Westwood left fishing for answers

Club supplier in spotlight as world No 4 exits following struggle with his new irons
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The Independent Online

If bad workmen can blame their tools then it seems that from now on brilliant golfers can blame their fishing rods. After making a shockingly early exit from the Abu Dhabi Championship yesterday, Lee Westwood came up with a reason never heard before on the professional fairways. Which is some achievement in itself.

Of course, plenty of hackers have trudged off the 18th green complaining that their clubs felt alien in their hands. But Westwood's lament was of a different variety. Ping, his equipment suppliers, may just have received an angry call last night, although the Englishman sounded just as annoyed with the rule-makers who brought in the new groove regulations which forced the pros to change their irons.

"What a time to have to change your clubs when you are playing your best golf ," said the world No 4. "I need to do some work with my irons. I don't know whether they have put the wrong shafts in them or whatever. They just don't feel right, they don't feel the same. They feel like fishing rods."

Westwood certainly landed a whopper with his second-round 78. His three-over total meant a weekend off for the Englishman. Alas, not for the Ping employees. "I will probably get a new set sent out and reshaft the lot to see if that does any good," he said.

The organisers at next week's Qatar Masters will be praying it does. Since his emphatic display to win his second Order of Merit title in Dubai in November, Westwood has cemented his reputation as one of the biggest draws on the European Tour. He was the favourite coming into this event and many of the ex-pats attending the National course today and tomorrow would already have circled his name on the entry list.

At least they have Sergio Garcia to watch, as well as performers including Rory McIlroy and Ian Poulter. The Spaniard lies one off Rick Kulacz's lead after a 67 and was relieved to have played in the benign conditions of the morning. "The weather really helped me," he said, before explaining how the wind coupled with the new rules – introduced to stop players getting so much spin out of the rough – made the task of the afternooners that much more difficult. "Playing on firm greens it is pretty hard getting fliers out of the rough with new grooves."

Garcia did not expect to see his name so high on the leaderboard this week. He still feels pain from a right-hand injury sustained at the Dubai World Championship and has not enjoyed anything like the proper preparation. "I have not been able to practise as much as I would have liked," he said. "So I've exceeded my expectations here. There were shots where I could have been a bit more positive, but when you have been unable to practise as much as you want, doubts do creep in."

The doubts did not prevent Garcia from making six birdies, while Shane Lowry produced seven birdies in his 65 which put him on the same mark of 11-under. Since making history when winning the Irish Open as an amateur on his first Tour start last May, Lowry has hardly set the paid-for ranks alight. If the breeze continues to blow this weekend expect the big lad from Offaly to be in his element. But first Lowry has to get past Kulacz.

The Australian rookie's tee-off was so late that the winds had abated by the time he reached the meat of his round and how he took advantage. Kulacz shot 11 birdies and two bogeys in his 63.