Westwood targets season-opening win in Dubai

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES (AP) - He’s got a new caddie and a new home in the United States.

Lee Westwood hopes those changes translate into victories this year, starting with the Dubai Desert Classic that begins Thursday.

The eighth-ranked Englishman has been a runner-up at Dubai three times, including last year when he led after three rounds but lost to Spaniard Rafael Cabrera-Bello. Westwood missed a seven-footer on 17 that could have tied, and one on 18 to force a playoff.

After missing the cut at the PGA Championship last year, Westwood split from coach Pete Cowen and temporary caddie Mike Waite. Mike Kerr, normally on the bag for Alvaro Quiros, took over. Westwood also moved to Florida with his family in December after rejoining the PGA Tour in 2012.

The move to Florida, Westwood said, has allowed him to play much more golf in the offseason _ he was out last week with Luke Donald _ than he’s done in the past when England has been frigid.

“I feel like I’m coming out running,” Westwood said, adding that his short game and putting have shown the most improvement.

“Hopefully, I will come out and be competitive,” he said. “We’ve seen recently some of the best players struggling to find their competitive edge. I feel like I’m playing well and I have a chance.”

Westwood, though, has yet to replace Cowen and isn’t looking to overhaul his swing like Tiger Woods has in the past. The Englishman has been practicing more and “doesn’t feel rusty at the moment.”

“I haven’t really changed coaches but done away with a few,” he said with a smile. “That is a big difference. I’m not going to another coach and trying a new method. I’m not making any big changes as such.”

Westwood, who turns 40 this year, said it seemed “like the right time” to move to the United States. He said his two children, who were 8 and 11, were young enough to make the adjustment to a new school, and the new location allows him to play more on the U.S. tour without being away from his family for long periods.

“I played the PGA Tour last year and really enjoyed it and fancied a new challenge with the family,” Westwood said. “Fancied making a move and being somewhere warm.”

And with every new season, Westwood has to contend with questions of whether this might be the year he finally wins a major. He finished tied for third at last year’s Masters, but fared poorly in the other three. Time was of the essence, he admitted, but he wasn’t about to let his age influence his play.

“That would be putting a bit of pressure on myself,” he said. “No, I try hard year every year to win a major, so just need to find a little spark that takes me from finishing second or third to winning one.”

Westwood won twice in 2012, once on the European Tour and once on the OneAsia Tour. But for a man who has 22 victories on the European Tour, it was a less than stellar season. He struggled at times with his putter and saw his ranking slip from third to seventh. He ended the year tied for a disappointing 48th in the season-ending Dubai World Championship.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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