Lee Westwood staged his own version of ‘Back to the Future’ at Baltusrol Golf Club in New Jersey when a second consecutive 68 propelled the Englishman into a share of third place at the halfway stage of the US PGA Championship.
In the weeks leading up to the event, the winner of 16 titles on The European Tour International Schedule returned to his former coach Pete Cowen - after ceasing working with David Leadbetter - and the old relationship immediately sparked the 32 year old back into life.
Westwood was again in imperious form as his four under par total of 136 moved him alongside Davis Love III and Rory Sabbatini, four shots adrift of leader Phil Mickelson, who added a superb second round 65 to his opening 67. and three adrift of second placed Jerry Kelly, who matched Mickelson’s 65.
“My game came together quickly the first time I went to see him and Pete has always had a grasp of how I should swing the golf club, the positions I want to get in to and the sequence of those positions,” he said. “I did a lot of hard work at home over these past two weeks and it has paid off straight away.
“I played as well today as I did yesterday which was good and I didn’t hit very many bad shots at all and plenty of good ones so I can’t think of a piece of work today that I wasn’t pleased with.”
Westwood shed two shots in his second round, at the second hole where he three putted and at the short 16th where he was unlucky to see his tee shot take a wicked kick into trouble, but he more than made up for it with four birdies elsewhere.
Leader Mickelson was in imperious form and a measure of his dominance of the tournament to date was the fact that he holds a three shot lead despite having a double bogey at the first, his tenth hole of the day having started at the tenth.
He soon made amends with birdies at the third and fifth, just as his birdie at the 17th and his eagle three at the 18th wiped out his bogey four at the 16th where his five iron tee shot found the bunker. The left hander admitted such resilience had pleased him.
“You know, that was probably the thing I was most proud of in today’s round,” he said. “Everybody is going to make mistakes but sometimes it is hard to forget them and let them go, but I managed to do that.”
The 35 year old from San Diego also took time out to praise the New Jersey public whose support for him made him feel like he was almost playing in his home town.
“I love the feel that the people here provide and the way that they support the tournament is awesome,” he said. “I love coming out and playing in front of everybody here. It is an amazing feeling from a players’ point of view to have that level of support.”
A strong European Tour presence was maintained at the top end of the leaderboard by England’s Greg Owen and Vijay Singh of Fiji, who both ended their second rounds one shot adrift of Westwood on three under par 137, after respective rounds of 69 and 67.
Owen, in particular, was pleased to be in such a position because, after dropping a shot at the 17th hole to fall back to one under for the tournament, he moved swiftly back in the right direction again with an eagle three at the 18th, holing from 22 feet.
“I was a little disappointed with my iron shot into the 17th, I hit it five yards further than I can hit it and it went into the deep rough at the back of the green from where I made six so I was a little bemused at what happened there but I finished off really well and that will give me confidence for the weekend,” he said.
“It was probably the only decent putt I holed all day and I was glad the hole got in the way because it was going a little fast but I am very delighted with the finish. I actually felt like I struck the ball better today than I did yesterday but I just struggled with the pace of the greens.
“They were a little slower early on and I didn’t really get comfortable with it so my pace was a little off today and so I need to work on that this afternoon. But it was a lovely way to finish off today and that’ll give me an extra hour in bed tomorrow.”
Pre-tournament favourite and World Number One Tiger Woods is used to being the centre of attention in Major Championships but this time Woods was the focus at the wrong end of affairs as he battled to make the cut.
The situation looked parlous for the 29 year old American when, with nine holes to go he was seven over par for the tournament with the cut falling at four over. But with typical grit and determination he battled back, three birdies in five holes from the 11th being crucial and although he dropped a shot at the 17th, a two putt birdie on the 18th secured his place in the field for the weekend’s action.