Golf: Westwood learns the American way

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The Independent Online
LEE WESTWOOD is learning all the time. "Generally, I only make mistakes once," he said. This is the 24-year-old's first appearance in the US Players Championship and has naturally found playing Sawgrass's Stadium Course a steep learning-curve.

But just by making the cut Westwood gave himself two extra lessons. "I was really trying to make the cut to give myself two extra rounds to learn the course for next year," he said. "You have to look long-term. If it meant that much to make the cut, one day I'll know what it is like trying to win it."

At three over par after 27 holes, Westwood needed to act fast, and he did. A birdie at the par-five 11th was followed by a six-iron to 15 feet at the 13th. He dropped a shot at 15th, when he drove into the trees, but then hit a superb two-iron approach at the 16th. The ball landed exactly where he was aiming, three yards on to the green and he was unlucky for it to roll right to the back of the putting surface.

Nevertheless he holed the 30-foot putt for an eagle and then safely found the island green at the 17th. By late afternoon the gallery at the natural amphitheatre had become boisterous enough for a shout to distract Westwood as he teed off at the nearby 18th.

"I should have stopped my swing," he said. "I know better." Water runs all the way down the left-hand side of the finishing hole so disaster is never far away. Westwood pushed his drive on to a grassy bank and, blocked from the green by trees, took the sensible decision to chip back to the fairway.

He pitched on to the green and two-putted but the damage had been limited to a bogey which meant he was safely inside the cut line at one under. Westwood joined Nick Faldo, after a second round 69, Jose Maria Olazabal, Per-Ulrik Johansson and Jesper Parnevik in qualifying for the last 36 holes.

Sawgrass, with the greens hard and fast, has presented a stern test this week as evidenced by Bernhard Langer missing the cut for the first time 13 appearances here. "The more I play it, the more I am learning the tricks," Westwood said. "This is the kind of course where all the guys at the top of the leaderboard have won before or played a long time here."

Certainly Lee Janzen, who shared the 36-hole lead with Japan's Joe Ozaki, won the Players in 1995, while Tom Kite, a shot behind, was the winner in 1989 and has played every tournament since the Players moved to the TPC at Sawgrass in 1982.

"The tour is like that over here," Westwood said. "They play a lot of venues year after year so local knowledge comes into play." That makes Westwood's record of not finishing outside the top 30 in his first six tournaments in America all the more worthy.

Johansson described the course as playing like "Augusta with rough". That would explain both Colin Montgomerie missing the cut - his short- iron approach play was just not accurate enough - and Tiger Woods struggling.

Woods, who finished 31st here last year before going on to win the Masters by 12 strokes, did not hit enough fairways over the first two days. That will not be a problem at Augusta and it was his stated intent to peak in a fortnight, not this week.

His bogey at the first yesterday was typical of the course management errors he still makes. A hooked drive ended in the trees and he took two more to reach the green. Woods went to the turn in 37, while Olazabal bogeyed the ninth to be out in level par 36.

Westwood also bogeyed the first, but Faldo continued his revival from Friday by starting with four birdies in his first six holes. After getting into the groove with his long game all he had to do was start holing a few putts and his first two of the day, from 12 feet at the first and 30 feet at the second, duly obliged.

Faldo had another great chance at the short third, but just missed from 15 feet but after driving into the rough at the fourth played his recovery to five feet for another birdie.