East proves good to Westwood
Lee Westwood headed home to England for Christmas this weekend with another Asian trophy in the bag and hoping the biggest present of them all - a major - will arrive gift-wrapped next year.
Already a winner in Indonesia and South Korea this year, Westwood added the US$1 million Thailand Golf Championship to his 36 other victories worldwide, taking care of business with a seven-shot victory over South Africa's Charl Schwartzel at the Amata Spring Country Club in Chonburi province, southeast of Bangkok.
Having seen an 11-shot lead slashed to four by Schwartzel after the third round, Westwood showed his coolness in closing out tournaments with a three-under 69 for a 22-under-par 266 total and the first prize of US$158,500.
The 38-year-old Englishman had blown away the Asian Tour field with a 12-under 60 in the opening round, followed by an eight-under 64.
Westwood will rejoin the US PGA Tour next year, where he is obliged to play a minimum of 15 events, along with his European Tour commitment of 13 events.
But he stressed that his appearances in Asia would not be affected and he would spend a lot of time in the region - especially in China, which now sees the HSBC Champions leave Shanghai for Mission Hills in Shenzhen. That move will be confirmed today when the 2012 European Tour schedule is released.
Criticised for not having won a major - he was runner-up in both the Masters and British Open last year - Westwood said his sights were now focused on the big four and his frame of mind could not be better.
'I'm in a tricky position,' he said. 'I have been so successful but have not won a major, and when I get through a year without a major, people say it has been a disappointing year for Lee Westwood.
'I've dropped from No1 to No2 in the world rankings in the space of a year,' he added. 'I have four wins and have been playing consistently. If I evaluate how I'm playing now to a year ago, I'm a better player.'
Westwood said careers were defined by major championships and 'I'd love to win one'.
'It's the reason I keep practising and driving myself on. My sights are set on the major championships for next year. I'll go into the winter break with a lot of confidence, knowing I'm heading in the right direction.'
Westwood has been coming to Asia for 17 years and has won in Japan, Indonesia, South Korea, Malaysia and Macau (1999).
He has now won 37 tournaments on five continents - with 21 of those victories coming on the European Tour, where he tops the career money list, having amassed a staggering Euro26,346,678 (HK$240 million).
He returned to No2 in the world rankings yesterday, leapfrogging UBS Hong Kong Open champion Rory McIlroy, who pulled out of the Asian Tour's finale on doctors' orders.
'This win means a lot because of the difficulty of the golf course and whom I was up against,' Westwood said. 'Charl is the Masters champion, and he's had a great year.'
He reached No1 for the first time in his career in November last year when he ended Tiger Woods' five-year reign at the top.
Schwartzel put pressure on Westwood yesterday with an eagle on the 11th and a birdie at the 12th to draw within two shots, but only for a minute, as Westwood drained his 20-foot putt and then never looked back.
'All credit to Lee. I gave it a go, and I'm happy with my performance,' the South African said. 'If it wasn't for Lee, I would probably have won this tournament.'
PGA Tour player Michael Thompson finished the day where he started - in third place - after a two-under 70 left him eight shots behind Westwood.
Thai Chawalit Plaphol (67) finished best of the Asian players, grabbing a share of fourth place at 12 under with Simon Dyson of England.