The same two men that anchored the tee sheet at Bay Hill will once again hold the same spot Sunday in the final round of The Players, with Westwood playfully dubbing it a "rematch." DeChambeau turned a one-shot deficit into a one-shot win last week in Orlando, but this time he's staring at a two-shot deficit after Westwood birdied two of his final three holes to reach 13 under par. Justin Thomas (-10) and Jon Rahm (-9) aren't far behind in what is shaping up to be an exciting finale on the Stadium Course.
Westwood's lack of hardware on this side of the Atlantic is well-documented, but he's playing with house money now on a course that suits his game. The problem is, DeChambeau shows no signs of slowing down as he looks for two wins in a row.
Updated odds to win (via PointsBet Sportsbook)
+250: Lee Westwood
+275: Bryson DeChambeau
+500: Justin Thomas
+900: Jon Rahm
+1600: Paul Casey
+1800: Doug Ghim
+2800: Brian Harman
+6600: Chris Kirk
Here are some further observations, buys and fades from a day of low scoring at TPC Sawgrass as the list of names in the mix for the $2.7 million first prize continues to thin:
Westwood survives a slow start.
After about an hour or so of play Saturday morning, you quickly got the sense that the course was playing a bit differently than it had over the previous two days. Pins were accessible, greens were softer and what little wind remained was less of a factor. The scores went deep into red figures, highlighted by Thomas painting the board with an 8-under 64. All the while, Westwood appeared set to stumble out of the lead while making par on each of his first 10 holes.
The tee-to-green game didn't falter, but the putts simply weren't dropping. Rather than panic, the Englishman stuck to his guns and eventually reaped the rewards: four birdies over his final eight holes for a bogey-free 68, including a 25-foot make on the 17th that pleased the limited crowd.
Westwood has now gone 44 holes without a bogey on a treacherous layout. One week ago, he took every shot from DeChambeau and kept smiling even after falling a shot short. This time around with double the cushion, he seems keen to close the deal.
DeChambeau's performance just keeps getting more well-rounded.
It's not about the long drives this week, and the problem for his peers is that it doesn't have to be. DeChambeau is able to press his advantages elsewhere on the course and occasionally take a line (like on 15 or 16) accessible only to him. But he also displayed a deft touch elsewhere: getting up and down from around the green on Nos. 2, 9 and 16, plus holing a 15-footer for par on the last to ensure a pairing with Westwood.
DeChambeau vastly improved his (relatively) shoddy driving Saturday, ranking third in SG: Off-the-Tee. But he also thrived on and around the greens, scrambling to save par on seven of eight occasions while ranking second in the field in SG: Putting. It's a combination that makes him nearly impossible to beat, and a poor day with the irons was the only thing keeping DeChambeau from turning his 67 into a 64.
There's still enough trouble lurking around the Stadium Course to potentially derail his back-to-back bid. But at this point it's clear that he has styled a gameplan for Sawgrass that is wildly different than the one he used at Bay Hill, and he's anything but a one-trick pony at this point. If he's beating the field both off the tee and on the greens Sunday, he'll be almost impossible to stop.
The chase pack has some pedigree.
No disrespect to those players on the 36-hole leaderboard, but it didn't quite match the magnitude of the moment from a starpower perspective. My, how things can change in a day. Suddenly Thomas is in the mix, earning a spot in the penultimate group after shooting the round of the week on a course he loves. Rahm is four shots back but trailing only four players, meaning that he'll head to the course with thoughts of winning for the second time in three years. Yes, Doug Ghim could throw in a Perksian curve ball. But having two of the top three players in the world lurking among the top five means that neither Westwood nor DeChambeau can afford to turn this into a match play situation.
Thomas was especially strong, and the turnaround off the tee was remarkable: after ranking 144th in SG: Off-the-Tee Friday, he ranked second in the category Saturday while accounting for a difference of nearly four shots. He was playing with a swagger similar to the one he displayed four years ago at Quail Hollow, and he surely won't slow down in his pursuit of the leaders.
Round 3 Buy
Lee Westwood (+250). This is in part due to the overall makeup of my card. I've got a +1800 pre-tournament ticket on Thomas, +1400 on Rahm from overnight and a +15000 flier lurking just in case Chris Kirk has a 65 left in him. So if I'm adding anything to the mix it's one of the two leaders, and I think you're paying a premium right now to back DeChambeau. So many things went right for him Saturday across multiple facets that I wonder if he'll be able to replicate it, let alone the fact that the public is piling on to him in a big way right now. Westwood's two-shot lead could prove pivotal (as opposed to the one-shot margin a week ago), and he just seems so rock solid. I genuinely think that he believes he enjoys an advantage over DeChambeau on this particular golf course whereas I don't know that he held that belief a week ago at Bay Hill. Betting on Westwood to close out a lead on Sunday takes some gumption, but he's clearly found a zen-like state and is playing some of the best golf of his career. Given another chance to slay golf's Goliath, I think he gets it done more often than not.
Round 3 Fade
Matthew Fitzpatrick. I'm still not entirely sure what happened to the Englishman on Saturday, as he did well to keep his 72 from becoming a 76. Fitzpatrick had to scramble to save bogey on four different occasions, spraying the ball off the tee while putting approaches into the water on Nos. 4 and 16. His elite short game saved him, as he ranked fourth in the field in SG: Putting for the second consecutive round, but a rough day tee-to-green torpedoed his chances to win. Now he's looking at a Sunday pairing with Sawgrass savant Sergio Garcia, and I'll take the Spaniard at +118 in the head-to-head. Garcia got off to a slow start but eventually found his rhythm, and he still ranks second for the week in SG: Approach. I expect him to create a bevy of birdie chances on a course he knows and loves, whereas I'm looking to go the other way after a head-scratching performance from Fitzpatrick in the final group.
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