Lee Westwood shot a third-round 68 at TPC Sawgrass and will enter Sunday’s finale of the The PLAYERS Championship with a two-shot lead over Bryson DeChambeau.
Entering the Saturday’s third round with a one shot advantage, the 47-year old Englishman got off to a somewhat slow start with nine straight pars, and briefly lost his spot atop the leaderboard to a surging Justin Thomas.
But Westwood jumped back into a tie atop the board after his first birdie of the day on No. 10. He added three more gains, highlighted by a birdie on the signature 17th to secure the 54-hole marquee spot at 13-under par.
“Yeah, well, I was playing well all day and trying to be patient and wait for the good things to happen. I missed a few around the front nine for different reasons, kind of misread a couple of putts, mis-hit a couple of putts, hit some good putts that didn’t go in, and then one went in on 10, so that was kind of the impetus to kick on around the back nine,” said Westwood, who leads the field in strokes gained with 13.929.
“Obviously 16 is a hole you look at and you think, this is a birdie chance, but 17 to that front flag, especially when it’s stuck at the top of the hill, you’re just trying to run it down there somewhere dead, so it’s a real bonus that it rolled in, and a great moment, and that 17 green is always an incredible atmosphere, and it’s nice if you can make a birdie for the fans that have hung around all day.”
Westwood, who will be paired with DeChambeau in the final pairing for a second consecutive week, said he’s looking forward to the “rematch.”
“Yeah, really looking forward to it. I enjoy playing with him,” said Westwood. who will turn 48 next month.
“I enjoy his company and his caddie’s company, and it’s like round 2, the rematch. I’m going to really enjoy tomorrow. I enjoyed last Sunday, and I’m going to enjoy this Sunday.”
Two shots back was the aforementioned DeChambeau, who posted a third-day under the radar 67, to secure a second consecutive late Sunday afternoon tee time alongside Westwood. When asked to analyze the key to the Englishman’s recent career resurgence, DeChambeau cited Helen Storey, Westwood’s girlfriend and caddie.
“I think Helen. I think Helen is a big part of it,” said DeChambeau. “She’s keeping him steady and level headed and she’s a rock.
“Keeps his mind focused on the right things, and she’s been awesome for him, and that’s one of his secret weapons, I think.”
One further back was Thomas, who posted a low-round 64, which included a scorecard of seven birdies over his first 11 holes, followed by a highlight-reel eagle on the par-5 16th to reach 10 under par.
“Yeah, I wish all rounds were that easy,” said Thomas, who will be seeking career win No. 14 on Sunday.
“I hit the ball beautifully, I drove it well, I hit a couple squirrelly shots there at the end of the front nine, but the good part is that I knew why they were happening. I knew what the swing flaw was, what the physical mistake was, so I felt like I kind of bounced back from that pretty well. Hit some really good shots on the back nine.
“But I just know that I have to stay patient out here because you can make a lot of birdies, and hitting driver well is helping.”
Tied with Thomas at 10 under was Doug Ghim who shot a Saturday round of 68, which featured a hat trick of birdies on Nos. 9, 10 and 11. He will be paired with Thomas in Sunday’s second to last grouping.
Jon Rahm (67), Paul Casey (67), and Brian Harman (69) rounded out the top 5 on the leaderboard.
THE PLAYERS Championship
Pos-Player-To Par (Score)
1. Lee Westwood -13 (-4)
2. Bryson DeChambeau -11 (-5)
3. Justin Thomas -10 (-8)
3. Doug Ghim -10 (-4)
5. Jon Rahm -9 (-5)
5. Paul Casey -9 (-5)
5. Brian Harman -9 (-3)
8. Chris Kirk -8 (-1)
8. Sergio Garcia -8 (-1)
8. Matthew Fitzpatrick -8 (E)
Sunday’s Final Pairings
1:20 pm – Kirk (-8), Harman (-9)
1:30 pm – Rahm (-9), Casey (-9)
1:40 pm – Ghim (-10), Thomas (-10)
1:50 pm – DeChambeau (-11), Westwood (-13)
Q: Bryson credited your caddie with helping you a lot, and he was serious about it. Like he said some nice things about maybe how she might help you. I’m just curious what kind of level of truth there is to that. Obviously you’ve had a lot of great caddies over the years.
LEE WESTWOOD: Yeah, I think at my stage of my career, there’s not a lot a caddie can tell me, but obviously Helen gets me in a fantastic mood out there, and psychologically she can help me and say the things that I need to hear. You know, she helps me in that aspect an immeasurable amount.