Westwood has been out of sight, but he's not out of contention

Saturday August 13th, 2011
Lee Westwood had a solid round of two-under 68 to pull into contention.
Fred Vuich/SI

JOHNS CREEK, Ga. — With stealth and guile, World No. 2 Lee Westwood has sneaked onto the leaderboard at one under par.

"I'm cruising into position," Westwood said after a two-under-par 68. "I'm breezing around out there and trying to smile whenever I can. I think that's why after bogeying 2 and 3, I came back with birdies on 4 and 5. Maybe the Trying Too Hard Lee would have bogeyed the next after that. It's difficult to try your hardest and not care about the results. But it seems to be working."

Westwood has been trying to kid himself that this week is just another ho-hum tournament. But the hullabaloo that surrounded him on the practice range as he warmed up for his second round told him otherwise. Six television camera crews and a clique of clicking photographers swarmed around Westwood as he warmed up, but not one of them was pointing a lens at him. Next to him was Rory McIlroy and his famous wrist. Not exactly the hassle-free preparation, then, that Westwood would have hoped for before heading out onto the monstrously tough back nine, his opening holes of the day.

If ever there were a scene to remind the Englishman that being the second best golfer in the world does not guarantee that he will be the center of attention, then this was it. McIlroy is being mobbed in Atlanta. Westwood is wandering among the Georgia pines followed by a gallery that would be more appropriate were he languishing at the back of the field at the Belgian Open. At least he was able to enjoy the peace and quiet as he knuckled down to put himself into position to mount a challenge over the weekend in pursuit of that elusive first major.

Out of the deathly silence that accompanied Westwood and his playing partners Jason Day and Matt Kuchar came the occasional cry of "Let's go Lee." English accents, too, enjoying a gentle stroll in the Atlanta countryside. They had plenty of time to take in the views, as time tends to stand still when Day plays golf. The Australian is fast becoming one of the charging young generation led by McIlroy, but there is nothing fast or charging about his style. He hit left into the trees at the 16th, and then right into a greenside bunker, then whooshed his ball out of the sand and through the green to the rough on the opposite side. Then he chipped and watched as his ball dribbled four feet past the hole. Then his putt lipped out, then another thankfully, and finally, disappeared below ground. Day had almost become Night in the time it took him to rack up a double bogey. He was sporting a goatee as trudged off the 16th green, but no one could remember if he had one on the 16th tee.

Westwood glanced at the leaderboard behind the green. The name Barnes had just been posted. It was Ricky Barnes, but maybe it was an omen. The last, and only, Englishman to win the PGA Championship was Jim Barnes, who triumphed at the inaugural event in 1916 and won again in 1919.

Westwood plodded along nicely throughout his first nine, like an 800-meter runner tucking in behind the leaders and getting ready to pounce on the backstretch. But he played his second nine like a triple jumper with hiccups: birdie, chunked a chip (his Achilles' heel) for bogey, bogey, birdie, birdie. Par made a welcome return at the sixth, followed by birdie, bogey and par.

"I'm giving myself lots of chances," Westwood said after his first round 71. "I've just got to be patient." It was the same in round two after his 68. Anywhere around even par at half time during a major championship is ripe for a weekend push for a player of Westwood's quality. He's one shot better than that.

Most of the cameras have been pointing at McIlroy and Tiger Woods here, but those two will be out of the picture over the weekend. Westwood has been Atlanta's Invisible Man so far, but he is just coming into focus when it counts.

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