PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Lee Westwood isn't interested in comparisons with the younger version of himself, the player who rose to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking a decade ago. All he knows is he's playing some of his best golf right now, and he gets another chance to see if it can hold up against the best field.
Westwood had all the shots Friday in a bogey-free round at The Players Championship, with two birdies at the start and a nifty pitch to a troublesome pin placement on the par-5 ninth to close with another birdie for a 6-under-par 66.
That gave him a one-shot lead over fellow Englishman Matt Fitzpatrick (68) going into the weekend on the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, with reigning U.S. Open champion Bryson DeChambeau not too far behind.
Westwood, who turns 48 next month, played well enough last weekend that he might have won the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill Club, but DeChambeau, a big-hitting 27-year-old, was one shot better in a fascinating duel of generations on an Orlando course that favors power.
This week's stop on the PGA Tour's Florida swing favors no particular style, and Sawgrass produced an eclectic mix of contenders at the halfway point.
"I think to compete in any of these tournaments against the best players in the world, you can't have any weaknesses in your game," said Westwood, who was at 9-under 135 through 36 holes. "I wouldn't be able to say I'm doing this better or that better. There's not a shot out there I'm afraid of. There's not a shot out there I'll walk up to and think, 'I haven't got this one.'
"I'm comfortable out there with everything."
Tied for third at 7 under were former University of Georgia standout Chris Kirk (65) and 2017 Masters champion Sergio Garcia (72), the 41-year-old Spaniard who won the 2008 edition of this tournament and has been its runner-up twice.
Garcia led by two strokes after the first round but didn't fare so well on the greens Friday, with his missed putts including a 23-inch try for par on No. 15 that followed a five-footer for par he missed on the 14th. However, he made enough par putts to stay in the hunt and showed plenty of game, drilling his approach to inches away on the par-5 11th for his third eagle of the week, which already ties the tournament record.
He finished in style with an approach that danced around the flag and settled five feet away for birdie on the 18th.
"It was a beautiful roller coaster," Garcia said. "There were a lot of good things. Unfortunately, a lot of bad things. But more than anything there was a lot of fighting, and that's one of the things that I'm most proud of, because when things are not really happening and you miss a couple putts here and there, it's easy to kind of let the round get away from you."
Kirk holed out from the first fairway for an eagle and closed with back-to-back birdies. Starting with a chip-in for a birdie on the 15th, he played six straight holes in 6 under.
When the second round was suspended by darkness, 16 players were within five shots of the lead. DeChambeau's second straight 69 had him tied for fifth at 6 under with fellow Americans Doug Ghim (67), Brian Harman (71), Charley Hoffman (68) and Denny McCarthy (69) as well as South Korea's Sungjae Im (66).
DeChambeau's round began with a double bogey from the trees and a muffed chip out of the rough from behind the green. He didn't drop a stroke the rest of the way on a course that doesn't let him swing for the fences because of water, cross bunkers and other brands of trouble.
"I'm happy with the fact that I've still been able to keep myself in it and score well," DeChambeau said. "I've been pretty lucky, for the most part. I don't think that'll happen this weekend. I've got to make sure that my game is good off the tee so I don't have those issues occurring and I don't have to rely on luck for the most part. I have to get it in the fairway."
The projected cut was at par. Luke List (72) was tied for 72nd at 1 over, and fellow Baylor School graduate Keith Mitchell (73) was tied for 119th at 5 over.
Rory McIlroy, who opened with a 79, wasn't much better Friday, when the world's 11th-ranked player made another double bogey on the 10th hole on his way to a round of 75. His 36-hole total of 154 was his highest ever in his 11 appearance at the PGA Tour's premier event, and he will be the tournament's first reigning champion — he won in 2019, with last year's Players called off after the first round due to the COVID-19 pandemic — to miss the cut since Rickie Fowler in 2016.
Four players from the top 10 in the world won't be around for the weekend: No. 5 Xander Schauffele, No. 7 Tyrrell Hatton, No. 9 Patrick Cantlay and No. 10 Webb Simpson, whose hopes ended with one of 13 balls in the water at the island-green 17th.