MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Lee Westwood had heard how challenging the TPC Southwind course is when the wind blows. Now the Englishman knows for himself how true all that talk really is.
Westwood scrambled to birdie his final three holes in grabbing a share of a one-stroke lead Friday with Garrett Willis after the second round of the St. Jude Classic with the winds gusting up to 22 mph. Westwood, making his Memphis debut this week as part of his tuneup for next week’s U.S. Open, said that made it tricky judging shots after seeing no wind Thursday.
“You’ve got to be on the fairway to attack the flags, and I just didn’t hit it close enough to the flag early on,” he said. “So it was a day of patience and battling, and I was rewarded at the end of the round with three birdies for doing that.”
Westwood had a one-stroke lead after his opening 65, and the world’s No. 3-ranked player dropped two strokes off the pace with two bogeys. He rolled in a 26-footer for birdie on No. 17, and then hit a 9-iron within 4 feet for a 68 that tied him with Willis at 9-under 131 total through 36 holes.
Willis, who spent last year on the Nationwide Tour, had five birdies in a bogey-free round to put himself in the final group for Saturday.
Charley Hoffman had the clubhouse lead early with a 65 and was at 132. Robert Karlsson (66) and Robert Garrigus (66) were tied for third at 133. Texas teenager Jordan Spieth, who became the sixth-youngest to make a PGA cut at the Byron Nelson last month, missed this cut at 1 over as he finished 2-over 142.
Hoffman took advantage of his morning tee time with little wind in becoming the first to reach 8 under. His sixth birdie, which he rolled in from 78 feet on the par-3 14th, helped him take the clubhouse lead.
“I think they gypped me a few feet,” Hoffman said on the measurement of a putt he put at 90 feet and the longest putt of his life.
Westwood joined him at 8 under with his first birdie of the round on his fourth hole. He gave that stroke back with a bogey on No. 8 when he was short of the par-3 green and didn’t get up and down. Westwood pushed a 17-footer for birdie on No. 9 just right of the hole.
He dropped another shot on the par-3 14th when he hit his tee shot into a bunker behind the green and two-putted.
“I set myself a little task of trying to birdie two of the last four holes to shoot under 70,” Westwood said. “I birdied the last three holes and had a good chance at 15. I’m pleased with that. It was a great way to finish off the day and send it into tomorrow with momentum.”
Willis won the 2001 Tucson Open before finding himself back on the Nationwide Tour last year where he finished 12th on the money list to get back to the PGA Tour.
He has made 10 of 13 cuts this year and tied for 13th at the Texas Open for his best finish. He had the first-round lead at the Transitions Championship after opening with a 65 but finished tied for 72nd. Willis, who lives in Knoxville, Tenn., said that taught him a very important lesson about patience.
“I just kind of realize that this is the opportunity for me to support my family,” Willis said. “I don’t need to go out there and shoot at every pin. I can go out there, shoot for the middle of the green, try to make a putt from 20, 30 feet. If I don’t, tap it in for par, and I’m just trying to play as well as I possibly can.”
That focus helped on a day where he hit an approach into a fan’s chair on the par-5 third and had to wait for a ruling for a drop where the ball rolled behind a tree. That forced him to punch out left of the green where he got a lucky kick with it rolling up to 30 feet closer to set him up for birdie.
“That got some excitement definitely going for me,” Willis said.
He rolled in a 3-footer for birdie on No. 9 and had his own strong finish with birdies on three of the final four holes. His 18-foot putt lipped in for birdie on No. 15 when he thought he had missed it, two-putted for birdie from 60 feet on the par-5 16th and watched Tom Pernice’s putt on the same line on No. 18 before rolling in a 19-footer.
“I’m trying to be a lot smarter and try to learn from my mistakes, knowing that a lot of pars on this golf course when the wind starts blowing is a pretty good score,” Willis said.
Tim Petrovic briefly tied Hoffman at 8 under with his fourth birdie on his 12th hole only to bogey two of his next three to fall off the pace. He finished with a 68 and was tied for sixth at 134 with Lee Janzen (66) and Shaun Micheel (66).
This is Karlsson’s first trip to Memphis as his tuneup for the U.S. Open. He got a bounce off a cart that helped him save par on his final hole.
“I didn’t aim for that one actually,” he said to laughter. “I hit it a bit right, and I was very happy when I saw it, when I saw where it was. That happens. It was good there was no one in the cart anyway.
DIVOTS: Paul Goydos withdrew with an injury. He opened with a 75 and shot a 38 through his first nine holes Friday, putting him 8 over. Mark Hensby withdrew due to illness, and John Morse withdrew with an injury. … Steve Wheatcroft had a double eagle on the par-5 No. 3. He holed out from 243 yards with a hybrid 2-iron for just the fourth double-eagle in this event’s history. It didn’t help enough. He missed the cut. … John Daly was among the 81 making the cut. He made it right at 1 over due to taking a two-shot penalty for hitting the wrong ball out of a hazard on No. 9 and finishing with a double bogey on the hole.