PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – It’s been a long Florida fortnight for a man of a certain age.
At 47 years old and trending, Lee Westwood couldn’t hide the fatigue that back-to-back weeks in contention on the PGA Tour can produce.
“Everybody keeps telling me how old I am,” he smiled following a long day battling a group of twenty-somethings.
He didn’t win The Players Championship. That honor went to 27-year-old Justin Thomas. But the clever Englishman did manage to post his second consecutive runner-up finish in as many weeks and drastically change his narrative for the next few months.
Westwood started the year on the radar of European Ryder Cup captain Padraig Harrington – not as a player, but as a vice captain. But after the last two weeks, Harrington is likely starting to look at potential pairings for the veteran of 10 matches representing Team Europe.
You could call this a second act for Westwood, but it’s more like his third, or maybe even his fourth, depending on who is counting.
He climbed to fifth in the world as a young man in the late 1990s, only to plummet outside the top 200 by 2003. A year later he’d regained his form, and he’s spent the better part of the last two decades inside the top 50, including a 22-week run as the game’s top-ranked player in 2010-11.
But these were supposed to be his golden years. He served as a Ryder Cup vice captain in 2018 in Paris and began this season a full decade removed from his last PGA Tour victory, although there has been sustained success on the European Tour, including last year’s weighty victory in Abu Dhabi.
Few outside of Team Westy would have predicted this run of form, but it’s not difficult to explain the last two weeks. It was there etched across his admittedly weathered face on the week’s final hole, where he’d just rolled in a 15-footer for birdie and embraced his fiancée and caddie, Helen Storey.
Storey’s impact as a sounding board/sports psychologist/life coach is evident to all. Even DeChambeau, whose specialty is normally math and critical thinking, knows a confidant when he sees one.
“I think Helen is a big part of it,” DeChambeau said when asked what impressed him most about Westwood’s game. “She’s keeping him steady and levelheaded, and she’s a rock. Keeps his mind focused on the right things, and she’s been awesome for him, and that’s one of his secret weapons.”
Even with his secret weapon by his side, Westwood came up just short for the second consecutive Sunday. His closing 72 at TPC Sawgrass left him alone in second place and a stroke behind Thomas. Last week at Bay Hill it was DeChambeau, another 27-year-old, who clipped him.
With age comes perspective.
“I’m 48 in a month’s time, and I’m still out here contending for tournaments and playing in final groups with great players like Bryson DeChambeau and Justin Thomas and people like that,” Westwood said. “It’s just a joy to be involved and still playing well and being able to contend.”
With age also comes a good amount of subtext. This was more than just another solid week at the Tour’s flagship event for Westwood. His play puts a bow on his complicated relationship with The Players. In 2011, the then-world No. 1 made headlines when he very publicly skipped the championship. It was a protest move born from a Tour rule that limited non-members to 10 starts.
Westwood has since become a staple at The Players with a ball-striking game that’s a perfect fit for TPC Position Golf.
The anatomy of this particular near-miss rests with, of all things, two layups that cost Westwood his third Tour title. His second shot from the trees at the par-5 second hole clipped a branch and found the water, leading to a disappointing bogey. On the 16th hole, Westwood wasn’t much better with a second shot that found a fairway bunker and a scrambling par when he desperately needed a birdie to keep pace with Thomas.
“I probably had my ‘C’ game today, and grinding it out,” admitted Westwood, who played the crucial final three holes on Sunday in even par.
There is a predictable ebb and flow to life on Sundays at Tour events. Thomas was filled with joy following his victory. DeChambeau was predictably, and understandably, dour following a scrappy closing round that left him tied for third place. And then there was Westwood, who is cut from a different cloth, one of great maturity and perspective, which explains why when the Tour restarted last June, Westwood remained in the U.K. for months and skipped the PGA Championship.
Do you enjoy the game, Lee?
“I do enjoy the game more. I take it for what it is: a game,” he shrugged. “We’re just trying to get a little white ball into a little white hole. It gets treated far too seriously occasionally. With what’s going on in the world, it’s fun to be doing a job that I love and that I’ve done for 28 years, and I’m still doing it.
“You’ve got to have realities in your life, and my life is full of reality, yeah.”
The grey in Westwood’s beard gives his age away, but it’s the knowing smile that offers a glimpse into how 47 years can shape one’s perspective.
Another runner-up finish.
Another chance to feel the rush of a Sunday in contention.
Another opportunity that’s worth savoring.
