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Westwood enters his comfort zone at Augusta

Lee Westwood believes he is finally approaching the form which took him to world No.1, despite arriving at the year's first major championship 37th in the rankings.

Lee Westwood does not believe the absence of Tiger Woods at the Masters has changed the goalposts. Picture: Reuters
Lee Westwood does not believe the absence of Tiger Woods at the Masters has changed the goalposts. Picture: Reuters

Westwood overtook Tiger Woods at the end of October 2010 and held top spot for a total of 22 weeks in two spells before losing it to fellow Englishman Luke Donald at the end of May 2011.

The 40-year-old has slowly slid down the rankings ever since and failed to win a tournament in 2013, most notably finishing third in the Open at Muirfield after taking a two-shot lead into the final round.

He split from coach Sean Foley at the end of last year after just seven months together, but hopes new coach Mike Walker and old caddie Billy Foster can help rediscover the long game which had always been his biggest asset.

"My game is really good and Thursday's round was definitely the best I have played tee to green in two years," Westwood said after finishing 17th in the Shell Houston Open.

"I'm just pleased to be starting to hit the ball good again because I have been struggling for about a year to a year and a half now. I'm hitting the ball very well at the moment and that's important going into any major."

Westwood insists there is no need to panic over his world ranking, especially having previously recovered from a dramatic loss of form a decade ago which saw him slip outside the top 250. And he is relishing contesting the US Masters at Augusta National, where he was second in 2010, 11th in 2011, third in 2012 and eighth last year.

"I first went there in 1997 so I know the course very well," Westwood added. "I'm excited to be going back. It's nice that it has come around again because it is such a long time since the US PGA Championship, and the fact there are only four majors a year.

"I feel when I do drive up to the front gates I know the place very well and it's a golf course where I can walk onto the first tee feeling comfortable with where I am. That's shown in my results in recent years."

Heavy rain ruined yesterdauy's practice day at Auguista but Westwood's decision not to be at the course was down to routine rather than the weather. "I've being doing that the past few years, not arriving until Tuesday as you can get too wrapped up in all that is going on that week," he added. "You have to pace yourself."

The chances of Westwood winning a first major title at the 64th attempt have been boosted by the absence of four-time champion Woods, who withdrew last week having undergone surgery on a pinched nerve in his back.

But with favourite Rory McIlroy coming into form at the right time with a closing 65 in Houston - where Sergio Garcia also finished third - Westwood does not believe Woods' absence has changed the goalposts.

"No, not really," Westwood added. "He's never worried me. It will be interesting he's not playing but then there are so many other good players who can win."

That certainly appears the case judging by recent results on the PGA Tour, with Zach Johnson the only player among the world's top 10 to have won a strokeplay event this season.

World No.4 Jason Day won the WGC-Match Play championship in February but has not played since due to a thumb injury, although the Australian has declared himself fit for Augusta, where he was second on his debut in 2011 and third behind compatriot Adam Scott last year. Open champion Phil Mickelson and US Open winner Justin Rose have also been hampered by injuries this season, while Scott blew a seven-shot lead at the halfway stage of the Arnold Palmer Invitational last month.

All that means the 24 rookies - the most since the second Masters in 1935 - have a great chance to become the first player since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 to win on their Masters debut, while the likes of Victor Dubuisson, Joost Luiten and Stephen Gallacher will be hoping to also become Europe's first winner since Jose Maria Olazabal in 1999.

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