Leading up to THE PLAYERS Championship, Lee Westwood, who has earned the moniker of the best player never to have won a major, was one of the most talked about names to put up a strong showing. Once again, he put on a ballstriking clinic, posting a seven-under 65 for a two-day total 12-under to take a one shot lead.
As a guy who has contended in the last three major championships — most recently, runner-up at The Masters — he’s bound to win a big one soon. But will it be this week?
Curiously, the last time he won on US soil, which was also his only PGA Tour victory, was over twelve years ago at the ‘98 Freeport-McDermott Classic. Meanwhile, he’s won 31 times on the European Tour, including the Race to Dubai last year.
He’s arguably one of the best drivers of the ball in the game. And one of the best iron players. He strokes it well on the greens, too. Simply an all-around solid player. In fact, perhaps he’s underrated at only the world’s fourth best golfer — some would argue he should be number one right now. Just ask Intern Kevin who waxes about Westwood like Jim Nantz does with honorable golfers.
Obviously, THE PLAYERS isn’t a major, nor will it ever be, but it’s considered the premier event on the PGA Tour’s regular schedule. For most past champions, a victory here rates as the most prestigious behind the four majors. But interestingly enough, not for Westwood.
Just last week he pondered about THE PLAYERS, “So what is it, eighth on the list now?”
“I think THE PLAYERS probably used to be regarded as the fifth major, and it felt that way back in the late ’90s,” Westwood said. “But since the invention of the World Golf Championships, I think it’s actually stepped back from that.”
But his sentiment has since changed, saying on Friday, “Well, a PLAYERS victory would be incredibly important. It’s a massive tournament, and you look at the list of past winners and there’s some great champions.” He added, “You get that sort of little tingle when THE PLAYERS Championship is getting close.”
Amazing what shooting 67-65 and holding the 36-hole lead can do to change a person’s perspective on an event. (And no, that wasn’t a snarky comment. At least not completely.)
Now will he continue to dazzle at TPC Sawgrass for another two rounds? He certainly has the shots. Will he stand the pressure? Probably. With 40 professional wins, he clearly knows how to close. (Depending on your opinion of his pulled tee shot into a bunker on the last hole at The British last year while he was in contention.) But it’s funny the tricks the mind will play when the stakes are seemingly higher.
Let’s hope for some more “tingles” this weekend.
[Photo by Wilfredo Lee/AP]