ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – The folks situated in one of the coolest bars in town loved the shot so much, they jumped out of their seats.
Savvy veteran that he is, England’s Lee Westwood hit one of the most memorable shots of the day in the first round of the British Open on Thursday, lacing a textbook shotmaker’s blow onto the green on the difficult 17th that had fans watching from the famous Jigger Inn blowing beer bubbles out of their noses.
After finding the fairway on the difficult Road Hole, Westwood hit a blistering low hook that didn’t get 30 feet off the ground and landed 50 yards short of the green, then trundled up to within 20 feet for an easy par on one of the toughest holes in golf.
Fans at the Jigger, located a few feet out of bounds along the right side of the hole’s famous rock wall, came unglued, as did everybody else.
It even prompted veteran BBC broadcaster Peter Alliss to say, “On a cold day, that shot would sting like hell.”
Truth be told, Westwood played through the coldest part of the first round in the afternoon wave, but pieced together the second-best score anyway, shooting a 5-under 67 in the wettest, breeziest portion of the day.
Westwood, ranked third in the world, birdied five holes in succession to finish off his front nine and finished in a tie for eighth with a group that included Yanks Tiger Woods, Sean O’Hair, Lucas Glover and Nick Watney.
Westwood played so well, he’s starting to look like something of a sandbagger. He has had lingering issues with a rare leg disorder called plantaris, which until this week, nobody in the golfing press corps had ever heard of. In fact, somewhat humorously, Westwood had to spell the term for the British scribes on Monday, when he mentioned that he had been unable to hit more than a few balls at a time for the past couple of weeks.
“I didn't hit balls until Friday last week, and then I've hit 20, 25 balls Friday, nothing Saturday, and then 20, 25, 30 balls Sunday,” he explained Monday. “I've tried to give it as much rest as possible, but still, not coming here and not doing anything for a week, I've been on the putting green and wandering around and doing a bit of chipping.”
If there is any residual pain, you’d never know it, which prompted some to wonder whether Westwood exaggerated the malady in order to fly under the radar. He’s been picked as one of the favorites at the past few majors based on a series of string finishes at Grand Slam events, including a runner-up finish in April at the Masters, and the pressure to seal the deal is beginning to mount.
Westwood said the leg hurts more as the day progresses, and you can bet that cold, wet weather doesn’t help much, either.
“It gets worse as the day goes on and my ankle swells up,” he said to his publicist after the round. “That’s really the problem, the muscles.”
Westwood didn’t actually consent to interviews after the round and instead visited a physical therapist.
“I’ve been there every day and I’m going now to get them to do some soft-tissue work on it,” he said.