Westwood seeks to shed golfing `nearly man` tag

Pebble Beach: After so many near misses, Lee Westwood admits the pressure is on to win his first major title, and it`s not pressure from the pundits.

"The most pressure comes from me and the expectations I have for what I want to do in the game of golf," the Englishman said Tuesday as he prepared for the start of the US Open at Pebble Beach on Thursday.

"The main challenge is fulfilling my own expectations and especially over the last couple of years I`ve been putting myself in a position to win a major and feel like I ought to be expected to win a major now.

"So the greatest pressure comes from me, not from anybody else."

Westwood will be playing the 50th major championship of his career this week and he has been knocking on the door consistently in his recent bids for golf`s most coveted titles.

He was third at the US Open at Torrey Pines in 2008, third in the British Open last July and again at the US PGA Championship last August. He was runner-up to Phil Mickelson at the Masters in April.

While the spate of near-misses has inevitably sparked talk of an inability to perform under pressure, Westwood says there is little he would change.

"The Open Championship I feel like I`ve let slip a chance or let one go," said Westwood, whose challenge at Turnberry faded with three bogeys in the last four holes.

"I felt like at Augusta Phil won it fair and square," said Westwood, adding that at the PGA Championship at Hazeltine he did well to play himself into third with a strong final round.

"All in all I think I`ve played pretty good the last rounds of the majors," he said. "Haven`t quite done enough."

He`s hoping to change that at Pebble Beach, which he called "probably my favorite golf course in the world."

Westwood snuck in a couple of early practice rounds at Pebble prior to traveling to the US PGA Tour event in Memphis, Tennessee, last week.

"It`s just nice to come and have a practice round when there`s not a lot of the other stuff going on," said Westwood, who used a local caddie to try and glean some local knowledge about the greens. "It`s a lot easier to take in the golf course if you come when there`s nobody else about," he said.

After that he headed to Memphis, where he posted his first US PGA Tour victory since 1998. During that 12-year US drought Westwood continued to pile up European Tour victories, but he admitted the triumph just before the US Open was a boost.

"It gives you a lot of confidence," he said. ""It`s practicing playing under pressure and having to make putts when it counts. To come out on top last week is a big confidence boost going into a major championship."

Westwood will be in the spotlight from the opening tee on Thursday, playing in a group with Tiger Woods and Ernie Els.

Westwood said he relishes the chance to play in a high-profile group in the first two rounds, preferably as a prelude to being in contention come Sunday.

"I think it`s the kind of group that you want to play in if you`re having any aspirations of winning a championship like this," he said.

Bureau Report

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