On Saturday 3 December 2011, when the clouds above the Gary Player Country Club rumbled and Lee Westwood shook his fists back at them with a third round of 62, there was a moment that summed up the almost artistic genius with which the Englishman plays golf.
That Saturday round was interrupted by a weather delay.
When Westwood was asked after his 62 what went through his mind at the time of the delay, his response was, “What crossed my mind when the siren sounded? I thought it was a good time for lunch. They do a great stir fry in the Player’s Lounge.”
You could argue that where Bernhard Langer left off as the adoptive son of Nedbank Golf Challenge fans, Westwood has certainly picked up.
Westwood has established himself as one of the greats of the Nedbank Golf Challenge and will be making his 11th appearance in “Africa’s Major”.
He is without a doubt the greatest of England’s champions in this tournament, which also includes Sir Nick Faldo and most recently Danny Willett.
His victory at the Gary Player Country Club in 2010 was a staggering display of his worldwide dominance that year, which saw him take the world number one raking from Tiger Woods. Westwood demolished the field at Sun City to win by eight shots.
A year later he successfully defend his title, becoming the sixth player in the history of the tournament to do so after Seve Ballesteros (1983 and 1984), David Frost (1989 and 1990), Nick Price (1997 and 1998), Ernie Els (1999 and 2000), and Jim Furyk (2005 and 2006).
In fact, since his debut in the Nedbank Golf Challenge in 1998, when he finished fourth, Westwood has only once finished outside the top five, and that was his share of 16th place in 2014.
This year Westwood returns hoping that the great memories of Sun City will spark something in a game that hasn’t quite been at the high standard he demands, with only one victory on the Asian Tour this year to go with a handful of top 10s on the European and PGA Tours.
But his close friend and European Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke believes Westwood’s results in the second half of 2015 did not reflect the standard of his game.
“Lee’s stats of late are seriously impressive,” Clarke said in September. “He’s still in the top echelon of European players.”
Westwood admits his focus has drifted in 2015. But Sun City is quite clearly the kind of venue that can change all of this for Westwood. And South Africa remains like a second home to him.
In 2000, he won the Dimension Data Pro-Am at Sun City as one of his seven victories he claimed worldwide that year.
Westwood is no stranger to finding a way to lift himself out of a drop in form. He famously did so when he dropped to 259th in the world in 2002 and then worked his way back to an eventual spot at world number one.
And he has been a stalwart of the European Ryder Cup team on nine occasions, making some of the most valuable contributions at times when his form hasn’t been the best on the regular tours.
A major triumph still eludes him though, although he has an incredible record of consistency at this level of the game.
From 2009 through to 2013, Westwood finished in the top 10 in two of the four Majors every single year.
His best year in the Majors was in 2010, when he finished second in the Masters and the Open Championship.
Some might suggest Westwood is comfortable enough not to dwell too much on his lack of a Major victory.
But the same drive he showed in working his way back to the top of the game is still very much a part of the Englishman’s make-up.
“I suppose it would be easy to settle for all that I have gained from golf,” he said in July 2013 when he had another great chance at the Open and finished third.
“I could have an easy ride home, returning to my big house and all the advantages my career has gained for my family and me, but you know I want that Major – and I’m ready to give it everything I have.
“I’ve been doing this for some time now and I’m confident that sooner or later I will get my rewards.”
This year, Westwood announced that for personal reasons he gave up his membership of the PGA Tour and will focus on the European Tour.
And he does so with a very clear focus of returning to the kind of form that will earn him an automatic spot on his close friend Clarke’s European Ryder Cup team in 2016, and lift him back to the kind of form that carried him to number one in the world.
“Living in the States, my game didn’t really move in the direction I wanted it to,” he said at the British Masters.
“There’s no sort of magic wand you can ever wave. You just have to go back to basics and do the drills and do the work, the hard work on the range that makes you hit it straight and close. I’m prepared to work hard. I’m in pretty good shape. I’ve got 42-year-old niggles but the back is still in good shape and knees and hips and shoulders are all good. It’s just down to hard work, really.”
It’s a recipe Westwood certainly knows well, having done so at least once before in his career.
While he admits that at this stage of his life his children are his top priority ahead of his golf, it doesn’t mean Westwood doesn’t still care deeply for the game and where it is headed.
On his own Facebook page this year he outlined some of his thoughts about this when he said, “(Golf) needs to be more available to the man in the street. I’m from a working class background and I started playing on a municipal golf course – there need to be more municipal golf courses and golf needs to be made more available to everybody. Obviously, golf could be made less expensive. It needs to be quicker, with a shorter format – five hours on a Saturday or Sunday is too long to be out of the house. It needs a two hour format. The hole maybe needs to be made bigger, made easier – it’s a tough game that can become painful at times so it needs to be made fun.”
But to tempter the serious side of golf, Westwood always has time for a laugh.
When he was asked a series of questions by fans, one of them was his favourite Ryder Cup moment. The fan in question said hers was spending their first anniversary in an upmarket hotel watching Westwood and co win the Ryder Cup at Medinah.
“Really?” Westwood asked incredulously. “Watching golf in a hotel room on your anniversary?”
Born: 24 April 1973.
Turned pro: 1993.
Family: Children – Samuel Bevan, Poppy Grace.
Special interests: Films, snooker, cars, Nottingham Forest FC.
Career highlights: In November 2010 he became world number one for the first time in his career. He finished runner-up in both the Masters and Open that same year. In the 2008 Ryder Cup he equalled Arnold Palmer’s record when he went 12 matches unbeaten. In 2000 he won seven tournaments and finished top of the European Tour’s Order of Merit.
2015 highlights: Won the CIMB Niaga Indonesian Masters on the Asian Tour.
2015 Majors: The Masters – T46. The US Open – T50. The Open – T49. The PGA Championship – T43.
NGC record: 11th appearance. 1998 – T4, 1999 – 4, 2000 – 2, 2001 – 5, 2004 – T4, 2008 – T5, 2010 – 1, 2011 – 1, 2012 – 5, 2014 – T16.