Olympics-U.S. women to face Australia in women’s football at Tokyo Games
(Reuters) – The U.S. women’s national team will face Australia, Sweden and New Zealand at this summer’s Tokyo Olympics, while in the men’s competition 2016 winners Brazil will take on Germany following the group stage draw on Wednesday.
The American women’s team are the reigning world champions and four-time winners of the Olympic tournament and will start as favourites in Tokyo, with Rio 2016 winners Germany failing to qualify.
Team GB women have drawn 2016 bronze medallists Canada, Chile and hosts Japan. Making only their second Olympic tournament appearance, Team GB will be led by England’s interim coach Hege Riise.
On the men’s side, Brazil will take on Germany, Ivory Coast and Saudi Arabia.
Mexico, the 2012 gold medallists, were pitted against hosts Japan, South Africa and France.
The men’s team are usually restricted to selecting players under the age of 23, with just three overage players allowed.
However, the age bracket has been raised for the Tokyo Games in line with the one-year postponement of the event due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
(Reporting by Hardik Vyas in Bengaluru; Editing by Christian Radnedge)
Rafael Nadal rallies from set down to advance in Barcelona
Top seed Rafael Nadal rallied from a set back to beat Ilya Ivashka of Belarus 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 on Wednesday in the second round at the Barcelona Open in Spain.
Nadal lost serve in the opening game of the match and wasn’t able to break Ivashka’s serve throughout the first set. He won just 70.6 percent of points on his first serve, was broken twice and had two double faults in an uncharacteristically poor showing on service in the opening set.
By the second set, he had righted his serve, winning 86.7 percent of points on his first serve in the second set and 83.3 percent in the third. He didn’t face a break point in either set.
In other action, No. 2 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, No. 3 Andrey Rublev of Russia, No. 4 Diego Schwartzman of Argentina, No. 6 Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain and No. 10 Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada were among those advancing.
No. 9 Fabio Fognini of Italy defaulted for verbal abuse. He was losing 6-0, 4-4 to Zapata Miralles of Spain when the line judge reported him for swearing after a foot fault. He had been warned earlier in the match
Top seed and home-country favorite Novak Djokovic needed just 68 minutes to top South Korean Soon-woo Kwon 6-1, 6-3 and advance to the quarterfinals in Belgrade, Serbia.
Djokovic capitalized on five of his eight service break opportunities in the win. In the next round, he’ll meet fellow Serb Miomir Kecmanovic, the eighth seed, who needed three sets to oust Arthur Rinderknech of France 6-3, 3-6, 6-3.
Also advancing was the No. 2 seed, Matteo Berrettini, who defeated fellow Italian Marco Cecchinato 6-4, 6-3. Fifth seed Filip Krajinovic beat Nikola Milojevic 6-1, 6-1 in an all-Serb match.
(Field Level Media)
Ice hockey-Women’s world championships cancelled due to COVID-19
(Reuters) -The women’s ice hockey world championships set to be played in Halifax and Truro, Nova Scotia have been cancelled because of a surge in COVID-19 cases in Canada, Hockey Canada said on Wednesday.
The announcement came one day before the 10 teams were to arrive to begin their quarantine ahead of the May 6-16 tournament.
“This is very disappointing news to receive with just a few weeks until the tournament was to begin,” said International Ice Hockey Federation president Rene Fasel in a statement.
“We strongly believe that we had the adequate safety measures in place. In the end, we must accept the decision of the government.”
The IIHF and Hockey Canada were informed by the Nova Scotia provincial government on Wednesday that the 10-country tournament could not go ahead due to safety concerns associated with COVID-19.
Still the news came as a shock after Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer had 24 hours earlier given the event the thumbs- up.
“At five o’clock this morning we were full go and at 7:30 am we were not,” explained Hockey Canada chief executive officer Tom Renney. “That is the way the world is right now and there is only so much we can control.
“At the end of the day there is a bigger game than the one we play here and quite honestly it is about the safety of the general public.”
The cancellation was another blow for the women’s game that has endured a number of recent setbacks, including the folding of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League.
It was also the second consecutive year the Nova Scotia world championships have been stopped by COVID-19.
“Definitely, a little bit of disbelief, a little shock, a lot of emotion,” said Canadian coach Gina Kingsbury, who pulled some players off the ice to deliver the bad news. “This is a group that has been through a lot this past year and two years so they are definitely familiar with disappointing news.”
Both the IIHF and Hockey Canada indicated they plan to play the world championships this year, possibly this summer, in Canada.
“Our intention, and that of the IIHF, is to reconnect with this event as a world championship in 2021 in Canada,” said Renney. “That’s our number one objective. We have every desire to hold this event in Canada.”
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto, Editing by Ed Osmond)
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