Lee Westwood has Jack Nicklaus Masters inspiration with elusive major in sight

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AUGUSTA, Ga. — Thirty-five years ago, Jack Nicklaus won the Masters with his son, Jackie, caddying for him. It was his sixth green jacket, and Nicklaus, at the age of 46, became the oldest Masters champion ever.

On Thursday morning, Lee Westwood — 15 days shy of his 48th birthday — will tee it up alongside defending champion Dustin Johnson and U.S. Amateur champion Tyler Strafaci in a quest to break Nicklaus’ record as the oldest man to have a green jacket slipped over his shoulders. And he’ll do it with his 19-year-old son, Sam, on his bag.

Westwood has played in 84 career major championships without winning one, the longest major-championship drought in the game. So, his winning the 85th Masters this week would qualify as pretty high up the list of magical stories that could emerge from this tournament by day’s end Sunday.

“Jack has always been an inspiration the way he played the game, especially his record around here,” Westwood said. “You can’t help being inspired. There’s a few similarities there with age. It would be great to break his record. I saw Jack a few weeks ago at the Honda, and I still remember the first time I played this tournament in 1997.

“I played the final round with Jack, and I knew I was playing with him on the Sunday, [so] I went out on the Saturday night and bought the picture, the iconic one where he’s following the ball into the hole on 17 with his putter [in the 1986 win]. After we played on the Sunday … I said to Jack, ‘Would you mind signing this picture for me?’ I still have it to this day all framed up where he’s put, ‘Lee, enjoyed our round, best wishes, Jack Nicklaus.’

“To have a chance to break one of his records would be very special. It’s amazing that I’m old enough to have my son on the bag and still be competing in these tournaments, and having Sam here to enjoy the experience with me … I have to close his mouth every now and again when we’re going around here, he loves it so much.”

Why not Westwood this week?

Forget his age.

Forget the fact that he never has won a major, despite finishing runner-up in three majors, and posting 12 top-5 and 19 top-10 finishes in majors.

Sergio Garcia, when he won the 2017 Masters, ended a streak of 70 major championships played without a win, which was the longest streak at that time. Westwood would love to follow that plan. And he can.

The Englishman’s performance last month in Florida delivered enough evidence that he can win this week.

He finished runner-up to Bryson DeChambeau in the Arnold Palmer Invitational and then runner-up to Justin Thomas in the Players Championship, going toe-to-toe, blow-for-blow with two of the best, most powerful players in the sport.

Westwood called those two finishes “validation that I’m still good enough at my age to be out here and contending.”

If we are to believe Westwood, anything he does in his career from now is gravy for him. He always has appeared comfortable in his own skin and he doesn’t seem to be concerned with his legacy, whether there’s a major championship on his résumé or not.

“As for expectations, I don’t really have any,” Westwood said. “But I don’t really have any at any tournaments I turn up to anymore. I just put the preparation in, hit it off the first tee and try and find it and hit it on the green, and hopefully hit it on the green and have a birdie chance and make a few of those. After that, it’s in the lap of the gods, really.”

Westwood truly gives off the vibe that he’s enjoying the smell of the roses — or in the case of this week, the azaleas. The day after he lost to Thomas at TPC Sawgrass, Westwood came to Augusta on “a lads trip’’ with his son to play for a couple of days with a member.

“I’ve always loved Augusta National,” he said. “I saw that it’s my 20th time here, and I still remember the first time I came here like it was yesterday, really. The walk over the 11th down the hill seeing the 12th in the distance, it still sent chills when I came here three weeks ago. Even [in Tuesday’s first practice round] it sent chills down my spine just to see Amen Corner in the distance there. It’s a very special place and to get to share it with Sam was amazing.”

It, of course, would be even more amazing if he can do with Sam what Nicklaus did with Jackie 35 years ago.

Why not?

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