While Rory McIlroy’s struggles go on, Lee Westwood’s outstanding form continued. Just days after taking Bryson DeChambeau to the final hole at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, the Englishman added a 66 to his first-round 69 and leads by one shot from Matthew Fitzpatrick at the Players Championship.
McIlroy has admitted a desire to add more length to his game, fuelled in part by DeChambeau’s power play at the 2020 US Open, has triggered technical problems that were visible here. A second round of 75 at Sawgrass, added to Thursday’s 79, meant McIlroy comfortably missed the cut. Afterwards, he expanded on the basis for his struggles.
“Probably, like October last year, doing a little bit of speed training, started getting sucked into that stuff, swing got flat, long and too rotational,” said McIlroy. “Obviously I added some speed and am hitting the ball longer but what that did to my swing as a whole probably wasn’t a good thing. So I’m sort of fighting to get back out of that. That’s what I’m frustrated with.”
When asked why he had embarked on such a journey, McIlroy’s answer raised eyebrows. “I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t anything to do with what Bryson did at the US Open,” said the four-times major winner. “I think a lot of people saw that and were like, ‘Whoa, if this is the way they’re going to set golf courses up in the future, it helps. It really helps.’
“The one thing that people don’t appreciate is how good Bryson is out of the rough. Not only because of how upright he is but because his short irons are longer than standard, so he can get a little more speed through the rough than us, than other guys. I thought being able to get some more speed is a good thing and maybe just to the detriment a little bit of my swing, I got there. I just need to maybe rein it back in a little bit.”
As McIlroy headed home, Westwood, at nine under par, has aspirations of claiming the Players just a month before his 48th birthday.
“I care less about the outcomes now,” said Westwood. “I still care about my performance and that in turn leads me to work as hard as I’ve always worked. But I’ve been working with a psychologist for a few years now and we just focus on the process, we don’t focus on the outcomes and things we can’t control.”
Westwood’s halfway lead is one from Matt Fitzpatrick, who has made back-to-back 68s, with Sergio García a further shot back in third.