ABU DHABI – Not many people remember winner, Swede Mats Lanner, of the 1994 Madeira Islands Open. But Lee Westwood does. It was there, on the Portuguese archipelago off the northwest coast of Africa, that the 20-year-old Englishman made his debut on the European Tour. He didn’t do too badly. Rounds of 72-69-75 saw Westwood pull away in an eight-way tie for 19th place in the weather shortening event. For this effort, he was awarded €3,941.
Nearly three decades later, a lot has changed, both for golf and for Westwood. His meager first check was the precursor to touring earnings which today amount to nearly €35 million. On the way, 25 wins, 171 top ten finishes and 102 losses were recorded, and 10 Ryder Cups were played.
Throw in his travels around the world over the years, and Westwood has finished in first place in 44 events, beating out the likes of Tiger Woods and Greg Norman in various stints late Sunday. So the 49-year-old from Worksop has done so well, both for himself and one has to think, on the tour that he still calls home.
“There were a lot of highlights,” says Westwood, who longtime returned to a handbag, Mick Doran, on his bag this week. “Hey, Mick, the late ’90s were good, right? He can’t remember because he was drunk every Sunday night after we won. I won eight tournaments a year twice. Six on tour both times. To be honest, it’s not clear to me either. “Winning was just a habit. It was the bravery of the guys. Mick says that when I was on the leaderboard, I won. So was Monty and definitely Tiger. Their names went up the leaderboard and guys would say ‘Oh no that is it’ and then back off. It made it easier.”
He continued, “It was special to hit the tiger in Germany.” “But hitting a tiger anytime is special, isn’t it? I’ve won around that course twice. One year I wasn’t really into it until I shot an 11-under 61 on a Saturday morning and got into competition. Then I shot a 66 a day The last one and I won. That’s how it was back then. Great days.”
At this point then, Westwood must be a respectable statesman on what is now the DP World tour. But it is not, of course. His lucrative switch to LIV Golf last summer may have strained what should be a relationship based on mutual admiration and respect. This week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championships – what will be Wood’s 588th start on the European Tour / DP World – he was in the field but was caught up in an afterthought. He had no place in the pro on Wednesday and is part of a nondescript three-ball group with Ross Fisher and Victor Dubuson.
“Why don’t you let us? [LIV players] T-Up’s in the pro this week? Why don’t you have, say, me and Bolts [Ian Poulter] play. This does not benefit the sponsors much. Why with [arbitration between LIV and DP World Tours] Hearing coming, will you change your routine? Why not treat us the same way until a decision is made? “
However, it isn’t that disdain that jolts Westwood’s mind when the topic inevitably turns to the DP World tour in 2023.
“I’m not sure where the European Tour is now,” he says. “If you had told me I was going to be in a $9 million tournament on tour, I would have a hard time believing you. But if you also told me there would only be one member of the top 20 in the world in the business, I’d think you’re insane. There’s no disrespect to whom He is but the 15th-placed player in the Challenge Tour this week. And that’s a short field, as next week, another $9 million event. I never knew it was going down until now, even when it wasn’t even close to that money.
“So many people have come up to me here this week and say ‘thank you for playing this week and giving us your support,’” he continued. “But the PGA Tour forces the hands of the top players, which prevents them from competing here. The FedEx Cup is built around getting every player to play every week, which doesn’t leave much in any other round. And with the world rankings as they stand now, it’s a double whammy.”
Things could be clearer after the five-day judging session (February 6-10) that will determine whether Westwood and his fellow LIV players can continue to play on the DP World Tour.
“With the hearing, it’s kind of going to be a line drawn in the sand,” Westwood said. “There will be clarity, although if there is as much clarity as everyone says, well let’s see. It’s all a bit vague. And not always pleasant. There was a message sent out the other day to the players. It was just propaganda meant to fuel Tensions between players who are not with LIV vs those who are with LIV. Why would you do that? Just wait for the hearing and then go from there. There has been no hostility to me from other players. It only comes from one place [the tour].
“If I get banned, I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. I’m not going to play the guessing game. I love the European Tour. I’ve played on it for 30 years and like to think I’ve supported it more than anyone else. When I get the chance to take my PGA Tour card in 1998 and again in 2010, I didn’t. I only took up my US card sporadically, when it became clear that was the only way to protect my ranking. But even when I was a member of both tours, I always said I was a member of the European Tour First of all. I don’t want that to change.”