World No. 2 Lee Westwood is hoping this week's Shell Houston Open will provide him with the perfect build-up to the Masters. The Englishman is back in action for the first time in three weeks and is confident his game is in decent shape as the countdown to Augusta National continues.
Westwood was ranked top of the pile for almost four months, but a slow start to the season saw him overtaken by Martin Kaymer last month.
2011 SHELL HOUSTON OPEN
The Houston Open dates back to 1946, and is the 10th-oldest tournament on the PGA Tour.
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"I'm here to try to win. That would be great and I'd take a lot of confidence going into next week with that,” he said Wednesday. "I'm looking to play well and hit good shots and take the way I've been hitting shots on the range and striking putts. I've seen a big improvement in the three weeks since I last played so I want to take that onto the golf course and play solidly.
"I'm looking forward to this week and next week, and this is generally the time of year I start to play fairly well and get in top form,” he added. "I like to be competitive going into the week of a major, so that's the reason why I play the Shell Houston Open."
Westwood, who will climb back to No. 1 in the world if he finishes in the top two, will tee off alongside Phil Mickelson and defending champion Anthony Kim at the Redstone Golf Club on Thursday. Even that line-up has a Masters connection, with Mickelson, Westwood and Kim taking the top three spots at Augusta National 12 months ago.
Westwood knows the conditions in Texas will not entirely mimic those he can expect in Georgia in a week's time, but he expects the speed of the greens to provide valuable practice.
"The main point is they try to get the greens as quick as possible so, when you get to Augusta next week, it's not as big a shock,” he explained. “They're pretty immaculate here and run a great pace."
A strong field also includes fellow top-10 stars Matt Kuchar and Steve Stricker along with major winners Ernie Els and Padraig Harrington.
A feature of this season, though, has been the number of unexpected winners, most recently Scotland's Martin Laird at last week's Arnold Palmer Invitational. Gary Woodland and Jhonattan Vegas, both in the field in Houston, also fall into that category.
"Every week out here there's a strong field and you have to play well no matter who's playing,” said Westwood. "You only have to look at the winners this year; they haven't been the predictable ones, there's been a lot of first-time winners, and it just shows the strength in depth of golf at the moment."