The Open: Westwood is an under the radar hopeful

Lee Westwood during Open practice. Picture: Getty
Lee Westwood during Open practice. Picture: Getty
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ANYONE driving through Aberlady one evening earlier this week could have been forgiven for affording themselves a double-take.

Was it really Lee Westwood, the world No.12, standing outside a house close to the road down to Kilspindie Golf Club?

It was actually and the man talking to him also played in a Ryder Cup and has European Tour titles to his name as well.

The East Lothian village is home these days to Andrew Coltart, whose sister Laurae is married to Westwood, one of England’s top hopes in The Open this week.

And, though no longer on Tour himself these days, the man who lost to Tiger Woods in the 1999 Ryder Cup at Brookline is still heavily involved in golf.

Last week, for the Scottish Open at Castle Stuart, he was part of the Sky Sports team and this week he’s part of the Radio Five Live squad at Muirfield along with Bernard Gallacher.

Coltart played in the last Open to be held in East Lothian, tying for 37th behind Ernie Els in 2002.

But, living in the area now, the importance of staging the world’s oldest major on ‘Scotland’s Golf Coast’ has been hammered home to him.

“Everyone has been looking forward to this week for a long time,” he told the Evening News.

“Little businesses and companies have been relishing the influx of people for one of the biggest events in sport. Hopefully they’ll be able to make a bit of money out of it as there’s no doubt something like this is good for the local economy.

“It’s also been a bonus that the weather has been great recently and that, coupled with all the fantastic sporting events lately, has created a real buzz.”

For obvious reasons, Coltart would be delighted to see Westwood become a major winner this weekend. And, on the back of Justin Rose claiming the US Open at Merion last month, he’s certainly not discounting that possibility.

“I think Justin winning a major can spark a golden era in English golf, just as Padraig Harrington did in Ireland,” said the winner of a Scottish Boys’ Championship at Dunbar.

“There have been players there who have seen themselves as major champions but have not yet managed to push through.

“Ian Poulter is one obviously. He produces major performances in the Ryder Cups, but can’t seem to do it on his own, but certainly has the heart for it.

“Seeing his pal Rosey win a major will surely do wonders for Poulter. Luke Donald will be in a similar vein.

“Westwood, I’d like to see win here, and I’m hoping he can go under the radar because he’s not playing as well as he’d like to play at the minute.

“He’s posted a couple of strange scores but the pressure might have been taken off him and we’ll see if he can use that to his advantage to sneak in there this week.”

In addition to his TV work and involvement with TPGs at Archerfield Links, Coltart also does some mentoring for the Scottish Golf Union. So what did he think of Craigielaw’s Grant Forrest pulling out of the European Team Championship at the last minute to prepare for playing at Muirfield this week?

“I know what he was thinking, but I’m a little disappointed as his team-mates were relying on him as one of the strongest players in the team for Denmark,” said Coltart. “Golf club members throughout Scotland put in the investment so there was a cost involved in that.

“It was a strange one because it is going to be harder for him to impress the selectors when you are a small fish in a vast ocean of barracudas, which is pretty much what The Open is. You can put too much preparation into a major to the extent that you actually throw yourself out of your comfort zone. The guys who played at Castle Stuart last week, for example, were playing in a competitive environment.

“By the time the gun went off at Muirfield, they’d only needed a couple of rounds there to prepare and I’m concerned Grant might have overdone things.

“But it was a tremendous achievement for him to qualify and it’s great that we have ten players in the field here on the back of 19 at Castle Stuart.

“From my point of view, though, it’s still not enough – we want to see more and we want to see lower scores.”