AUGUSTA, Ga. — Less Lee Westwood is more. In the past year he’s been eating better and sweating off the pounds in the gym, adding 15 yards to his drives and dropping eight inches from his waist. “I’ve been spitting out the things that taste nice,” Westwood told me before the tournament. “Like crisps (chips), biscuits (cookies), and chocolate and booze (chocolate and booze).”
Are you watching, John Daly?
The newly svelte Westwood (two under par for the tournament) is one of four British players in red numbers and within seven shots of the 36-hole leader, Trevor Immelman. Ian Poulter (five under), Paul Casey (four under) and Nick Dougherty (one under) are threatening to storm Augusta National this weekend, even while countryman and first-round co-leader Justin Rose (two over) saw his weekend chances plummet with a late-round implosion.
The pink-hued Poulter was their leader in the second round. If you stride onto Augusta’s first tee resembling a flamingo, you’d better play pretty. And for the second day in a row, Poulter (who finished tied for 13th last year) raised eyebrows for his clothes and his play. He stands three shots off the lead (70-69), thanks in part to early greenside wizardry. “The up-and-downs I made on 3 and 5 were huge,” Poulter said. “They were 1-in-10s. This is the best position I have been at this stage of a major.”
Casey is only four off the lead (71-69). He tied for 10th in 2007 and prepared for this year’s Masters by taking two weeks off to practice in Scottsdale, Ariz., with his coach Peter Kostis. Meanwhile, Poulter and Rose, neighbors in Lake Nona, Fla., made a reconnaissance trip to Augusta two weeks ago.
“I really haven’t struck the ball very good so far this year,” Casey said. “But yesterday was my best start at Augusta ever. I’d never broken par in the first round before. It was nice that Trevor shot eight under because it gave me something to chase. That’s an unbelievable score. I have put myself behind the eight ball in other years. But it’s a different mindset now. I am in contention.”
Westwood reached four under at the turn, but a steady second round began to unravel at the famous par-3 12th. Bamboozled by the swirling wind like so many before, his tee shot turned left in mid-flight; he was still staring in disbelief when his ball thudded into the bank of azaleas, then bounced back onto the fringe. He escaped with par. But Westwood’s luck ran out at the 13th. A hooked tee shot and a chunked wedge into the creek led to double-bogey 7. He posted a 73. “I think it’s going to get harder on the weekend,” Westwood said. “If it does, I am quite capable of shooting two 70s. And six under could still win the tournament.”
Westwood had once plummeted outside the Top 250 in the world ranking, but in recent years he’s worked his way back to win twice in Europe in 2007 (he has 29 worldwide victories). He’s now 18th in the world. “I now have a new lease of life,” he said. “It’s like a second career is about to start.” (Perhaps fittingly, the slimmed-down Westwood played the first two rounds with two of the skinniest guys on Tour, Aaron Baddeley and Camilo Villegas.)
European No. 1 and World No. 10 Justin Rose (68-78) was poised to join his mates on the weekend leaderboard until he butchered the 15th. He laid up, chunked and dunked his wedge in the water, and limped off with a triple-bogey 8, followed by a bogey on the par-3 16. “The 15th was a 20-second lapse in concentration,” said a disappointed Rose. “In hindsight I probably should have gone for the green. It was right on the limit. It’s just one of those things. I laid up way too close to the green, and the way they grow the grain into you, I had a bit of a tricky lie and no yardage.”
But there were still plenty of Brits within striking distance, and they seemed excited by their prospects. Poulter, acknowledging that his friends Westwood and Casey were in contention, said: “This could be one of the great weekends, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Tiger shot two 65s.”