Westwood's optimism vanishes

Lee Westwood did not try to conceal his complete and utter frustration today after a day which had promised to reignite his golf career ended in misery.

Lee Westwood did not try to conceal his complete and utter frustration today after a day which had promised to reignite his golf career ended in misery.

Four under par and sharing the lead after 16 holes of the six-million-dollar NEC world championship in Akron, Westwood finished with a level par 70 and fell five strokes behind pacesetters Scott Verplank and Open champion Ben Curtis.

“What can you do?” asked the former European number one, now only 219th on the world rankings.

“Can you give me anything to be optimistic about after that?”

His annoyance was mainly at his drive down the 400-yard 17th, which caught the top of a bunker – and stuck there.

“I pushed it a little bit right, it pitches in the face of the trap and when I get up there I can see about three dimples of the golf ball.”

Unable to get it out of the bunker Westwood then had a fresh air shot from the rough by the green and in the end had to make a five-footer just to drop three shots.

He then bogeyed the 464-yard last after driving into the rough and sank into the pack of the elite 86-man field – reduced to 85 when New Zealander Phil Tataurangi pulled out before the start through injury.

After missing the halfway cut in the United States PGA championship last week Westwood said of this week’s event: “If it wasn’t four rounds without a cut I’d be going home.

“At the moment it feels like a waste of time. You can’t build confidence when you shoot 78. The last two weeks have been awful.”

Westwood also made an early exit from the International tournament in Colorado a fortnight ago, but only recently ended a spell of nearly two years when he did not have a single top 10 finish and was hoping that was a sign of better things to come.

For 16 holes it was.

A 15-foot birdie putt at the 442-yard third was the early boost he needed today and after saving par on the next following a drive into sand he made a 10-footer at the short seventh and then a 30-footer at the 11th.

The 30-year-old from Worksop, who on his last trip to the Firestone course two years ago had to pull out after a second round 78 because of injury, did bogey the short 12th, but then came a pitch to three feet on the next and another birdie at the 16th.

What he will remember from the day, though, is the last two holes – especially the 17th.

Ian Poulter had earlier complained about the bunkers on the Ohio course as he struggled to a 73.

“One minute there is six inches of sand in them and the next minute there is half an inch,” he said.

“I wasn’t best pleased with the bunkers out there because I thought they were shocked.” He went in two of them at the short seventh, explaining: “The right trap had a ton of sand in it, so I hit it a little clean into the other bunker on the other side, where there was no sand.

“Then I go up the 10th, pull my second shot into the bunker and it’s plugged on a slope and it’s buried itself. I put my foot in the sand and there’s a foot of sand in the trap.”

Tiger Woods, winner on the course on his last three visits, had no such problems as he reached the turn in a two under 33, but by then Curtis – getting married after his third round on Saturday – had covered the front nine in 32 and then started for home birdie-birdie.

It brought the 26-year-old, 396th in the world when he won at Sandwich last month, alongside Verplank and one ahead of Americans David Toms and Chris Riley and also Ireland's Darren Clarke, who matched Curtis’ front nine and then also birdied the 10th.

Colin Montgomerie was two under with two to play, but Paul McGinley was one over after 17, fellow Dubliner Padraig Harrington four over after 15 and England’s Phil Golding – playing thanks to his French Open win in June – six over after a triple bogey eight on the 16th.

Still to tee off were Justin Rose, Paul Casey, Phillip Price and Nick Faldo.

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