By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Lee Westwood said he never felt like it was slipping away. Not even when he parred his first 14 holes on Thursday afternoon at THE PLAYERS Championship and Roberto Castro had long since posted a course-record 63.
That's because Westwood has played enough rounds on the Stadium Course to know the value of patience -- and his was rewarded when he birdied three of his last four holes. The momentum continued on Friday morning, too, as Westwood chipped in for eagle at the 11th hole, his second of the day, then added birdie putts of 14 feet and 12 inches on his last two holes.
"It's a big momentum swing if you pitch in," Westwood said. "That's what's been missing from my game over the last couple years almost, having a few breaks. But I've worked hard on my short game, and I'm obviously getting it on line a little bit more than I used to do. I know that was a nice one to pitch in there, eagle is a bonus, and then to follow it with a couple of birdies was a good way to start the day."
Westwood -- who has yet to make a bogey this week -- went on to make the turn in 31, which was one off the back-nine record held by 14 players, and finished with a second-round 66 to move to 9 under. He'll start the third round two strokes off the lead held by Sergio Garcia.
"I obviously finished off strongly last night after being as patient as I could for the first 14 holes and then birdied three of the last four," Westwood said. "I wanted to get off to a quick start this morning. ... So that was a good start, 4 under after four, obviously, and just tried to build from that."
Westwood, who is sporting a goateee after scratching his nose, lip and chin in a diving accident which meant he couldn't shave for a week, has a solid record at TPC Sawgrass with three top-10s in 10 previous appearances, including a tie for fourth in 2010. He expects it to toughen up considerably over the weekend.
"They seem to let you have a bit of a go at it over the first couple of days and then they firm it up a lot come the weekend," Westwood said. "Certainly tomorrow teeing off at 2 (o'clock), it will be as firm as it's ever been all week. So a lot of patience is involved there.
"It will be sort of like a major-championship -tyle mentality to go out there and play disciplined golf and not attack flags when they shouldn't be attacked and try to hit a lot of fairways, so you have a lot of control on your second shot. No, I enjoy that kind of golf. It's very rewarding if you play well."
Westwood is also a big fan of the Stadium Course, which he sees as the great equalizer.
"I like this golf course because it's thrown up so many different winners with different sort of characteristics in their game," Westwood said. "I've seen Tiger win here, I've seen Fred Funk win here. You couldn't get two more different golf games. Tim Clark's more like Fred Funk. I suppose back when Greg won in '94 or something like that, he would have had a Tiger-Woods-type game.
"It always throws up so much drama, as well, with the finish. I just think it's a brilliant golf course, and a great one for this tournament, too. I think the golf course suits the tournament well.