Pressure off as Westwood enjoys putting on show for Balmy Army
What a hullabaloo around Lee Westwood on the driving range before the start of his second round.
Six television camera crews and a clique of clicking photographers surrounded him as he warmed up. But not one of them was pointing a lens at the world No 2. Next to him was Rory McIlroy and his wrist. Not exactly the hassle-free preparation, then, that Westwood would have hoped for before heading out on to a monstrously tough back nine for his opening holes of the day.
If ever there was a scene to remind the Englishman that being the second best golfer in the world does not guarantee that he will be the centre of attention, then this was it. McIlroy is being mobbed in Atlanta. Westwood is wandering among the Georgia pines followed by a gallery that would be more appropriate were he at the back of the field at the Belgian Open. At least he was able to enjoy the peace and quiet as he knuckled down to put himself into position to mount a challenge over the weekend in pursuit of that elusive first major.
But he took a backwards step at the 11th (his second hole). From the middle of the fairway he contrived to find the water. A deadeye wedge and a holed 10-foot putt for bogey at least kept a two-shot swing off his card. He got that dropped shot back at the 12th with a tap-in birdie after his 12-foot eagle putt at the par-five ran out of gas. Westwood got into red numbers with a birdie at the 13th and then consolidated his challenge with five straight pars. He got to two under par with a birdie at the first (his 10th).
Out of the deathly silence that accompanied Westwood and his playing partners, Jason Day and Matt Kuchar, came the occasional cry of, "Let's go Lee". English accents, too. But not so much a Barmy Army, more a Balmy Army out for a pleasant stroll. They had plenty of time to enjoy the views, as time tends to stand still when Day plays golf. The Australian hit left into the trees at the 16th, then right into a greenside bunker, then whoosh through the green to the rough on the opposite side, then a chip that dribbled past the hole, then a putt that lipped out, then another that thankfully, finally disappeared below ground. Day had almost become night in the time it took him to rack up a double bogey. He was sporting a goatee beard as he trudged off the green. It was unclear whether he had one on the 16th tee.
Westwood glanced at the leaderboard behind the green. The name Barnes had just been posted up there at two under par. It was Ricky Barnes but the last, and only, Englishman to win the USPGA Championship was Jim Barnes who triumphed at the inaugural event in 1916 and won again in 1919. An omen, perhaps?
Westwood plodded along nicely throughout his first nine like an 800 metre runner tucking in behind the leaders and getting ready to pounce on the back stretch. But his back nine was more like a hop, skip and a jump with the hiccups. He birdied the first, and then chunked a chip (his Achilles heel) at the second on the way to a bogey. He compounded the error with another bogey at the third before rebounding with back-to-back birdies. After 15 pars in his previous 19 holes he was playing stick or bust golf. Par made a welcome return at the sixth followed by another birdie at the seventh and a bogey at the eighth.
"I'm giving myself lots of chances," Westwood said after his first-round 71. "I've just got to be patient." It was the same in round two after a 68. Anywhere around even par at half-time during a major is ripe for a weekend push for a player of Westwood's quality. He's one shot better than that. "I'm breezing around out there and trying to smile whenever I can," Westwood said. "I think that's why after bogeying two and three, I came back with birdies on four and five. Maybe the Trying Too Hard Lee would have bogeyed the next after that. It's difficult to try your hardest and not care about the results. But it seems to be working."
The cameras were all pointing at McIlroy yesterday morning. But Westwood knows it's Sunday afternoon that counts.
Ups and downs: How they fared on day two in Atlanta
Nightmare of the day
Shaun Micheel, who had been challenging at the top of the leaderboard after a first-round 66, was sweating over his participation at the weekend after an eight-over 78 left him right on the projected cut line of four over par. Two double bogeys and eight bogeys made the American's card a sea of black.
Outfit of the day
Rickie Fowler, who won his battle to make the cut, wore a disappointingly understated outfit in the second round. The American sported an uncharacteristically reserved blue and light green T-shirt. It did, at least, have a bold flash flung across it, while Fowler also wore brilliantly white trousers.
Shot of the day
All eyes were on Rory McIlroy as he attempted to play through the wrist injury which he sustained when striking a tree root on the third hole in the first round. But, under great pressure, the 22-year-old put any fears to rest as he teed off in splendid fashion on the 10th hole, sending a booming drive straight down the fairway.
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