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Lee Westwood
Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
Odds and Ends

Round 2 Takeaways: English flag flying at TPC

by Will Gray
Updated On: March 12, 2021, 10:44 pm ET

The hill that separates the driving range from the third hole at TPC Sawgrass is lined with flags, one for each country represented by a player participating in The Players. But through 36 holes there's one that stands out.

It's two Englishmen at the top of the standings, as Lee Westwood carries a one-shot lead over Matthew Fitzpatrick into the weekend. There are a number of Americans within striking distance, notably Bryson DeChambeau, but Westwood and Fitzpatrick are listed as betting co-favorites according to oddsmakers at PointsBet Sportsbook.

Should either one grab the trophy, it would break a lengthy drought: at No. 16 in the world, Fitzpatrick is the highest-ranked player without a PGA Tour win, while Westwood has dozens of European Tour victories but only two in the U.S., the last coming in 2010.

Here's a look at some of the key takeaways from another day at TPC Sawgrass, along with players to buy and fade heading into the weekend at the Tour's flagship event:

Westwood maintains Bay Hill momentum.

The 47-year-old came up just short last week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, finishing one shot behind DeChambeau. It was a resurgent performance but he hasn't missed a step, carding a 6-under 66 Friday to take sole possession of the lead. Westwood has made only two bogeys through 36 holes, and he rode a red-hot putter in the second round, leading the field in SG: Putting while picking up nearly 4.5 shots on the greens.

Updated odds to win (via PointsBet)

+550: Lee Westwood, Matthew Fitzpatrick

+600: Bryson DeChambeau

+900: Sergio Garcia

+1200: Sungjae Im

+1400: Jon Rahm

+1600: Chris Kirk

+3000: Brian Harman, Charley Hoffman, Paul Casey

+4000: Doug Ghim

Westwood has five prior top-10 finishes at this event, but none since a T-6 result in 2014. Nevertheless, he's listed as a +550 co-favorite alongside Fitzpatrick, with DeChambeau three shots back but hot on his heels.

A week ago, Westwood held the 54-hole lead but couldn't hold back DeChambeau. Now he's out in front with the same name in pursuit but hoping to flip the script.

Bryson is about to move dramatically in one direction or the other.

DeChambeau typically thrives in tee-to-green stats, lobbing one 350-yard drive after another to inch ahead of the competition. This week he's once again in the mix, having shot consecutive rounds of 69 - but the tee shot stats are nowhere to be found.

DeChambeau admitted after the round that he doesn't have the same sense of comfort around the Stadium Course that he enjoyed last week at Bay Hill. Some of the sight lines don't suit him as well, and he has had to play more conservatively with iron off of multiple tees. He's within reach of the lead despite ranking 64th thus far in SG: Off-the-Tee, well below his typical standing on a decent week, let alone a good one. His field-leading iron game has helped turn the tide, and his short game has bailed him out on more than one occasion.

So what to expect from here? If DeChambeau turns around the long game, he'll be tough to beat. But his short game numbers won't hold up forever, and if the comfort level simply isn't there this week off the tee, he could easily regress.

"It's going to be a battle this weekend if I don't get it figured out," DeChambeau said. "And if I do, hopefully it all adds up in a big way."

I'm honestly not sure which direction DeChambeau will move in the standings given his currently unconventional stat split. But I'm quite confident he's about move in a big way, one direction or the other.

Rory McIlroy is leaving TPC Sawgrass and taking his troubles with him.

McIlroy remains one of the most candid quotes in the game, and that was on full display Friday night when he pulled back the curtain and admitted what few of his peers might: that he got caught up chasing distance in the wake of DeChambeau's U.S. Open victory, a short-term move that has had long-term consequences to his swing and confidence. McIlroy's quotes Sunday at Bay Hill offered a few red flags, and his game was nowhere to be seen this week on the Stadium Course as he backed up his 2019 win with rounds of 79-75.

The former world No. 1 deserves credit for offering an honest assessment of his current situation, but the timing isn't exactly great. The Masters looms in just four weeks, meaning that McIlroy might have only the quirky format of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play to try to sort out his current woes before renewing his quest for an elusive green jacket. Some missed cuts can be shrugged off without giving it much thought. This one, however, seems more like a sign of larger issues that could take a while to sort through and repair.

Round 3 Buy

Jon Rahm. I walked the last few holes Friday afternoon with Rahm and really like what I saw. The burly Spaniard closed in style, with birdies on four of his final eight holes to shoot a 68 and reach 4 under for the week. After starting the tournament 3 over through five holes, he's now firmly in the mix and at +1400 I think there's some value on a win ticket.

Rahm has had two consistent rounds of tee-to-green performance and turned things around Friday with the putter. He held the 54-hole lead here two years ago and still had a share of the lead with four holes to play, so his T-12 finish might be a little misleading and definitely left him with a sense of unfinished business. DeChambeau is going to get the lion's share of the attention and the betting numbers reflect that, but the world No. 2 is just two strokes back and very much alive to win this thing. I think his number will be much shorter 24 hours from now after a solid third round.

Round 3 Fade

Denny McCarthy. McCarthy is a Florida resident, won a Korn Ferry Tour event at nearby Atlantic Beach CC and is perhaps the best putter on the PGA Tour. But he's got holes in his game elsewhere, ones that weren't exposed Friday during a 3-under 69 that included a hole-in-one on No. 3. McCarthy admitted that he had a difficult West Coast Swing, missing four of five cuts to start the year, and his T-26 finish last week in Orlando was a sign of progress. Clearly, he feels more comfortable on the grasses of Florida than the surfaces out west.

But I'm not convinced that he will stick around this weekend, and at +6000 it seems that opinion is shared by the oddsmakers as well. McCarthy is 145th in driving distance this week, averaging 273 yards, and eventually playing from so far back will begin to add up. I'm sure his trusty putter will hold up its end of the bargain, but I expect he could stumble Saturday. I've already got a position on Chris Kirk but would otherwise look to back Kirk as a slight favorite in a two-ball match against McCarthy in the third round.

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Will Gray

Will Gray joined Golf Channel in 2007 and currently serves as a staff writer for GolfChannel.com. Gray has been covering fantasy golf since 2012 and is a regular contributor to the Golf Central blog and covers several PGA Tour events each year. He's also a regular contributor to several digital properties on GolfChannel.com, including Stat Man, On the Clock, Fantasy Central, Grill Room and the Monday Scramble podcast.