Game on for Westwood at TPC 59th Francis Brown tees off
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Lee Westwood doesn't rate The Players Championship as the fifth major.
He's playing like it is.
The 37-year-old Englishman has been on the cusp of breaking through with his first major over the two years — he was one putt away from playoffs in the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines and the British Open at Turberry. He was a distant third at the PGA Championship last year, and was runner-up to Phil Mickelson last month at the Masters.
He can make golf look simple, and such was the case yesterday when he posted a 7-under 65 to build a one-shot lead going into the weekend over Heath Slocum, Ryuji Imada and TPC Sawgrass newcomer Francesco Molinari of Italy.
"As you get older, it gets harder to peak all the time when you want to," Westwood said. "You have to pick and choose your ones, and you want to play well in the biggest tournaments. And this is one of the biggest tournaments."
There's a chance it might finally start playing like one.
Westwood was at 12-under 132, the lowest score to lead after 36 holes at The Players Championship since 1994, when Greg Norman was at 14 under on his way to setting the 72-hole record.
But as the wind picked up and the temperatures rose late in the afternoon, there were signs that Sawgrass was starting to get firm after two days of relatively soft conditions.
Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson will be around for the weekend, which is about all that could be said for golf's two biggest stars. Woods overcame one tee shot that flew off to the right at a 45-degree angle and gave him double bogey for a 1-under 71. Mickelson flirted with the cut line late in the day until making a tough chip look easy for birdie on the 16th. He also shot a 71.
They were at 3-under 141, nine shots behind.
That might be too far back on a course where there already have been 73 rounds in the 60s, the most after two days on the Stadium Course since 1993. But with more heat and more wind, the final two days could be as unpredictable as ever.
"Because the character of the course is changing so much from the morning to the afternoon, the guys that are 2-, 3-, 4-under par are in the tournament," Mickelson said. "Because if they shoot 6-, 7-, 8-under par, they're going to move right up the leaderboard. And it's going to be difficult for the leaders to pull away."
TURIN, Italy — Fredrik Andersson Hed shot 6-under 66 at the Italian Open yesterday to build a one-shot lead over a five-man group that includes Miguel Angel Jimenez.
Hed was at 8 under after his second round, just ahead of Jimenez and Spaniards Alejandro Canizares and Ignacio Garrido, Nicolas Colsaerts of Belgium and Hennie Otto of South Africa.
The biggest story of the weekend, though, might be 17-year-old phenom Matteo Manassero.
Making his professional debut, the Italian shot a second straight 2-under 70 and is only four shots off the lead heading into the weekend at his national tournament.
"I am not far off the lead," Manassero said. "I am dreaming a little about winning this tournament and if I keep playing like this I could be close. ... I am very happy with how I am going."