Golf

Lee Westwood shoots bogey-free 66 to lead Players Championship


There’s something for everyone on the second-round leaderboard of The Players Championship.

Golf royalty, European style? There’s venerable Lee Westwood of England, coming off a near-miss in winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational last week in Orlando. The 47-year-old winner of 44 worldwide events shot a classy, bogey-free 66 at the Players Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass on Friday to take the 36-hole lead at 9-under-par 135.

Then there’s 18-hole leader and 2008 Players champion Sergio Garcia of Spain, who sparkled with a 65 in Thursday’s first round. He resisted several urges to implode and battled back with his third eagle of the tournament, at No. 11, and birdies on two of his last three holes for as 72 and a tie for third at 7 under.

In between those two is one of the next generation of British stars, Matthew Fitzpatrick, who played his last 10 holes at 4 under with no bogeys for a 68. He will join Westwood, 21 years his senior, in the final twosome in Saturday’s third round.

Players Championship: Leaderboard | Photos

With Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth floundering and Brooks Koepka injured, Bryson DeChambeau leads the American superstar flight. Last week’s winner at Bay Hill bounced back nicely from a double-bogey on his first hole and shot a second 69 to tie for fifth at 6 under, setting up another weekend of Must-See Bry-TV on the NBC telecast.

If tales of redemption warm the heart, there’s Chris Kirk. The University of Georgia graduate, who kicked alcoholism to return to the PGA Tour, had a remarkable stretch in the middle of his round when he played six holes at 6-under — highlighted by an eagle-two at No. 1 — and matched Garcia’s first-round score for the lowest of the tournament so far to join the Spaniard at 7 under.

And if hard-working pros who are one part talent and one part grit stir the soul, may the PGA Tour’s Gold Standard event present Denny McCarthy (69, with a rare hole-in-one at No. 3), Brian Harman (71), Doug Ghim (67), Charley Hoffman (68) and Sungjae Im (66), who are tied with DeChambeau at 6-under.

The second round was suspended at 6:36 p.m. ET, the second day in a row the field of 154 players couldn’t darkness. Eight players will return on Saturday at 7 a.m. ET to finish the round and the official cut will come.

That even-par cut is not likely to change and will claim defending champion Rory McIlroy, Tyrrell Hatton, Bubba Watson, Xander Schauffele, Tommy Fleetwood, Viktor Hovland and 2018 Players champion Webb Simpson.

Lee Westwood with his caddie Helen Storey during the second round of The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass – Stadium Course. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

On a day when 16 players finished within five shots of Westwood’s pace, he may yet wind up being the best story. A Ryder Cup stalwart and a winner on every continent where golf is played, Westwood has been chasing a major championship without success for his entire career.

He has 18 top-10 finishes in major championships and nine top-three finishes. He also has five top-10s in The Players, beginning with a tie for fifth in 1998, the first year he ever played the Stadium Course.

But he’s secure in the effort he’s given and possesses enough self-awareness to not let it eat at him – at least on the surface.

“I care less about the outcomes,” he said. “I still care about my performance, and that in turn leads me to work as hard as I’ve always worked. But I’ve been working with a psychologist for a few years now, and we just focus on the process, we don’t focus on the outcomes and things we can’t control. The only thing I can control when I go out there is the process and making sure I have fun. I make sure I have fun.”

How could he not on Friday? On another sun-splashed day, Westwood hit 14 greens and poured in birdie putts ranging from a 30-footer at No. 3 to his closing five-footer at No. 9.

And don’t think he won’t have some weekend fired. He took DeChambeau to the brink last week, gouging out a par from a horrid lie in a fairway divot at Bay Hill and forcing DeChambeau to make a five-footer for par to win.

Westwood doesn’t have DeChambeau’s size, strength or natural ability. But he does have his own band of guts and guile.

“I think to compete in any of these tournaments against the best players in the world, you can’t have any weaknesses in your game,” he said. “I wouldn’t be able to say I’m doing this better or that better [but] there’s not a shot out there I’m afraid of. There’s not a shot out there I’ll walk up to and think, I haven’t got this one.”

And if the weekend comes down to another Westwood vs. DeChambeau duel, DeChambeau said he’s up to it on a thinking man’s course.

“You’ve just got to fight for every shot,” he said. “It’s about focusing on the shot at hand and making sure you put it in a place where you can make par or make birdie from. I’m always trying to giving myself the best opportunity and completely forget the last shot that happened.”

McCarthy and Kirk have recent history of winning on the First Coast to give them confidence. McCarthy won the Korn Ferry Tour Championship in 2018 at the Atlantic Beach Country Club and Kirk won the Korn Ferry King & Bear Classic last June, the second tournament after that tour, and the PGA Tour, returned to golf.

“Definitely some good vibes here in Jacksonville,” McCarthy said.

Recovering from substance abuse has left Kirk with a healthy outlook on life and his game.

“I certainly have my highs and lows still, like anybody, but my perspective is so different now that a bad day or a bad week is just not really going to bother me,” he said. “When I walk off the golf course, that’s it. It doesn’t matter anymore.”

One stirring local story was that of Tyler McCumber, making his first Players Championship start, 33 years after his father Mark won the 1988 Players. McCumber shot 72 in the first round but ensured he would play the weekend when he shot 69, highlighted by a 28-foot birdie putt at No. 17 – his second birdie of the week at the Island Green.

“I’m definitely in control of my golf ball, which is great,” he said. “You know, hitting a lot the shots that I’m seeing. Just sort of feel like I’m plotting my way around the course pretty well.”

Late in the day, Brendon Todd added another hole-in-one, using a 5-wood from 213 yards out for the seventh hole-in-one in tournament history at the long par-3 eighth hole. Like McCarthy, it was his first career ace in Tour competition.



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