Westwood rediscovers his magic touch

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Lee Westwood finished with four straight birdies for a second successive 67 and a one-stroke lead halfway through the Scandinavian Masters here in Sweden yesterday.

The two-time defending champion has struggled in recent months and missed the cut in four of his last six tournaments. But at 10 under, one ahead of England's Ian Poulter, and his old rival Colin Montgomerie, Westwood is back where he belongs.

"It's great to be back on top on the leaderboard, that's where you want to be," said Westwood, who won his two Scandinavian titles on two other Swedish courses in 1996 and last year. He birdied six of his nine last holes with his only bogey came early in the round.

"I haven't played nine holes so well in a long time," Westwood said. "Coming down the stretch I felt like I was back and had not lost the habit of being in contention and knowing how to handle the pressure."

Anthony Wall, who missed the course record by one stroke as he took the first-round lead with a 63, was tied for 11th as he posted a 76, 13 shots worse than his first effort.

Darren Clarke, of Northern Ireland, the current European Ryder Cup points leader, shared fourth at eight under with three Swedes, the Open runner-up, Niclas Fasth, Peter Hedblom and Dennis Edlund. Clarke, who tied for third in the Open and has four top-10 finishes in his last five tournaments, continued his superb form on a day when the wind picked up and made scoring much more difficult on the seaside course.

Starting on the 10th hole, the Ulsterman got off to a roller-coaster start with two bogeys and two birdies on his first four holes. He made two birdies on the first and second holes.

Hedblom also had two birdies and no dropped shots. The 31-year-old Swede is the biggest surprise so far in the tournament. Hedblom won a European Tour event in Morocco in 1996, but lost his card two years later and has played on the Challenge Tour since.

Last year, he made less than £7,000 and so far this year he has earned less than £14,000, despite winning one Challenge Tour, the Finnish Open. "I had to borrow money from dad," he said. "I have bills to pay and a big family to support."

Jesper Parnevik, a two-time Scandinavian Masters winner and a likely Ryder Cup player again for Europe next month , disappointed the Swedish gallery of more than 20,000 as he failed to make a move. Parnevik was tied for 55th at one under after a 72.

Mikko Ilonen, the Finnish rookie who tied for ninth in the Open and was paired with the world No 1, Tiger Woods, in the first two rounds of the Masters as the reigning Amateur champion, missed the cut at five over.