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Lee Westwood leads Players Championship, gets another shot at Bryson DeChambeau

Lee Westwood celebrates his birdie on the 17th hole during the third round of the Players Championship on March 13, 2021.
Lee Westwood reacts after making a birdie putt on No. 17 in the Players Championship on Saturday. He shot a four-under 68 and leads Bryson DeChambeau by two heading into Sunday.
(Gerald Herbert / Associated Press)

Lee Westwood gets another shot at winning the Players Championship, and another crack at Bryson DeChambeau.

Westwood made a 25-foot birdie putt on the island-green 17th hole, and he closed out a four-under-par 68 with a five-footer for par to extend his bogey-free streak at the TPC Sawgrass to 44 holes.

It also gave him a two-stroke lead over DeChambeau and set up a rematch from last week in the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

They were in the final group at Bay Hill, where Westwood took a one-shot lead into the final round only for DeChambeau to make a five-foot par on the final hole to beat him by one on a big-hitter’s ballpark.

“Round two,” Westwood said with a smile.

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The Stadium Course at Sawgrass is more about position than power, though DeChambeau appears capable of winning on just about any course at the moment. He ran off three straight birdies to start the back nine and was most excited about his 15-foot par putt on the 18th for a 67.

Westwood was at 13-under 203.

“He’s making a lot of amazing putts too,” DeChambeau said. “That’s what it takes to win golf tournaments.”

Westwood, a 47-year-old from England, had the 54-hole lead at Sawgrass in 2010 only to hit into the water on the par-three 17th to end his chances. He tied for fourth.

All these years later, he gets another chance and looks to be up to the task.

So does DeChambeau, who is going for his third victory this season.

“I suppose if you sat Bryson down here and you asked him which golf course would suit him more, he’d probably say Bay Hill,” Westwood said. “You can open your shoulders a little bit more around Bay Hill than you can around here. This place is a little bit more strategic. But credit to Bryson. You wouldn’t associate this golf course with his style of play, and he’s up there. It shows he can adapt his game.”

DeChambeau can’t blast away at Sawgrass because of the bending tree-lined fairways and water hazards. But his power still comes in handy. With his tee shot buried in deep rough right of the 18th fairway, some 210 yards away, he ripped an eight-iron to just short of the green and set up his chance at par. DeChambeau twice pumped his powerful arms when it dropped.

“You’ve got to make those to win tournaments,” he said. “I didn’t want to leave a sour taste in my mouth.”

Westwood has been around long enough to know that even with recent history of Bay Hill, DeChambeau is not the only one who figures to stand in his way, especially on a troublesome course like Sawgrass.

Saturday was evident of that.

Bryson DeChambeau watches his tee shot on the 15th hole in the third round of the Players Championship on March 13, 2021.
Bryson DeChambeau, who shot a 67 on Saturday, watches his tee shot on the 15th hole in the third round of the Players Championship.
(John Raoux / Associated Press)

Justin Thomas started the third round seven shots behind, opened with four straight birdies and then hit a five-iron that stopped inches away on the par-five 16th that left him a tap-in eagle. He shot a 64 and was three strokes behind, along with Doug Ghim, who is making his debut in the Players.

Ghim, one of seven players who had at least a share of the lead at one point Saturday, was motoring along until one costly swing on the easiest hole, the par-five 16th. He came up well short in a bunker under a tree, tried to blast low under the limbs, and caught the rough and wound up with his lone bogey.

Paul Casey had six birdies and an eagle to offset his mistakes in a 67, leaving him four shots behind with Jon Rahm (67). Also four shots behind was Brian Harman, who began his day by holing a wedge for eagle and shot a 69.

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Sergio Garcia was five shots behind and still can’t handle the short putts, including a four-footer for birdie that missed badly on the low side at the 17th. He had to settle for a 72.

Westwood said this would be the biggest win of his career, and while there were times he chose not to play as a European Tour member, there is no denying the strength of the field — 48 of the top 50 players — and the nature of a Sawgrass course where fortunes can change with a single swing.

For DeChambeau, it’s a chance to stamp himself as the favorite as the Masters nears, if he’s not already. He won with power and putting at Bay Hill. He’s having to rely on a little more this week and says missing in the right spots has helped him avoid dropping more shots.

“Mr. Consistency,” DeChambeau called him. “I mean, his driving is impeccable, his iron play is impeccable and he makes putts when he needs to. Fortunately for me last week, I was able to get the job done, and I think tomorrow is going to be an incredible battle.”


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