Lee Westwood wants to enjoy golf after divorce distractions

Warren Little/Getty Images

Lee Westwood has earned a reputation as one of the most consistent performers in world golf over the course of his 23-year professional career -- but his three missed cuts in 2015, with just one top-10 finish on the PGA Tour, made it a season to forget.

The Englishman slipped down the rankings and was left to worry about his qualification for the Masters and the Open Championship. He was just not on his game.

The same was true on Thursday when Westwood started the Dubai Desert Classic with a first-round score of 75, but he is determined for things to be different in 2016; to put aside the distractions of his well-publicised split with wife Laurae.

"I'm going through a divorce and found it nearly impossible to concentrate on golf, so I understand what happened in terms of my results last year," Westwood told ESPN earlier this week.

"How I played didn't really concern me, but now I'm back living in the UK permanently and trying to factor in when I see my kids and which events I play around that.

"I just want to get some consistency back in game and start to enjoy it again and being able to concentrate on what I'm trying to do."

Westwood wrestled with the problem of relocating to Britain to be closer to children Sam and Poppy last year, and moving back after three years based in Florida has given him a spring in his step once more.

"I haven't played much this winter, so I feel well rested," he said before teeing off in Dubai.

"I enjoyed playing in the Eurasia Cup which, because it was match play and not stroke play, meant there wasn't too much pressure kicking off the year. In Abu Dhabi the following week I still felt a little rusty, but I'm looking forward to getting going in earnest."

Two events Westwood has ringed on the calendar are the Masters at Augusta in April and the Open at Royal Troon in July, major titles which have slipped infuriatingly through his grasp in the past.

He only just sneaked into the two majors, though, qualifying thanks to being ranked world No.50 on December 31.

One week before and one week after, Westwood was in 51st place and consequently outside the exempt list. Naturally, he is counting those blessings.

"I needed that break after the season I'd had," he admitted. "Getting into the Masters and the Open was a bit of a double whammy as far as I was concerned. That was a really good week for me at the end of the year -- a nice way to contemplate the start of a new campaign.

"It wouldn't have been good to miss out on Augusta. The Masters is the one everybody looks toward at the start of the year, it's the natural one you want to peak for. Sure, there are some really good tournaments like the two WGC events on the horizon, but if we're all honest, the early season is all about preparation for the Masters."

At 42, Westwood is the same age as his great friend, Darren Clarke, was when he won the Open in 2011 and he feels fit, strong and ready to meet the challenges presented by younger guns head on.

"I don't regard age as a factor these days," he said, having just enjoyed another session in the gym. "You can play for longer and play to a very high level if you can keep yourself fit. It's not the same as a footballer where the legs go and with that, the pace. It's that much harder in football to keep performing at the top level.

"In our sport, as long as you keep yourself in shape, you can play good golf for as long as you want.

"I haven't lost the appetite or the competitiveness. I don't want bad knees, bad hips and joint pains in a few years' time. That's as good a reason to work out now but I think it's more in the mind than the golf.

"If you believe you are fit enough and good enough to compete with the younger players, then you can."