Westwood comes up short again competing against the best

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Lee Westwood keeps being reminded he turns 48 next month, and there were times he felt his age at The Players Championship. The result was another near miss against players who were born the year Westwood turned pro.

A week ago it was U.S. Open champion Bryson DeChambeau outlasting him at Bay Hill.

On Sunday at the TPC Sawgrass, it was former PGA champion Justin Thomas rallying from three shots behind with one of the best tee-to-green rounds Thomas says he has ever played.

“What do I take from the two weeks? Just a lot of pride,” Westwood said. “I ground it out today, gave myself a chance, I suppose, at the end. … You know, these are world-class fields. These are young guys that I’m giving 20, 25 years to most of them and I’m still contending. I’m enjoying it. It’s a thrill to be out here and still playing well.”

Both times, the turning point came on the 16th hole.

Westwood overcame a pair of shots into the water on the front nine to regain a share of the lead with a brilliant play from a fairway bunker to 8 feet for birdie on No. 14, as tough a hole as there is on the Stadium Course.

In the group ahead was Thomas, who made birdie on the par-5 16th with a two-putt from just inside 50 feet. Westwood was in position to match him until his second shot hit a tree and dropped into the sand some 65 yards from the hole. The next shot squirted on him to the right into another bunker, and he had to scramble for par.

He never caught up, and his birdie on the final hole left him one shot behind Thomas.

“Didn’t hit a particularly long one off 16,” Westwood said. “And this week I’ve been carrying a 3-iron, and I’ve got a massive gap between 3-iron and 3-wood, and 3-wood was too much at 16, and 3-iron I knew was going to bring that tree into play.”

DeChambeau had a one-shot lead at Bay Hill when he found a bunker on the par-5 16th and had to lay up, and his wedge took a big hop and went just beyond the green. Westwood had a pitching wedge for his second, came up just short, hit a nice chip to 6 feet and missed the birdie putt. He made a big par at the end, but came up one shot short.

The consolation prize went beyond the $2,648,700 he earned for his two runner-up finishes. Westwood, with 41 career victories on all six of the major golf circuits around the world, is playing for trophies at this stage.

He now is No. 19 in the world, and he believes his game is in a place for more chances.

What troubled him Sunday were legs that felt heavy and produced a couple of swings that cost him. Westwood sent his 3-wood well to the right on the par-5 second hole after opening with a birdie. His next shot clipped two branches and bounced into a water hazard that is rarely in play. He had to scramble for bogey.

Two holes later, he hit a weak fairway metal that was never going anywhere but in the water. After a penalty drop, he went long to the back fringe, ran his 40-foot par putt some 8 feet by the hole and made that to salvage bogey.

And then on the par-5 11th, he took an easy look at birdie out of play with another tee shot well to the right, into the pines, forcing him to lay up. He failed to convert birdie from 128 yards away.

“My legs felt a bit heavy, and I felt a bit lethargic, like I wasn’t swinging as well and I wasn’t striking the ball as well, and that was evident from the tee shots off 2, 4, 11,” he said.

But the putting? No problem there. He consistently made big par putts, going 45 consecutive holes at par or better at one point during the tournament. That streak ended on the second hole.

“People question whether I can hole putts under pressure, and I rolled in a lot of must-make putts all day, really, whether it be for par or the great birdie on 14,” Westwood said.

His luck ran out on the island-green 17th, running a putt some 7 feet by the hole — most players did that, including Thomas — only to miss that one to fall two shots behind.

Westwood next heads to Augusta National on Monday to play with his son, Sam, and British Open champion Shane Lowry ahead of the Masters next month. And then it’s back to work, waiting for his next chance.

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