Former world number one Lee Westwood admits he had doubts about his ability to compete at the top level again before finishing second in the Masters to stablemate Danny Willett.
Westwood gave up his PGA Tour membership last year as he went through a divorce from his wife of 16 years Laurae, moving back to the UK from their home in Florida to be close to their two children.
The 43-year-old had won the Indonesian Masters in April 2015 but slipped down the rankings during the rest of the year and only qualified for the Masters by a fraction of a world ranking point in December.
But after missing the cut in three of his four warm-up events, Westwood found himself in contention for a first major title at Augusta National in April, chipping in for an eagle on the 15th in the final round to close within a shot of playing partner Willett, only to three-putt the 16th as Willett made a decisive birdie.
“I think when you haven’t played well for a long time, then you do start to have doubts in your mind,” admitted Westwood, who finished tied for second with Jordan Spieth to extend his unwanted record of most top-three finishes in major championships without a victory to nine.
“But it never takes long for golfers to snap out of it, really. We’re a pretty dumb breed! We’re only one good shot, really, from a comeback.
“You start to feel the right things in your golf swing and it can have an almost immediate effect. I’ll just see a couple of putts go in, and starting the ball on line, and it can change in the click of a finger.
“Obviously any time you play well in a tournament, especially the stature of the Masters, it gives you a lot of confidence and belief.
“Any time you play well in front of the best players in the world, and finish in front of them, bar Danny, obviously it boosts your confidence.
“It was a kick I really needed. I had not played particularly well for a while and it was nice to see my name back up there on the leaderboard. I played average at the Match Play and poorly at Houston, so I didn’t really have too many expectations going into the Masters.
“I’ve played well there in the past and know my way around there, even when I’m not playing that good.
“I was hoping to basically finish in the top 10 and get an invite back for next year.”
Westwood would be an obvious choice as a vice-captain to his good friend and European Ryder Cup skipper Darren Clarke at Hazeltine, but is just outside the qualifying places after returning from a five-week break to finish 10th in the Irish Open last week.
“It was nice to give Darren a nudge that I could still play golf under pressure against the best players in the world,” added Westwood, who has already put his name forward to captain Europe in 2020, but is seeking a 10th straight appearance as a player in September.
‘’When you look at the records, there’s not that many people played that many Ryder Cups. It’s something that I’m immensely proud of; that I’ve played every year since 1997 and won a lot of points, as well. It would be nice to play a 10th one and get some more points for the team.”