- Associated Press - Thursday, July 15, 2010

ST. ANDREWS, SCOTLAND (AP) - Lee Westwood walked the Old Course with a bounce in his step, not looking at all like someone who’s barely practiced the last two weeks because of an ailing leg.

His ruptured right calf didn’t appear to be a problem at all.

The 37-year-old Englishman, now considered the world’s best player still without a major championship, got off to a solid start in the British Open with a 5-under 67 Thursday, leaving him four strokes behind leader Rory McIlroy and solidly in contention for the only thing missing from his resume.

Westwood’s score was especially impressive considering he teed off after noon, when the remarkably calm conditions from the morning gave way to stiffer breezes and occasional bursts of rain.

“We got unlucky with the weather, but that’s the nature of links golf,” he said. “One half gets it good, the other doesn’t. So I have to be reasonably happy with a 67 in those conditions.”

Afterward, Westwood was off to get treatment on his calf, which had been hurting for a while. During the French Open, the leg swelled so badly doctors feared he might have a blood clot. But tests showed he ruptured the plantaris muscle, which runs down the calf.

Though the injury usually requires up to two months of rest, Westwood didn’t have that luxury. Not with his home major coming up. So his leg was wrapped as tightly as possible, he limited his practice time and he hoped for the best.

So far, so good.

“It’s sore,” Westwood conceded. “It gets worse as the day goes on and my ankle swells up. That’s really the problem, the muscles.”

He won’t be totally comfortable this week, but he figures that plenty of treatment and the proper taping will make the pain bearable. He never showed any sign of a limp during the opening round, even at the end as he walked off the 18th green and shook hands with playing partners Adam Scott and Miguel Angel Jimenez.

But there were signs of the worsening pain as the day wore on. Westwood closed the front side with five straight birdies, making the turn with a 31, yet only managed even par on the final nine holes.

“I started to feel my calf towards the end of the round,” he said. “I’ll just have to keep getting treatment and hope it doesn’t get any worse.”

If the leg holds up, Westwood could find himself in contention this weekend. He has certainly given every indication he’s ready to break through for that long-awaited first major win.

He’s No. 3 in the world, with top-three finishes at three of the last four major championships. Better yet, he actually won on the Old Course during the 2003 Dunhill Links, making him Britain’s best chance to snap an 11-year winless streak at its own Open.

Westwood hardly was surprised that McIlroy, a 21-year-old Northern Irishman, tied the record for lowest score in a major on a morning when the wind barely rippled the flags, the rains held off and it was warm enough to play in shirt sleeves.

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