Former world No. 1 Lee Westwood became somewhat of a forgotten man this summer, as he struggled with his game and missed six cuts in eight tournaments.
However, after his last two rounds of golf, it might be time to refresh our memories.
Westwood is well on his way to turning around his season after shooting a 63 on the final day at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational last week and a 65 on Thursday at the PGA Championship.
He is currently the clubhouse leader, tied with Kevin Chappell and Ryan Palmer.
The 41-year-old's return to form came just in time, too. After a top-10 finish at the Masters and a win at the Maybank Malaysian Open earlier this year, the Englishman's game went haywire and he failed to make the weekend at both the U.S. Open and British Open.
However, the three-time European Tour Player of the Year kept working hard and finally started to feel better about his game last week. By Sunday at Bridgestone, he finally had a score to show for it.
According to Ewan Murray of The Guardian, Westwood feels his improved swing has given him a boost:
Last week was big for me, I felt like I turned a corner. I was starting to swing the club a lot better but that is no good unless you start converting it into low rounds. Then obviously I got things going on the final day. I tried to keep it low-key in the practice rounds here, carry my momentum through to the first round, which I’ve managed to do by making nine birdies.
It might have been tempting to look at Westwood's 63 as a fluke, but like the pro he is, he seamlessly carried that momentum to Kentucky. His 65 on Thursday was his best opening-round score at a major in his 21-year career.
His scorecard was a colorful one. He had nine birdies in his round and was able to overcome a double bogey at the start of his back nine by finishing with five birdies in his last six holes.
Westwood even finished the round in style, hitting a highlight-worthy putt on his final hole to take a lead into the clubhouse:
For a long time, Westwood was considered the best golfer without a major to his name, thanks in no small part to his remarkable consistency. He has been the runner-up at two majors, the 2010 Masters and the 2010 British Open, while amassing 17 top 10s at majors and 10 top fives.
He has also been a stalwart member of the European Ryder Cup team. Jim McCabe of Golfweek broke down what Westwood has meant to the squad over the years:
There’s too brilliant a body of work to consider. For instance, Europe has won six of the eight Ryder Cups in which Westwood has competed and over that time the Englishman has compiled an 18-13-7 record. When in 2006 Westwood was coming out of a long slump and in need of a captain’s pick, Ian Woosnam granted it to him. Westwood responded famously, playing in all five sessions to the tune of 3-0-2.
Since he has not been at his best this summer, Westwood has fallen to No. 18 in the Ryder Cup standings and therefore is in danger of not making the team.
Earlier this week on Sky Sports (h/t Worksop Guardian), European Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley praised Westwood's contributions to the team. However, he also said Westwood needs to show some form before being selected to the team. "He's not going to get in on reputation alone," the captain said.
If Westwood keeps playing the way he did on Thursday, that certainly won't be a problem.
While there's no doubt that making the Ryder Cup team is important to Westwood, right now, his only focus is on winning that elusive first major. He's still a long three rounds away from getting that monkey off his back and taking home the Wanamaker Trophy, but he set himself up nicely after the first 18 holes.
Westwood held the top spot in the Official World Golf Ranking for a total of 22 weeks back in 2010 and 2011 and has steadily been falling since—all the way to his current spot at No. 34.
No matter how low he is ranked, though, Westwood proved on Thursday that he should never be counted out.