Westwood steps it up to leave Harrington in his wake
LEE WESTWOOD played as well as one might expect of the world's top-ranked golfer as he purred past Padraig Harrington and into a commanding lead at the Nedbank Challenge with a fabulous, bogey-free second-round 64 at Sun City.
Few players are as highly motivated or as fresh as Westwood as the year draws to a close and it's certainly showing at the Gary Player Country Club.
Competing in only his fourth stroke- play tournament in 17 weeks as he recovers from the calf muscle injury which interrupted the second half of his season, Westwood is lean, playing mean and appears determined to see out 2010 as World No 1.
Ironically, on the far side of the planet, Tiger Woods looked equally committed to the cause of winning back his place on top of the world rankings during the first round of the Chevron World Challenge, the end-of-season jolly he hosts annually at Thousand Oaks, California.
Like Westwood, Tiger this weekend is playing only his fourth event since the Ryder Cup and the hunger showed at Sherwood Country Club on Thursday as Woods started as he had finished in Melbourne last month, with a distinctly impressive round of 65.
One ahead of hungry Northern Irish aces Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell going into yesterday's second round, Tiger is beginning once again to hit shots that do justice to his reputation as one of the greatest players in history.
Whether or not he's ready this weekend to pick up his first victory of 2010 and consign the most gruesome 12 months of his life to history remains to be seen, but whatever about his ball-striking, Woods still lacks that old Midas touch on the greens.
After eight birdies on Thursday and just one bogey (at 18, where he blocked his drive deep into trouble in the trees), Tiger admitted ruefully: "It's not too often you can say: 'I shot a 65 and made only one putt,' but I did that today."
Yet Woods was still on top of a leaderboard for only the second time in 2010 and felt like the swing changes ordained by new coach, Sean Foley, really were beginning to bed-in.
Asked if the real Tiger was back, he cautioned: "It's a process. I was putting together streaks of holes earlier and then I'd lose it for a little bit. Eventually, I needed to get to a full round and then, eventually, a full tournament. Today was a full round, so that's a good start."
Like Westwood, Tiger's pursuers at Sherwood have played twice as many tournaments as he has in recent months and, as we near the end of an exhausting Ryder Cup year, are probably not as hungry to make a point as the world's top-two.
Except, perhaps, for Harrington, who could do with a morale boost at Sun City after another frustrating and -- apart from October's win at the Johor Open in Malaysia -- fruitless year which has seen him tumble 17 places down the world ladder and out of the game's top-20.
On Thursday, Harrington showed bright flashes of the form which helped him become a three-times Major champion, ramming home putt after putt during the first-round 66 which propelled him to the top of the leaderboard at the Nedbank.
Yet that ring of confidence simply vanished yesterday as he stalled like a car in a snow drift, Harrington's second round of level-par 72, leaving him tied third with Edoardo Molinari (67) and Miguel Angel Jimenez (69) on six-under, three shy of his conqueror at the Irish Open, Ross Fisher (68) and a whopping six strokes behind the rampant Westwood.
Harrington's only bogey came after a touch of bunker trouble at the par-four third and his only birdie was at the par-five ninth -- though the Dubliner let a procession of birdie chances go abegging on the back- nine, his putting was not entirely to blame.
Indeed, Harrington's putter helped him complete a couple of splendid par saves. The most impressive came at 17, where, clearly on tenterhooks after blocking his drive right into trouble on Thursday, Harrington this time hooked his tee-shot left into the trees.
After advancing his ball 60 yards or so down the fairway, he then hit a lovely pitch to seven feet and holed the putt for an unlikely four.
While Harrington has relied heavily on his stunning short game to camouflage serious problems with his tee-shots, he found the heart of the fairway with his three-wood at 18; hit a nice mid-iron to about 15-feet above the pin and then missed the birdie putt.
The Dubliner had brought the galleries to their feet with a classic three at that closing hole on Thursday. Yet it was Westwood who set them roaring yesterday with the eighth birdie of a splendid round which suggests that he will pocket $1.25m Nedbank first prize tomorrow and, regardless of Tiger's efforts in California, spend Christmas on top of the world.
Nedbank Challenge, Sky Sp 3, 9.0am
Chevron Challenge, Sky Sp 3, 11.0pm