PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – As Rory McIlroy made his victorious march to the clubhouse after an unforgettable final round at Charlotte last week, a man jumped out from the beer garden to congratulate him. It was Lee Westwood, in cargo shorts, aviator-style sunglasses and a T-shirt and clutching a beer.
"That's how you close out a tournament," the young Irish tyro told him.
It was a gentle jab at Westwood's inability to break through at a major, despite contending in four of the past six, including last month's Masters, when he was overtaken by Phil Mickelson.
The Englishman must've taken the words to heart because he followed up his first-round 67 with a 7-under 65 Friday to take the second-round lead at The Players Championship.
Tiger Woods, meanwhile, made the cut -- with not much room to spare -- and had the good humor to joke about it afterward.
"Yep, made the cut, another pension point," he said facetiously, referring to the PGA Tour's pension plan, as if he needs one.
What he needed, though, was to right the ship after last week's missed cut.
And, in a sense, he did that with a topsy-turvy 1-under 71, featuring five birdies, two bogeys and a double bogey. He was at 3 under after two rounds, nine shots adrift of Westwood's lead.
Woods hit some quality shots but couldn't stay away from the foul balls.
"I wasn't quite as sharp today as I was yesterday," he said. "I was just kind of outside that birdie-able range with my iron shots. I was just hitting the ball 20 feet every hole. If I could get another five feet or so closer or 10 feet closer, then those putts, you feel like you could pour all of them in."
Not that Woods couldn't win The Players, but he'd need a lot of help. Mostly in the way of divine intervention.
"You're this far back, it's still a process," he said. "You've still got to put together 36 good holes and see what happens. Hopefully, this golf course will toughen up a little bit. This golf course, anything can happen."
Woods hit some seriously crooked tee shots but none more so than his 3-wood on the difficult 14th hole. His ball finished in a pond guarding the 12th green, at least 75 yards right of where he was aiming.
He knew he was in trouble and tried to stop his swing, but couldn't. I asked him whether he thought that pond was ever in play on that tee.
"I've been there in practice rounds before," he laughed.
Again, Woods was asked how he dealt with all the eyeballs on his every move.
"You just go out there and play," he said, "If I was swinging the club a little bit better, it would be a little bit easier."
He reiterated that he was working on a new swing move which will promote the right-to-left shot shape he favored as a young player. He's become so afraid of the pull hook in recent years that he blocks balls way to the right in order to avoid the miss to the left.
"When I'm swinging well, I'm drawing the ball," he said. "Then, I have no problem fading it. At Augusta, I was fading the ball with no chance of drawing the golf ball. So I want to get back to where I was."
He said he'd "just started" working on the swing and is seeing the results.
"If you look at most of my shots into the greens, they are all pin-high again," he said. "That's just feel. That's just time of being under the gun, how far each ball's going, how amped I am, you know, when I'm playing. Getting used to having adrenaline in my system playing. These are things that I haven't had a in a long time."
Westwood, meanwhile, said he struggled last week at Quail Hollow, mainly with motivation.
"As you get older, it gets harder to peak all the time when you want to, so you have to pick and choose [where] you want to play well," he said.
He said having his colors lowered at Augusta hurt but didn't have a lasting impact.
"It was a bit of down time after the Masters, thinking about finishing second," he said.
"It's a good result, but obviously I would have liked to have won. But that didn't happen. And this is the next real big tournament on my radar."
Westwood isn't one to betray much in public, and balked when asked whether he wanted to win big tournaments for his legacy.
"I don't really view it as building a legacy," he said. "I've had good times where I've won a lot of tournaments, and I've had bad times, and I've come out of that bad time, which not a lot of players do.
"You see people go through bad patches and then not come back. So I'm obviously pleased with myself that I've come back and been a world-class player again. I'm 37 years old and not really too many worries and playing some of the best golf of my life, so I'm very, very relaxed out there. I've been through worse things than finishing second in major championships over the last 10 years."
That's something he has in common with Woods.