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Move to U.S. paying off for Westwood

Some golfers change coaches, caddies or swings to help their careers. Lee Westwood changed countries.

He moved from England to Florida earlier this year, and it’s been a smooth transition. Playing the PGA Tour full time means spending less time flying back and forth between the U.S. and Europe and escaping the British winters, which never have been conducive to practice.

“It’s made my life way easier,” he said. “To play and not have as much jet lag, being able to go home on a Sunday night (after a tournament) and not come out until Tuesday morning — there’s not been really any adjustment for me to make.

“The weather in England was getting me down a little bit. I couldn’t put in the practice I needed to and was coming out rusty — not being match-fit or coming straight out and contending.”

The results have been promising so far, with four straight top 10 finishes going into the Memorial tournament this week. But Westwood had to take other factors into consideration before building a home in West Palm Beach.

He also would be uprooting his family. He’s got two pre-teens in son Sam and daughter Poppy. But they’ve adapted to American culture.

“They’re a lot more outdoors,” Westwood said. “My son is playing basketball a lot more, where he wouldn’t ever have in England, and playing a bit of American football.

“He throws the ball all right. I think his rugby background has given him a good base for that. He used to get stuck playing rugby, and now he gets to do it with pads on, so he thinks it’s an easier way. And he’s playing more golf.

“And Poppy is just being Poppy, bossing everybody around and working on her tan.”

Westwood, who has moved up to 10th in the world rankings, is making only his second appearance at the Memorial and first in 10 years. But even while toiling overseas, he still followed the event.

“It’s one tournament I do tune in on Sunday night to see the finish. I think one of the most memorable shots was played here on the 16th with Tiger’s pitch,” he said, referring to the improbable chip-in birdie by Tiger Woods last year that propelled him to victory.

“Jack Nicklaus’ involvement is obviously a draw for a lot of the players. It’s just one of those tournaments that sits a bit higher than the rest.”

Although he’s less committed to playing in Europe, he did compete in the BMW PGA championship near London last week. He said he returned only because it’s one of the flagship tourneys on the Euro tour and that last year’s winning Ryder Cup team was having a reunion.

He trailed by one shot going into the final round before fading to a tie for ninth.

Asked how long that disappointment lingered, he replied with an impish grin: “Not long. It only lasts three beers.”

Although he makes no secret of his affinity for adult beverages, Westwood, who turned 40 in April, actually has been more devoted to regular workouts as he’s gotten older.

“Golf courses were getting longer, rough was getting thicker and I was getting older. It seemed like a sensible thing to do for the immediate future and career longevity,” he said.

“I’m not a massive eater of junk food. It’s just quantity that I struggle with. I basically didn’t know when to stop. I had to rein that in a little bit.”

Westwood is part of a trend of international players moving to the U.S. circuit, lured by better courses and bigger purses.

Of course, that also means contending more often with a resurgent Woods, who has won four times in seven PGA starts.

Asked if the world’s No. 1 player could be on the verge of one of his dominating runs from years past, Westwood said: “I don’t think he’s on the verge of one. I think he’s IN one. How many events has he played this year? He’s won more than 50 percent.

“He’s obviously playing very well at the moment. And when he tees it up, you’ve got to expect him to be there at the end of the week, which is how it was 10 years ago, really.”

Front-row seat: Rickie Fowler was paired last year with Tiger in one of the final groups before disaster struck — or, as Fowler put it, “golf happened.”

He ballooned to an 84 and finished in a tie for 52nd. But the experience wasn’t wasted.

“I got frustrated and got ahead of myself and tried to push a little bit,” he said. “Once I got to the back nine, I was a little ways out of it. Tiger was in contention, and at that point, I was just trying to stay out of his way. I stayed out of his way on 16 — but I got in the shot for SportsCenter’s top 10.

“It was fun to see him do what he did there, how he handles himself down the stretch.”

Fowler was grouped with Woods again in the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill this year and was two shots down with three to play before making a triple bogey.

“There was a little difference between shooting 84 here against Tiger in the final round and actually showing him I was around at Bay Hill, ready to play down the stretch,” Fowler said. “Golf is a learning process, and that 84 was part of it.”

Strong field: The Memorial has eight of the world’s top 10 players, including Woods, Rory McIlroy, Adam Scott, Justin Rose, Brandt Snedeker, Luke Donald and Matt Kuchar.

Other notables include Ernie Els, Charl Schwartzel and Vijay Singh. Muirfield is hosting the Presidents Cup in October, which may partly explain the strong international presence.

Sergio Garcia isn’t in the field, but he likely wasn’t trying to escape a media frenzy. He hasn’t played here since 2008.

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