Lee Westwood isn't just killing time waiting to become old enough to compete against guys his own age.
He might not be able to contemplate driving a par 5 — that sideshow Saturday at Bay Hill belonged to Bryson DeChambeau. Westwood is more graybeard than flat belly.
He also showed at the Arnold Palmer Invitational he can hang with players nearly half his age, posting his lowest score ever at Bay Hill with a 7-under 65 that gave him a one-shot lead over DeChambeau and Corey Conners.
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“It's nice to still be playing in these tournaments. You've got to be top 50 in the world,” Westwood said. “And if you would have said to me 20 years ago will you still be top 50 in the world at 48 I might have been slightly skeptical.
"And it just shows that I'm still capable of playing well in these tournaments with all the good young players around me and obviously contending, because that's what I'm doing this week.” DeChambeau, who shot a 68, was entertaining. Only one of his six birdies got all the attention, mainly because the U.S. Open champion has teased all week about taking all the water on the right-to-left bending par-5 sixth.
‘Felt like a kid’
The fans began cheering. Out came the driver. DeChambeau gave it a rip and raised his arms, a scene right out of the World Long Drive Championship, and then thrust both arms in the air again when he saw the shot clear the water, run through the fairway and into the rough, 70 yards from the hole.
“Oh, man, I felt like a kid again, for sure,” DeChambeau said. “It was exciting, especially when you pull it off. It was almost like winning a tournament. It's kind of the feeling I had. It was like, Oh, I did it.' I got the same chills and feeling when I saw it clear and there was no splash. I gave the fans what they wanted.” That might not have been the shot of the day.
Jordan Spieth made a hole-in-one with a 5-iron from 222 yards on the second hole. Jazz Janewattanond made an ace on the 212-yard 14th hole. Keegan Bradley shot a 64, the low round of the week.
All of them were in the mix, meaning there should be plenty of entertainment on Sunday.
Westwood, who turns 48 next month, won against the strongest field of regular European Tour events last year in Abu Dhabi and he ended the year as No. 1 in Europe for the third time by winning the Race to Dubai. He grabbed the lead by holing a 30-foot eagle putt on the 16th hole (DeChambeau made birdie) and a 30-foot birdie putt on the closing hole (DeChambeau made par) to reach 11-under 205.
Conners, who started the third round with a one-shot lead, could only manage a 71 on a cool, breezy day at Bay Hill with only a few drops of rain.
Sunday was shaping up as another thriller at Bay Hill.
Spieth opened with a birdie and a hole-in-one, took the lead by holing a bunker shot on the par-3 seventh, saved par after a tee shot into the water and shot 68 with the kind of round he'd rather do without. Spieth prefers boring golf, and this was anything but that.
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He was two shots behind, tied with Bradley. This is the fourth straight tournament Spieth has gone into the final round within five shots of the lead — twice he was leading or tied — as he tries to end more than three years without winning. Janewattananond's ace carried him to a 69, leaving him four shots behind in a group that included Rory McIlroy, who bogeyed the last hole for a 72. Despite such a pedestrian round, McIlroy was very much in contention.
“I'm not too far away, so if I can get off to a decent start, be maybe a couple under through 5, I feel like I'll have a decent chance,” McIlroy said.
Westwood had only six pars. He had eight birdies and the eagle on the 16th hole, along with a pair of three-putt bogeys.
Westwood has five victories since turning 40, including last year in Abu Dhabi. So this didn't surprise him, especially on a course that fits his eye, even though he has only one finish in the top 10.
“I haven't lost any of my length and I haven't lost any of my enthusiasm to go and work and work in the gym,” Westwood said. “My nerves are still intact, I still get into contention and enjoy it rather than kind of back off.” Spieth is getting used to being in contention, too. He had chances in Phoenix and Pebble Beach, and he was in the peripheral of contention at Riviera.
Starting four shots behind, he made up ground quickly with an 18-foot birdie on the first hole and then hit a 5-iron that rolled up the right side of the green, turned toward the cup and dropped for an ace. “That was obviously a really cool moment,” Spieth said.
He will play Sunday with Tommy Fleetwood, who had a 68 and was three behind. Spieth had to play as a single most of Saturday when Justin Rose, who made a 9 on the third hole, withdrew soon thereafter citing back spasms.