DUBAI (Reuters) - Lee Westwood has never felt so well prepared for the start of a new season after having swapped the snow of Britain for the sunshine of Florida, the world number eight said on Tuesday.
The European Ryder Cup stalwart, who has taken up membership of the U.S. PGA Tour this year, makes his first competitive outing of 2013 at this week’s $2.5 million Dubai Desert Classic.
“I played a lot more this winter than I would normally play and there’s no rust,” Westwood told reporters. “The main reason for moving to Florida was to get more games of golf as I wouldn’t play normally when I’m at home because of the weather.
“Last week I had shorts on and was out playing with (world number three) Luke Donald. Living in England I’ve always finished the year, gone home, packed the clubs away and came back out trying to catch everyone else.
“My short game is sharper from being out there especially my putting,” added Westwood.
The 39-year-old Englishman has a proud record at the Dubai Classic, having been runner-up in 1999, 2010 and 2012 and amassed a total of seven top-10 finishes, but he has yet to chalk up a victory in 19 appearances in the event.
“I should have won when I was up against Miguel (Angel Jimenez) in a playoff in 2010. Then last year I had to birdie the last to force a playoff with Rafa (Cabrera-Bello) and missed it so I feel like I’ve let a couple slip,” said Westwood.
“It’s certainly one I would like to win. Hopefully this week I’ll play as well as I’ve played the last few years and have a chance again and finish it off.”
Westwood said the cream normally rises to the top at the Emirates Golf Club.
“It’s a good test which is probably why it has had good winners on it,” he explained.
“You look at the winners from the last few years and they’re not short hitters - Rory McIlroy, Alvaro Quiros, Henrik Stenson and Tiger Woods.
“It’s a sand-based course so you don’t get much run from your tee shots. It certainly helps to be able to reach the par-fives in two.”
Spaniard Cabrera-Bello will be defending the title he won 12 months ago and is joined in the field by last week’s Qatar Masters champion Chris Wood of Britain.
Sergio Garcia of Spain, who finished one stroke behind Wood in Doha, also gets a chance to go one better at the final stop on the European Tour’s three-week desert swing.
Writing by Tony Jimenez; editing by Martyn Herman