The English are coming at The Honda Classic
February 28, 2020
By Sean Martin, PGATOUR.COM
- Westwood fired a 69 on Friday and sits one shot back at PGA National. (Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – PGA National is one of the most stressful courses on the PGA TOUR. Penalty strokes can add up quickly on its water-lined holes. That’s why Lee Westwood’s new mindset is such an asset this week.
Westwood is having fun while other players are fretting about double-bogeys. The former World No. 1 said the game has never been more enjoyable, and that’s a big reason why he’s enjoying a career renaissance at age 46.
His good form is continuing this week. Westwood, who’s competing this week on a sponsor exemption, is tied for second place at The Honda Classic’s halfway mark after shooting 67-69 in the first two rounds. Only four players have parlayed sponsor exemptions into PGA TOUR victories in the past decade, but Westwood is looking to do it for a second time.
Ten years ago, he won the FedEx St. Jude Classic after receiving an invitation into the field.
Westwood isn’t a charity case, though. He’s back among the game’s elite after winning the European Tour’s event in Abu Dhabi earlier this year. Beating that star-studded field moved him back into the top 50 of the world ranking. He’s currently the world’s 30th-ranked player.
“I'm not sure it's ever been this enjoyable,” Westwood said. “You know, I've always almost treated it too seriously. It's nice to go out there and not really care. I've been working quite hard with a psychologist, and he's given me a different appreciation for golf and life, really.”
It takes more than happy thoughts to succeed at The Honda Classic, though. Westwood’s strong ball-striking is perfectly suited for this week’s layout. He’s missed just six fairways this week, ranking in the top 10 in driving accuracy and Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee. A hot putter has helped, as well. He’s gained more than four strokes on the greens.
Westwood, who’s one behind 36-hole leader Brendan Steele, will play in Saturday’s second-to-last group with a countryman who’d like to experience a similar resurgence.
In 2011, Luke Donald took the top spot in the world ranking from Westwood. Donald is now 456th in the ranking and had to use a career money list exemption to compete this season.
He’s struggled with injuries in recent years, competing just 21 times in the previous two seasons. He’s had just one top-25 in that span. A 66 on Friday also has Donald at 4 under par, one behind Steele. Donald had three 2s on his scorecard, including birdies on both par-3s in the Bear Trap.
‘A back injury at 40 years old, you can lose a bit of momentum,” Donald said. “You know, just not being out there, getting the reps in with the competitive feelings, it takes some time to get that back. Obviously confidence breeds confidence, and you need to keep kind of plugging away and getting yourself into position to really help for future times you're in position.
“Lee has obviously proven that age is just a number. He's been playing great lately. … Just seeing those guys continue to grind and continue to fight and do well, it's nice to see and certainly it motivates me.”