For the second consecutive Sunday, Lee Westwood and Bryson DeChambeau will go head to head in the final pairing of a PGA Tour event. Last week it was the Arnold Palmer at Bay Hill. This time it’s the PLAYERS Championship at TPC Sawgrass.
Different tournament. Different course. Same twosome.
It marks the first time in the modern era of the PGA Tour that the same two players have been paired together in the final group in consecutive stroke-play events during the same season.
And the 47-year old Westwood already has a moniker for it: “Round two, the rematch.”
“Really looking forward to it,” said Westwood. “I enjoy playing with him. I enjoy his company and his caddie’s company. It’s like round two, the rematch.”
Never Too Late For Greatness
The storyline for the Englishman is this: A win would be the pinnacle of his career, which already includes 42 worldwide victories. None, though, as big as The PLAYERS – golf’s defacto 5th major.
When asked to confirm if a win tomorrow would be his greatest career achievement, Westwood didn’t even pause.
“Yeah, undoubtedly, said the former world No. 1, who would be the second oldest player to win The PLAYERS (Fred Funk, 48, 2005).
Asked why, he said, point blank, “Because it would be the biggest tournament I’ve ever won.”
For many years, Westwood was the best player in the world who hadn’t YET won a major. In fact the rise of that title began in 1998, the first year Westwood teed it up at The PLAYERS.
Just 24-years old, and fresh off a T13 at Bay Hill, Westwood would finish T5 in a field that featured all the top names in golf at the time, including Tiger Woods, David Duval, Ernie Els, and so on. He tied Scott Hoch and Len Mattiace for fifth that year at a wickedly windy TPC Sawgrass. He finished a shot better than Phil Mickelson, Nick Price and the late Payne Stewart.
The next week he won the Freeport-McDermott Classic (Zurich Classic), and entered the ‘98 Masters as one of those second-level insider-type favorites, behind the big names like Couples, Woods, and Els. The young Brit was the 12th ranked golfer in the world and would add six more wins during that 1998 breakout year.
Many expected him to follow in the footsteps of countryman Nick Faldo and win a Green Jacket or two, and maybe a Claret Jug. He beat Faldo that weekend at windy Sawgrass, and edged him at Augusta two weeks later. But he never won a major. And after he turned 30, then became 40, as his world ranking dropped out of the top 50, he became politely referred to as the former world No. 1 (whose time may have passed).
Now, 23 years after making his debut on the northern coast of Florida, as the 24 year old prodigy with great expectations, it’s all there for the taking.
A rematch. Sunday. At iconic TPC Sawgrass. With the whole world watching. To secure the flagship win of an already impressive career.
Westwood entered last Sunday’s finale of the Arnold Palmer with a one-shot lead over DeChambeau. He lost by a shot. This week he’ll tee off holding a two shot advantage.
“We’ll see tomorrow what my advantages are, if I can apply myself properly. The advantage I have right now is the two shots,” said Westwood.
“But at the same time, I can’t go out there and be defensive. I’ve got to still go out there and play my game, be aggressive at times, be defensive at other times, and just do the right things whenever possible and go through the correct processes.
“Don’t get carried away with the situation and just try and do the best I can on each hole.”
While Westwood was at a clear disadvantage last Sunday at Bay Hill, due to DeChambeau’s prodigious length off the tee, that will not be the case tomorrow at Sawgrass.
“I’ve always felt that it suits my game. That’s probably why I’ve played well around here many times,” said Westwood, who owns five career top-10 finishes, including two top-5s, at The PLAYERS.
“I wouldn’t say it doesn’t suit Bryson, it just doesn’t suit him as much as last week did. He can still use his length to his advantage. There’s holes out there where maybe you don’t want to hit driver and he can squeeze one of those low iron shots out there 280, and that’s a massive advantage around here.”
A Legacy Builder for Bryson
The storyline for DeChambeau is pretty simple too, although more data-driven than emotional. A win would be his third of the season, and move him to No. 1 in the FedExCup standings, and No. 3 in the world rankings. He’d undoubtedly have the inside edge for the Tour MVP.
Winning The PLAYERS, U.S. Open and Arnold Palmer are three impressive titles to hold in a career, never mind in one season.
He’d also become the 10th players in history to win a U.S. Open and PLAYERS Championship. And the first to do it in the same season.
Following Webb Simpson (2018) and Rory McIlroy (2019), a win by DeChambeau would make it three straight champions who’d previously won a U.S. Open. While he’d join Rory and Tiger as the only players to win at Sawgrass, Bay Hill and the U.S. Open.
“This is a chance that I’ve wanted my entire life. Growing up watching The PLAYERS, and finally having this opportunity is going to be something special,” said DeChambeau.
Asked to name the key to Englishman’s recent career resurgence, DeChambeau cited the veteran’s consistency.
“Mr. Consistency. I mean, his driving is impeccable, his iron play is impeccable and he makes putts when he needs to,” said DeChambeau.
“Fortunately for me last week I was able to get the job done, and I think tomorrow is going to be an incredible battle.”
He also credited the positive influence of Helen Storie, Westwood’s girlfriend, and caddie, calling her a “rock.”
“I think Helen. I think Helen is a big part of it,” he said. “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.”
Westwood concurred, “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. She helps me in that aspect an immeasurable amount.”
The budding rivalry tees off at 1:50 pm (est).
Get your popcorn ready.