and the United States.

With success, of course, have come growing galleries and growing fame. For now, however, Westwood is taking it in stride.

"The enthusiasm is there with the crowd," he said yesterday. "If you hit it off line, they would have trampled the rough down."

With Nick Faldo in a career slump and Montgomerie seemingly unable to win the big one for the glory of Britain, Westwood admits the pressure on him is mounting.

"I think expectations are greater over here, obviously, because I'm English and this is Britain." he said. "But if I don't win the Open this year, it won't be the end of the world to me. I would dearly love to win it, but it's not life or death. It's only a game at the end of the day."

NOTES: Forecasts are for unusually blustery weather, even by Open standards. Winds howled across Royal Birkdale at a steady 45 mph for much of the early practice rounds. On Monday, Lehman lost six balls in a nine-hole practice round, and Lee Janzen lost five balls. Bill Glasson, recovering from elbow surgery, withdrew, opening a spot for Barry Lane, the first alternate in qualifying.

British Open

What: 127th British Open golf championship

When: Tomorrow-Sunday

Where: Royal Birkdale Golf Club, Southport, England

Course: Par 34-3670, 7,018 yards

Purse: $2.9 million

Winner's share: $498,000

Defending champion: Justin Leonard

TV: Tomorrow-Friday--9 a.m. to 2 p.m., ESPN.

Saturday--10 a.m. to 2 p.m., chs. 2, 7.

Sunday--9: 30 a.m. to 1: 30 p.m.; 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. (recap), chs. 2, 7.

Pub Date: 7/15/98

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