Westwood set to defend title


World number six Lee Westwood is ready to reprise his record-breaking form when he defends his title at the US$1 million Thailand Golf Championship. The Englishman romped to a stylish seven-stroke victory at the Amata Spring Country Club last year, highlighted by an opening round of 12-under-par 60 for a new course record where he came close to firing the Asian Tour’s first ever 59. With the Asian Tour’s showpiece being his final event of 2012, Westwood is keen to end his year on a high note by capturing a third victory of the season against a stellar field which includes reigning Masters Tournament champion Bubba Watson, last year’s runner-up Charl Schwartzel, Japan’s Ryo Ishikawa, Ryder Cup stars Nicolas Colsaerts and Sergio Garcia, 2011 British Open champion Darren Clarke and the Asian Tour’s top stars led by current number one Thaworn Wiratchant. “Yeah, lots of great memories. I supposed shooting 60 in the first round was fairly memorable and then following up with a 64 to lead by 11 after two rounds, I can’t think when that has ever happened,” said the 39-year-old Westwood. Westwood believes another 60 could be on the cards although the picturesque par-72 course is playing longer and tougher due to the rain in recent weeks and the thicker rough which lines the fairways. “I was thinking of a 57 since it’s soft out there and the greens are holding,” Westwood cheekily replied when asked if he was eyeing another 60. “I’ve only shot 60 once in my life. That was special. You need everything to go right most of the time. It’s been done once and it can be done again.” He rated his year as “steady but not spectacular” despite two wins in Indonesia and Sweden and playing a role in Europe’s amazing Ryder Cup victory over the United States in September. “My game is pretty good. I finished sixth in the WGC (HSBC Champions in China) and fifth last week (Nedbank Challenge in South Africa). It’s ticking over. My game is not as good as I like it but I’m making some changes. The second half of the year has been volatile. There’s not been a lot of continuity. It’s been steady but not spectacular this year. “It was a strong field last year and a strong field again this year. (But) I want to finish the year strongly with a win but it’s that time of the year when I’m getting a bit tired,” he said. Westwood took time to pay tribute to the Asian Tour and Asian golfers for the rapid growth of the game in the Far East. “The Tour over here has made massive strides and it’s shown around the world on different channels now and it’s helped Asian golfers become more worldly kind of players and they can compete overseas,” he said. South Africa’s Schwartzel, the Masters champion in 2011, has bounced back to form in recent weeks following bouts with injuries and he hopes to go one better in this week’s Thailand Golf Championship after playing second fiddle to Westwood 12 months ago. “I’ve been playing injury free the past month and a half and am able to swing the club better. I’ve played nicely the past few weeks. It’s been fifth, third, second and hopefully first this week!” he smiled. “I had a great year last year and had a good time here. But Lee was so far ahead after two rounds, we were playing for second spot. I was happy to get the invite to come back and see if I can get one better than last year.”