Lee Westwood, leading after 54 holes, trying to win one for the 'old guys' at Arnold Palmer Invitational

Lee Westwood may be getting a little long in the tooth for the PGA Tour, but his clubs don’t seem to know it. The Englishman, who turns (...)

Lee Westwood, leading after 54 holes, trying to win one for the 'old guys' at Arnold Palmer Invitational

Lee Westwood may be getting a little long in the tooth for the PGA Tour, but his clubs don’t seem to know it.

The Englishman, who turns 48 next month, has been playing in the Arnold Palmer Invitational since 1998, when some of today’s stars of the PGA Tour were still in diapers. On Saturday, Westwood poured in eight birdies and an eagle en route to shooting 7-under 65 and taking a one-stroke leader over Bryson DeChambeau and Canadian Corey Conners. In doing so, Westwood became the oldest player to hold the 54-hole lead/co-lead on Tour since Phil Mickelson at the American Express in 2019.

As further proof of his staying power, Westwood became the first player to hold a 54-hole lead on Tour in the 1990s, 2000s, 2010s and 2020s. Last year, he won the European Tour’s season-long Race to Dubai and he’s currently ranked No. 39 in the world.

“If you would have said to me 20 years ago, will you still be top 50 in the world at 48, I might have been slightly skeptical,” Westwood conceded. “It just shows that I’m still capable of playing well in these tournaments with all the good young players around me and obviously contending, because that’s what I’m doing this week.”

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Leaderboard | Photos | Tee times, TV

Westwood opened with rounds of 69-71 and got the party started on Saturday with a 30-foot birdie putt at his first hole. He missed a 5-foot par put at the second, but made birdie at five holes during a seven-hole span beginning at No. 4, stuffing a wedge inside 2 feet at No. 8 and sinking a 19-foot putt at 10. There were three-putt bogeys at Nos. 11 and 15 – offset by a birdie at 13 – but then his putter warmed up from long range. First, Westwood drained a 33-foot eagle putt at 16 to get to double-digits under par and he closed out the round in dramatic fashion with a 28-foot birdie to become the oldest player to card a 65 or lower at Bay Hill since Fred Couples in the first round in 2008.

Westwood has won 25 times on the European Tour but only twice on the PGA Tour, and none since the 2010 FedEx St. Jude Classic. This marks his 14th appearance at Bay Hill and it’s a course that has suited him from the get-go.

“The first time I came and played it in the late ’90s I enjoyed it and fell in love with it, I played well that week, I was in the second to last group on Sunday. So, yeah, it’s a place I like,” he said. “Obviously, with the King’s name attached to it, it’s a very special trophy to lift, tournament to win.”

His stellar 65, which was played under preferred lies, was his lowest score in 49 career rounds at Arnie’s place and lifted him to a 54-hole aggregate of 11-under 205. Westwood, who is playing in his first final group since the 2013 British Open – he finished tied for third as Mickelson claimed the Claret Jug – will have his work cut out on Sunday if he wants to wear the winner’s red alpaca sweater.

In addition to DeChambeau and Conners, his closest competitors, Keegan Bradley, who shot 64, the low round of the tournament, and Jordan Spieth (68) are two back, Tommy Fleetwood (68) lurks three back, and former API champion Rory McIlroy (72) will try to charge Palmer style from four behind. Not to mention that none of the last five players 47 years or older to lead or co-lead after 54 holes at a PGA Tour event has gone on to win. In fact, the last to do so was Rocco Mediate 11 years ago.

While Westwood is fond of Bay Hill, the course traditionally has chewed him up and spit him out on Sundays. His final-round scoring average at Bay Hill of 73.60 includes scores of 75, 76 (twice), 78 and 79. He’s also just 1-for-5 in converting the 54-hole lead/co-lead to victory on Tour, having faltered in his last four attempts since his maiden Tour title at the 1998 Zurich Classic of New Orleans.

But don’t tell his fellow competitors on the PGA Tour, who are ready for Westwood to drive off into the sunset for the senior circuit, that Westwood can’t get it done.

“They say, ‘How long have you got until you join the Champions Tour?” Westwood recalled. “And I said, ‘Oh, it’s another couple of years yet, you’re stuck with me.’ ”

Source : Golf Week More