Exciting Moving Day lands Lee Westwood in front at Bay Hill
March 06, 2021
By Jeff Babineau, PGATOUR.COM
- March 06, 2021
Lee Westwood leads after 54 holes at Arnold Palmer
ORLANDO, Fla. – Jordan Spieth is in his ninth season on the PGA TOUR, but he had never played the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard, nor seen Bay Hill Golf Club and Lodge before this week. Starting his Saturday four shots behind leader Corey Conners, Spieth said he’d gladly have signed up for a 68 and never left the locker room.
But man, what a wild day of fun and adventure he would have missed.
There were aces (two), including one by Spieth on the second hole. There was a Happy Gilmore moment on the par-5 sixth, as Bryson DeChambeau gave the fans what they wanted and took a mighty swat at the green. (He didn’t get there, but finished safely to the right, 370 yards away, leaving only a 58-degree wedge from 70 yards for his approach on the 531-yard double dogleg.) DeChambeau went so far right at the par-4 ninth, he nearly made birdie playing his second shot from Bay Hill's adjacent Challenger Course.
Oh, and when the sun rises Sunday, a 47-year-old Englishman will be atop the leaderboard. Lee Westwood, who made eight birdies and an eagle and shot his best-ever round at Bay Hill, a 7-under 65, moved to 11-under 205. He leads Bryson DeChambeau (68) and Corey Conners (71) by two, and Spieth (68) and Keegan Bradley (64) by three.
“Everybody keeps asking me when I’m going to the Seniors Tour,” said Westwood. “So I think they’re trying to get rid of me.”
Westwood, a former World No. 1 and a winner of 25 tournaments on the European Tour, first played at Bay Hill in 1998, tying for 13th. His fond memory of that first Sunday wasn’t his double-double finish, but sticking around the Bay Hill locker room deep into the evening drinking vodka and tonics with Arnold Palmer and that year’s champion, Ernie Els.
Saturday he finished 3-3-3, with an eagle at the par-5 16th (7-iron to 32 feet) and birdie at the demanding 18th (7-iron to 28 feet.) Westwood rolled in 128 feet, 11 inches of putts – more than his first two rounds combined. Not to say Westwood is old, but when he made his first Bay Hill start, Spieth was 4, and in kindergarten. Westwood’s first pairing at Bay Hill was with 1984 Arnold Palmer Invitational champion Gary Koch, whose last start here was nearly two decades ago. (Koch is now in the booth for NBC’s API telecast.)
Westwood last won on the PGA TOUR in 2010, in Memphis, but captured the European Tour’s 2020 Race to Dubai, is still 39th in the world, and says his lighter approach these days helps fend off any nerves. Is he surprised to be in this position?
“I’m not surprised, no, because I haven't lost any of my length and I haven't lost any of my enthusiasm to go and work, and work in the gym,” Westwood said. “My nerves are still intact, I still get into contention and enjoy it rather than kind of back off.”
Speaking of “back off,” DeChambeau showed none of that on Saturday. He stepped to the par-5 sixth hole like a boxer stepping into the ring, and the enthusiastic gallery at the tee had but one message for him: GO FOR IT!!! And so he did, pulling out driver, ripping a missile that carried some 345 yards over water and finished 370 yards from where he was standing. DeChambeau triumphantly raised his arms high in the air as the ball was in flight. He knew he’d crushed it. His reaction? Huge smile. Pure joy.
Bryson DeChambeau’s 370-yard drive on par-5 at Arnold Palmer
“Oh, man, I felt like a kid again, for sure,” DeChambeau, the 2020 U.S. Open champion, said. “It was exciting. Especially when you pull it off and you know ... it was almost like winning a tournament. I don't know. It's kind of the feeling I had, It was like, ‘Oh, I did it.’ I got the same chills and feeling when I saw it clear and there was no splash. It was like, ‘Yes! I gave the fans what they wanted!”
That he did. Spieth, winless since 2017 but enjoying a nice resurgence in the past month, injected his own 10,000 watts into the day by starting out with a birdie and an ace. He holed a 5-iron at the 222-yard second hole, his ball pitching on the right edge of the green and turning left toward the flagstick. On the third tee, Spieth was so fired up from his 3-under start that he promptly ripped a tee shot left and into the water. (He still, somehow, made a par.)
“Luckily I made some putts to make up for that, but it was almost like kind of first shot at the Ryder Cup kind of feeling, where you're just so amped up,” Spieth said. “You have to hit so many controlled shots here and when it gets a little windy it's so hard to hit the fairways, and I really struggled on the front nine with that.”
He holed a bunker shot for birdie at the seventh and moved to 6 under for his round with birdies at 10 and 12, but gave two shots back with bogeys on Bay Hill’s back-nine par-3 holes. By day’s end, he was signing for 68, which was just fine, and will be one of a handful of players who will begin Sunday with a chance. Nine players are within five of Westwood’s lead.
“Yeah, it was just another round that, unfortunately, wasn’t boring for me,” Spieth said. “I’m trying to have boring rounds.”
Sorry, but Saturday was anything but that. It might not have pleased Spieth, but the limited fans in attendance had no qualms at all.