Ged Scott hears how Atherstone's second-best golfer is planning a big finish at Celtic Manor...
All eyes are starting to descend on Colin Montgomerie as Europe's Ryder Cup talisman searches in vain for some form before September's big date at the K Club.
But one man already happy that he is getting somewhere near his best is Warwickshire's Steve Webster, who joins Montgomerie at the 2010 Ryder Cup venue today in a starting line-up depleted by US Open-bound Europeans.
Following last week's Top 20 finish in the BMW Championship at Wentworth, Webster is a leading contender at this week's Celtic Manor Wales Open. Although he ranks only 59th on this year's European Tour Order of Merit and second behind Paul Broadhurst as the best golfer in Atherstone, he is confident a really big finish is not that far away, as so many of the bigger names are missing.
It is more than a year since his first European Tour win, at last year's Italian Open in Milan. But, after a string of tournaments in which he has played well but not holed putts when it mattered, Webster is convinced that his luck might be about to change.
"I've been working with John Pates, who took Paul Broad-hurst from 140th to No 1 putter on the tour in a year," Webster said.
"Broady's always been a good putter but he'd lost a bit of confidence but he got it back working with John and, after a week or so with John too, it's working nicely for me now.
"I've had my eyes closed from long range and I've been doing a lot more practising putting one hand on the putter to get a good feel and it's working.
"I felt good over the putter all week at Wentworth, I've started making a few putts and, having played well there last year, I'm hoping I can build on it at Celtic Manor."
Webster's final-round 65 on the par-69 course, a last-day score matched by Broadhurst, helped him finish tied for 15th. If his blade is hot, he can expect an improvement on that.
Although the West Midlands' second-highest ranked European Tour regular, Worcestershire's John Bickerton, has chosen to give this week's event a miss, Webster and Ryder Cup hopeful Broadhurst still lead a sixstrong local challenge.
Most needing some form is Europe's assistant Ryder Cup captain, Peter Baker. Looking to win back his card, the Wolverhampton man made an encouraging fist of his two first starts of the season, when he tied for 45th in Madeira before shooting up to 24th the following week in the Algarve behind the winner, Broadhurst.
But he missed the cut in the Italian Open and at The Belfry and has not fared much better in the two Challenge Tour events he has played.
After an 11-day break from competitive action, Baker returns to action in the company of Leamington-born Miles Tunnicliff for a nearly 7.40am tee-off time this morning.
Also out eearly are Broadhurst, off the tenth tee at 8am, and The Belfry's Rob Rock, who goes off ten minutes later at the first.
Rock missed out on a place in the field for Wentworth but hopes to resume in the same form that earned a cheque for £43,680 for his tie for fifth at the Irish Open the previous week. That was his biggest payday, shooting him up to 133rd in the European Tour pecking order and within reach of claiming a full Tour card next year.
After being forced to miss a week, Rock's Belfry colleague Tom Whitehouse has a 2.30pm tee-off time.
He was even better placed than Rock after three rounds at Carton House on two under, within three shots of the lead. He fell away with a 78 to tie for 28th but he built on his top-ten finish at The Belfry to stay 92nd on the Order of Merit.
Kenilworth-based Mark Mouland, formerly the resident professional at Nailcote Hall, near Berkswell, has been invited to play his native country's home event.
It is his first on the tour this season and in the six Challenge Tour events he has played, he has made three top-25 finishes.