Bunker Mentality

Westwood, choke? Not a bit of it

Bunker Mentality

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The doom and gloom surrounding Lee Westwood's apparent late collapse to lose the Players Championship at Sawgrass fills the golf columns of this morning's papers.

'Westwood falls short yet again' is the general gist of the headlines, alongside stories of the world number four finding the water on the 17th to end his hopes of lifting the fifth most important trophy of the year. The bald facts are that Westwood dropped three shots in the last five holes - one of which was a simple birdie chance - to end up four shots back of winner Tim Clark.

The reaction brings to mind one of those famous Oscar Wilde quotes: to lose one tournament with a final day collapse might be regarded as a misfortune; to lose two looks like carelessness. All sorts of golf writers claim that Westwood's charged putt on the final green of The Open at Turnberry last year, or his inability to stick with Phil Mickelson during the finale of this year's Masters, are all part of a wider problem that the Englishman has in getting over the line.

Such reactions are fantastically unfair. Bunker Mentality would be the first to raise questions of genuine choking when it appears, but Westwood did not choke. Not even slightly.

Choking is what Barry Lane did a few years ago at the 2005 Portuguese Open: he took nine on the final hole when all he needed was a bogey to win. Choking is Jean van de Velde losing the 1999 Open, or Fred Couples putting a simple wedge shot into the water to ensure the Ryder Cup stayed in Europe in 1989.

What Westwood did was almost miraculous. With the way he was playing, we should not be surprised that he lost; rather, we should be in awe that he only lost by four shots.

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Sports psychologists talk about it in terms of traffic lights: you can either have a green day, when everything you try is likely to come off; an amber day, when you're a little hit and miss; or a red day, when things just aren't working out.

The trick is to make the most of what you bring to the course each day: if the lights are green then you need to aim for the sticks, filling your boots with birdies to maximise.

If it's a red day, however, you need to throttle back, take it easy and try to limit the damage - particularly on a course such as Sawgrass, where the penalties for straying off line so often end in a watery grave for your ball.

And that's exactly what Westwood was doing. Trying to keep the ball in play, trying to save par when he missed the fairways and greens, trying not to play himself out of the tournament.

Amazingly, it nearly worked. He only abandoned the tactic when he reached the 17th without having capitalised on the birdie chance that is the 16th; knowing that he needed a birdie if he was to have any chance of winning, the risk was suddenly worth it. He took out his wedge and attacked one of the trickiest pins on one of the hardest holes in golf.

It didn't work; Westwood came up short in the water, walked off with a double bogey and lost the tournament. If he hadn't gone for it the result would have been the same: defeat, and no true sportsman cares if he's second or fourth. If he'd pulled it off, he would have had a chance of glory - but if he'd been attempting similar shots like that all day he'd have been six shots back and it would have been immaterial.

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QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "A part of me is a bit disappointed because now no one is going to talk about me anymore. At least you had something to write about before. Now I'm just another guy with a win" - Players Championship winner Tim Clark admits that he had become quite fond of being the best player on Tour never to have won.

WORRY OF THE WEEK: After missing the cut last week Tiger Woods pulled out injured during the final round of the Players Championship. Tiger pulling out injured? We're talking about the guy who won the 2008 US Open with a knee that was crumbling to pieces; playing through pain is in his nature. Something is definitely not right in the state of Tiger Woods.

DEBUT OF THE WEEK: Matteo Manassero, who shot a solid 70-70-72-71 in his first ever event as a professional at the Italian Open. He finished tied for 29th and picked up just over £10,000. Not a bad week's work for a 17-year-old!

SHOT OF THE WEEK: Robert Allenby's stunning pitch for an eagle that set him on the way to a second-place finish at Sawgrass. If his birdie putt on the 17th had toppled in instead of sitting on the edge, he might even have forced a play-off:

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