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Westwood's fame soars after recent outings

by The Associated Press | March 18, 2021 at 2:32 a.m.
Lee Westwood, 48, is playing a fourth consecutive event this week at the Honda Classic at PGA National, which starts today. His back-to-back second-place finishes have seen him climb 20 spots in the world rankings to No. 19. (AP/Gerald Herbert)

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- Lee Westwood's streak of runner-up finishes is longer than some might realize.

He was second to Bryson DeChambeau at Bay Hill two weeks ago, then was second to Justin Thomas at The Players Championship last week. And on Tuesday, he played alongside 19-year-old son Sam at Augusta National while finishing two days of prepping for next month's Masters.

"I set him a target of 83, and he chipped in on the last for birdie for 82," Westwood said. "So, he won the money."

Add it all up, and it's been a lot of golf lately for the 47-year-old Westwood. He's playing a fourth consecutive event this week at the Honda Classic at PGA National, which starts today. The back-to-back second-place finishes have seen Westwood climb 20 spots in the world ranking to No. 19.

Even while acknowledging that he's a little tired right now -- "my legs are feeling it a little bit," he said -- Westwood didn't consider skipping Honda, an event that he's tried to remain loyal to for years, even after the grind of contending on two tough courses in consecutive weeks and squeezing in 54 holes of practice at Augusta National to start this week.

"It's one of my favorite tournaments of the year," he said. "I really enjoy this golf course. I find it a good challenge. There's a lot of shots out there where you've really got to commit and play the shot. I love the challenge of the Bear Trap. It's always a bit blowy, which I like, as well."

The Bear Trap, named for Jack Nicklaus, is PGA National's three-hole defining stretch spanning Nos. 15 through 17, two par 3s sandwiching a par 5. It's not uncommon for the wind to blow in three different directions on those holes.

Defending champion Sungjae Im is back this year after prevailing in 2020 with a 6-under 274, the highest winning score at PGA National since Mark Wilson shot 275 and won in a playoff in 2007.

Five former world No. 1s are playing: Adam Scott, Luke Donald, Vijay Singh, Martin Kaymer and Westwood.

Tournament officials are allowing 10,000 fans per day at the Honda, and if form from the last two weeks holds, plenty of them will want to see Westwood. There's no metric to precisely chart on-course popularity, but his has soared of late.

"I think I've always been fairly popular, but it seems to have gone up a level, and it's just great to have crowds back in and fans back in, get in a few cheers and making birdies for them and playing well for them and bringing some enjoyment to the people that are allowed in," Westwood said. "I struggled when we came out of lockdown playing without crowds. I've played in front of crowds for 27 or 28 years now, and I found it very difficult. It's great that I feel even more popular now, and it's nice to be playing in front of people."

Westwood will have Sam, his son, caddying for him this week. Helen Storey, Westwood's fiancee and caddie for the last two weeks, is getting the week off. Sam gets the call to work again at the Masters; Storey will work the PGA Championship and the British Open, and any Ryder Cup assignment -- if Westwood gets there, as would be expected -- is still unclear.

"I just like being out there with the both of them," Westwood said. "Both keep me relaxed. We have good chats out there."

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