Kuala Lumpur: Englishman Lee Westwood is relishing the opportunity to become only the second golfer to lift three Maybank Malaysian Open titles when he begins his title defence on Thursday.
Ryder Cup star Westwood romped to a spectacular seven-shot victory at the Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club’s West Course last season, adding to his first triumph in the Malaysian capital in 1997.
His quest to match Australian Terry Gale’s hat-trick of wins will see him face a star-studded line-up in the US$3 million championship, which includes the likes of Graeme McDowell, Victor Dubuisson, Asian Tour legends Thongchai Jaidee and Arjun Atwal, who also have won twice in Malaysia previously.
“It was lovely winning last year. I played really well the first two days and got quite a big lead. I struggled a bit with the heat in the third round but on the Sunday I played very solidly and don’t think I made a bogey to end up winning by seven,” said Westwood today.
“It’s nice to be back. I was only here just before Christmas for the PGA Tour event, so I feel like I’m really getting to know the golf course very well. I feel like a member.”
Westwood, ranked 30th in the world, is a prolific winner in Asia and last tasted victory in the region as recently as last December when he claimed victory at the Thailand Golf Championship for his 42nd worldwide professional title.
He began his 2015 campaign in Dubai last week, finishing tied ninth which he felt could have been improved if his putter had behaved itself.
“I got off to a good start with a 65 in the first round. I was a bit unlucky on the greens over the next three days, but Sunday I made a good start – I was three under through five – but let it slip a little bit and had a double bogey on the ninth. That wasn’t great. Top 10 in the first tournament of the year is pretty good though,” said the former world number one.
“The course is in good condition again. The greens are very true. I like the course and it sets up well for me. There are some tight drives out there if you want to take it on with the driver to gain an advantage. I see the lines on the greens very well, so I’m impressed with it again.”
McDowell, playing in the Maybank Malaysian Open for the first time since 2008, hopes his renowned straight-driving game will see him win a first title of 2015 this week. He reckons family life could also help him secure more silverware as he seeks to add to his lone Major triumph at the 2010 U.S. Open.
“I’m really excited to be back. It’s been a while since I was here, I think I’ve played four times in Malaysia in my career and it’s always a fun place to come. I was pleased with how I played in Dubai so I’m hoping to kick on and have a good week here,” said the 35-year-old Ulsterman.
“I’m looking forward to checking out the course here. You have to drive the ball well, as Lee Westwood showed and Ryan Moore, who’s won twice here in the PGA Tour event.
“I think my focus is better than it’s been in a long time. I’ve got a young family and my personal life is in a really nice place and I’m really enjoying that. The balance of that is giving me the mental space to re-focus on my game again, and I certainly have things I want to achieve. Performances in the Major championships are one of my key things this year,” he added.
Paul McGinley, who captained Europe to victory over the United States in the Ryder Cup last September, is also itching to get back into action following a knee surgery in December. The 48-year-old is keeping his self-expectations low at the 54th staging of the Malaysian Open, which is jointly sanctioned by the Asian Tour and European Tour.
“I only started hitting balls again 10 days ago, and today’s pro-am was my third round since the BMW Masters in Shanghai in November. So there’s not been much golf and therefore my expectations are pretty low. But I’m very happy to be here and I’m looking forward to the week,” said McGinley, whose first visit to Malaysia was back in 1993.
“It’s nice that I’m still pretty competitive. I still enjoy it – I enjoy the playing and I enjoy the people. I don’t hit the ball far enough for the modern game, but this golf course is not really about distance; it’s about keeping it straight. What I’m trying to do this year is play courses which suit my game rather than the big wide open courses where the big-hitters have a huge advantage.”