Golf: Westwood in contention after string of birdies

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The Independent Online
LEE WESTWOOD made promising progress up a largely undistinguished leaderboard at the Freeport McDermott Classic.

The 24-year-old collected with four birdies without a bogey in a 68 to lie one behind Joe Ozaki's clubhouse lead, although the American left- hander Steve Flesch was three further in front playing the back nine.

A second successive top-10 finish would set Westwood up nicely for this week's US Masters. Two former Augusta champions, Jose Maria Olazabal, with a 69, and Ian Woosnam, who scored 70, were yesterday in contrasting moods, however.

The key was the way they finished their rounds. Woosnam did not drop a shot after the seventh and picked up three birdies in that time to reach four under. Olazabal, on the other hand, birdied five of the first six holes, but dropped shots at the 14th and 18th.

Both Woosnam and Olazabal have used successful outings on the English Turn course as a springboard to victories in the US Masters. Woosie won the tournament in 1991 when it was three weeks before Augusta, while Olazabal was runner-up to Ben Crenshaw the week before his 1994 Augusta triumph.

Of the two, it is the Welshman who is progressing in the right direction.

Woosnam's problems have been with the driver. Trying to get his hips through the ball let to the back spasms that forced him to quit the Players Championship after 12 holes. But deciding to grip an inch further down his driver seemed to work.

"All of a sudden it feels like it's back together," Woosie said. "I'm driving the ball better, not long but I'm getting it on the fairways. You can't afford to miss the fairways over here." The rest of his game is in fine shape and a trio of fine mid-iron approach shots set up birdies at the eighth, 10th and 12th.

Of Olazabal's five birdies, one came at a par-five, two were set up by approach shots with wedges and the other two came courtesy of 20-foot putts. "It was a wonderful start, but I am not driving the ball well or hitting my irons so good," the Spaniard said. "As soon as I had to hit thelonger irons and drive the ball in the fairway, you can see the score was two over."

Only six weeks ago Olazabal won the Dubai Classic after finishing third and second in his previous two tournaments. "I had it for the first five weeks of the season and I've lost it," he said. "It comes and goes in this game."