Leader Lee Westwood feeling 'calm' as he chases Players' Championship win at 47
The Englishman backed up an opening 69 at the Florida venue with a bogey-free 66 to move to nine-under-par, giving him a one-shot lead over compatriot Matthew Fitzpatrick (68-68) in the PGA Tour’s $15 million flagship event.
It was the sixth time that European No 1 Westwood, who finished second to Bryson DeChambeau in the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill last weekend, had negotiated a circuit at this venue without dropping a shot - the most of any player since 2000.
“Very good,” said the leader of his day’s work, having opened with a brace of birdies after starting at the tenth, adding three more on the spin early in his back nine before signing off with another one.
“Hit it well off the tee. Hit quite a lot of fairways. My iron shots were good. I played away from flags when I needed to. Got suckered into a couple of pins, but my short game bailed me out on those. I had fun out there. Felt calm and in control.”
Westwood can’t claim the distinction of being the oldest player to land this coveted title due to Fred Funk having been 48 years, nine months and 14 days when he triumphed in 2005.
However, it would be an equally-impressive effort if the Worksop man can build on his strong start to land a 45th career victory in the game’s so-called “fifth major”.
“I believe I've played some of my best golf over sort of the last year and a half and I've had some good results against quality fields,” added the former world No 1.
“A win in Abu Dhabi (at the start of 2020) and then finishing second in Dubai at the end of last year to win the Race to Dubai was great playing under pressure. Last week I obviously played well under pressure again, and this week I've carried it on.
“The nice thing for me about this week is not letting last week affect me in a negative way. I've regrouped. I've still got the memories of last week, of playing well and hitting good shots when I needed to.
“But there's no hangover from last week. It's a feel-good experience for me this week, and I've carried that into the first two rounds.”
Fitzpatrick, who pipped Westwood to win the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai, finished with his sixth birdie of the day to set up an all-English final-group pairing in the third round.
“I would say so,” said Fitzpatrick, who is chasing a breakthrough win on the PGA Tour in replying to being asked if that would help make him feel more comfortable. “I’ve played a bunch with Lee before and Billy (Foster, his caddie) obviously knows him well, so it makes it a bit easier.”
Sergio Garcia, the overnight leader after an opening 64, carded an up-and-down 72 to sit joint-third with American Chris Kirk (65) on seven-under in the battle for a $2.7 million top prize.
Garcia, the 2008 winner, was two-over for the day after 10 holes before making a third eagle in two days then following back-to-back three-putt bogeys with two birdies in the last three holes.
“It’s okay,” said the Spaniard of his overall effort. “A lot of good things, a lot of bad things. It was hard and I definitely didn’t putt as well as I did yesterday. I tried to make sure I didn’t shoot myself out of the tournament.”
US Open champion DeChambeau is lurking ominously on six-under, sitting in a group that also includes Denny McCarthy, who had one of two holes-in-one on day two at the third, and Korean Sungjae Im, who made his move with a record-equalling six birdies on the spin around the turn.
“There's not a shot out there I'm afraid of,” said Westwood of the task ahead. “There's not a shot out there I'll walk up to and think, I haven't got this one. I feel like my technique is good on everything.”
Having opened with two 69s this week, DeChambeau has now signed for seven straight rounds under par in this event, but his good work so far in the game’s so-called “fifth major” has not been down to his prodigious power off the tee.
At the time he finished his second circuit, the US Open champion was ranked 77th in the field in strokes gained off the tee and, by his own admission, he’d been fortunate to get away with some wayward hitting over the opening 36 holes.
“I'm happy with the fact that I've still been able to keep myself in it and score well,” said DeChambeau. “I've been pretty lucky, for the most part. I don't think that'll happen this weekend.
“Today I was in places where I could get it up-and-down, rely on my short game around the greens. I don't want to continue to do so. “
Thanks to covering his last six holes in two-under for a 71, Martin Laird progressed safely in the end on one-under and will be joined in the final two rounds by Russell Knox after he holed a six-footer at the death to scrape in on level-par.
Playing in the same group as Westwood, Bob MacIntyre chipped in for an eagle-3 at the end but it was too little, too late as the 24-year-old first-timer missed the cut on three-over, joining defending champion Rory McIlroy (10-over) in making an early exit.
The second round was suspended due to darkness at 6.36 pm local time with eight players left on the course and will resume at 7am on Saturday.
Third-round tee times will be off the first tee in two-balls starting at approximately 7.55am, with last group due out around 2pm.
A message from the Editor:
Get a year of unlimited access to all of The Scotsman's sport coverage without the need for a full subscription. Expert analysis, exclusive interviews, live blogs, and 70 per cent fewer ads on Scotsman.com - all for less than £1 a week. Subscribe to us today https://www.scotsman.com/subscriptions/sports
Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.