With pure grit and determination, graybeard Lee Westwood birdied his way into golf history Sunday in Abu Dhabi.
Nursing a slim one-shot lead with the finishing hole in front of him and the giant falcon clubhouse staring at him in the distance Westy got tough when the going was exactly that.
A perfect dead-center of the fairway three-wood then a laser iron shot to the green left him with three-putts for victory — he only needed two for a finishing birdie, a 67 and a 19-under par winning total at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
In case you’ve missed a few of his birthdays, Westwood is now 46-years-old. His mid-section is thicker and there’s a lot of gray sprinkled in his hair and scraggy beard than there was years ago when he once reached No. 1 in the world.
He’ll turn 47 in April.
What Westwood did on Sunday was step up on a pedestal where he is the only man standing. He has now won in four different decades. That’s longevity with a capital “L.”
“It’s nice to come out and prove you’ve still got it,” said Westwood, who will move from 64th in the world rankings all the way up to 29 and that’s something to celebrate as he’s now back in all the majors, Masters included, and jumps into those fat-cat, no-cut WGC events that Tiger Woods so desperately worked to get in two seasons ago.
“It’s been a good week,” said Westwood in a major understatement. He opened with rounds of 69-68, nothing eye-opening on a perfectly-manicured course with no wind on day one and just a hint of a breeze on day two. Westy got it going on Saturday and his 65 moved him into the 54-hole lead at 14-under.
On Sunday, Westwood sprinted out of the blocks with four front-nine birdies that got him to 18-under. It was a super start but he’d need every one of them. Up ahead, birthday boy Tommy Fleetwood, he turned 29 on Sunday, was going bonkers. All Tommy did was throw six birdies on the front nine scorecard to turn up the heat. He then ran off three straight starting at 15 but made the mistake of parring the 18 when there were birdies to be had there. Still, he shot 63 and posted 17-under.
So did newcomer Victor Perez, who stepped into the limelight last fall with a victory at the Dunhill Links. He shot 63 as well and posted 17-under.
Young Matt Fitzpatrick made it three lying in wait for Westwood. He came out strong but cooled off coming home, only managed one back-nine birdie and that came at 18. He’ll look back and know he should have done better.
Westwood kept his head down, didn’t listen to the Fleetwood, Perez, Fitzpatrick noise. “I wasn’t paying attention to others, I just focused on my game.”
He was very focused and rolling along at 19-under when he pulled his approach to the 16th and ended up missing a 10-footer for par. He called it a “a little slip-up at 16.”
Wins don’t come easy, especially at age 46. He parred 17 then crushed it at 18. His closing birdie got a shot win. It was his 25th on the European Tour, moving him to eighth on the tour’s all-time list of winners.
When they pointed out to him that he’s now in line for a possible spot on the European Ryder Cup team, he just grinned. “I’m not sure I can take that. I’ve played in 10 of them but he said he’d love a shot if it was there for him later this year.
“It gives me a lot of pride to set new sort of targets for everybody,” he said, talking about his four-decade span. “That’s what sport’s about, isn’t it. I’m surprised I’m the first one to do it. But you know, I’ve been out here a long time, this is my 28th season. So yeah, I’d like to add a few more to that. But I think it just shows the level I’ve played at for such a long time, longevity in sport is difficult to achieve.”
All the while, at the end when it was finished, you could see him tearing up. “I bit emotional,” he quickly said.
Emotional? You bet.
“It’s getting harder to win,” Lee admitted. “But I’m thrilled.”