Westwood stakes an early claim
Lee Westwood’s opening 67 at Sawgrass has given him another chance to end a long Stateside drought.
Lee Westwood has been playing great golf for so long that it is hard to believe he has not won in America since 1998.
But Europe’s number one has given himself another chance to end that after starting The Players Championship at Sawgrass, like Luke Donald, with a five under par 67.
They resumed the sport’s richest event today in joint third place, a stroke behind Australian Robert Allenby and American JB Holmes.
Phil Mickelson, the only person to beat Westwood at The Masters last month, is three further back and so is world number one Tiger Woods after he hit back from last week’s dire-looking 79 at Quail Hollow.
But all Sunday’s winner Rory McIlroy could manage was a one over 73.
“It’s a course that suits my eye,” said Westwood. “Augusta was obviously a big disappointment, but it was my best finish in a major and I didn’t feel like I gave it away.
“You can’t let that disappointment linger for too long. You’ve got to try to feed off the positives.
“I feel like there are very few weaknesses in my game. I’ve got a great coach, a great physical trainer and a fantastic caddie, so I enjoy being in the office.”
His day’s work on Thursday was going brilliantly well until he came to the long 16th. Hoping for a four that would have put him in the joint lead he instead found the lake with his second and ran up a bogey six.
However, Westwood finished just like Donald did with a birdie on the 462-yard last.
Woods and McIlroy both drove in the water there for bogeys, but despite some other far from impressive shots Woods still felt he had done enough to hit back at his critics.
“People need to be a little bit more realistic,” he stated to those who were saying his swing had become a complete mess.
“I’d had six competitive rounds (entering this week) in seven months. It takes time. It takes tournaments.
“I’ve felt like I’ve done some good work even though reports are I was hitting it all over the lot. I was very excited about what was happening.”
There has been speculation that he has even ditched coach Hank Haney, but on that Woods commented: “Hank and I talk every day, so nothing’s changed.
“According to the press I’ve fired him five times by now over the course of my four years or whatever it was.”
Mickelson will become number one for the first time if he wins and Woods is outside the top five, but on his own admission he did not play at all well and was happy to get out of the round with a 70 that keeps the hope alive.
Two days after his 21st birthday, McIlroy searched in vain for the magic he had for his triumphant 62 on Sunday, but having made the cut there with nothing to spare he knows anything is possible yet.
Donald’s control of the ball, which often makes up for his lack of length, came to the fore again, while the 69s of the last two winners Henrik Stenson and Sergio Garcia were matched by Ross Fisher in one of his best rounds in what has been a quiet season so far.
Playing with Woods was Ian Poulter, golf’s other World Match Play champion, and he had to settle for a level par 72 like Justin Rose, Graeme McDowell and Brian Davis.
Most disappointed was Greg Owen. Three under after 16 he then dumped two balls in the lake at the famous short 17th and ran up a quadruple bogey seven.
“I’m not saying a word about the 17th – I’m fuming at the moment,” said Owen after being asked by a US Tour official to speak to reporters.
“Forget the 17th please. This is The Players Championship, I’ve not had a great year, I was playing nicely and I go and do that.
“I hit two bad shots. There’s no wind, the greens are soft, it’s easy – what more do you need to know?”
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