Practice makes Westwood`s putting more perfect

Akron: Better putting has become a major priority for Lee Westwood and the world number two was delighted with his improved form on the greens at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational on Thursday.

The 38-year-old Briton has been working this week on a much freer putting stroke with American guru Dave Stockton and he reaped instant reward as he carded an opening three-under-par 67 at Firestone Country Club.

"I played well and rolled it nicely on the greens as well, so I`m pleased with everything," Westwood told reporters after recording five birdies and two bogeys to end the round five shots off the pace.

"A 67 is never anything to complain about around this golf course, even when there`s not much wind and it`s playing soft. It has its trickeries out there."

Westwood was spurred into trying to improve his putting after he missed the cut at last month`s British Open despite leading the greens-in-regulation standings at Royal St. George`s.

Long regarded as one of the game`s best players from tee to green, the Englishman is yet to win a major title with putting widely accepted as his Achilles heel.

"I worked with Dave (Stockton) and his son Dave Jr. on Monday and a little bit on Tuesday, but not much because they gave me quite a bit to think about on Monday," Westwood said with a broad grin.

"It`s just a case of trying to work through it and pick out the bits that I could incorporate in my stroke and my routine."

Westwood, twice a runner-up in major championships and four-times a third-place finisher, said he had been mainly focusing on grip pressure and the way his putter sits in his left hand.

"I feel like it freed my stroke a little bit and got the ball rolling on the line I had picked a few times," he added, having totaled only 27 putts in Thursday`s opening round.

Asked how easy it had been for him to make adjustments to his putting stroke, Westwood replied: "It`s really hard. I catch myself a few times out there where I had to stand off it (the putt) because I had taken too long over it.

"It`s actually in the back of your mind that you shouldn`t hit it, so I stepped off it and started all over again. I got it right most of the time. It`s just a case of practicing it."

Westwood, who tied for third in the U.S. Open at Congressional in June, said he was striving to putt like a relaxed teenager.

"The worse you putt, the more you start to analyze it, the more technical you can get and the more cluttered your brain gets, and that`s not the ideal way to putt," he said.

"You just want to putt like a 14-year-old really, just stand over it and roll it in the hole."

Bureau Report

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