HEXHAM, England -- Lee Westwood shot his worst round in five years, crashing to a 9-over 81 in the first round of the Great North Open on Thursday.
Westwood, who is the defending champion, finished with three double-bogeys and three bogeys over the final seven holes during a back-nine 45. His 81 left him 15 shots behind leader Daren Lee, who took advantage of afternoon conditions during a 66.
Andrew Coltart and Jamie Spence were tied for second at 68, with a group of players at 69, including Andrew
Oldcorn, Greg Turner Scott Gardiner.
With last year's top man in Europe already floundering in only 73rd place on the Order of Merit he won in 2000, Westwood now needs a miracle to even stay in the tournament following a missed cut in the U.S. Open last
"After 11 holes I got sick of scrambling," said Westwood. "I was in a bad frame of mind."
Westwood refused to blame either the time he took off for the birth of his first child or the swing changes he has been making to try to improve his game enough to win a major.
"It's not the break and the swing changes weren't all that drastic. I've not been playing well for about five months," he said. "It's just a bad patch I'm going through, everyone does. It would be nice to go out and freewheel like I was doing last year, but that's just not possible."
Westwood said that he suffered a bad break when he plugged in a bunker to run up his first double-bogey coming home, had further bad luck by hitting behind a tree for his next and then also had bad luck when he went into two ditches to get into more trouble.
It was quickly apparent he was joking, however.
"I can't believe how much bad luck I've had," he said. "My last eight holes looked like the telephone number for
the vet's in Worksop where I live!"
Westwood's plight is no laughing matter, though. While he has already assured himself of a Ryder Cup place from last year's form, he now has a mountain to climb if he is to retain his European crown.
The last time he shot an 81 was in the final round of the 1995 Turespana Masters, in his second year on tour following it up with an 82 in the British Open of that year.
But his worst score on the European Tour came the following year at the Oxfordshire course in Thame, England, where he shot 85 in the Benson and Hedges Open.
"I wish I could see some light at the end of the tunnel," said Westwood. "But at the moment someone has turned the light off."
That's not the case for Lee, who capped his 66 with a 50-foot birdie putt on No. 9, his final hole of the day.
"It would be great to be a winner here on Sunday. I feel I have a win inside me soon," said Lee.