Kuala Lumpur: Lee Westwood set his sights on ending a two-year title drought by shooting a dazzling six-under-par 66 to take a commanding four-shot cushion at the halfway stage of the Maybank Malaysian Open on Friday.
The Englishman, winner of the event in 1997, tightened his grip on the Seagram trophy with eight birdies for a 13-under-par 131 total to lead from Filipino Antonio Lascuna, who carded the day’s low score of 65, and Ryder Cup star Nicolas Colsaerts of Belgium, who fired a 69.
Westwood, fresh from a seventh place finish at the Masters Tournament, took full advantage of his sharp-shooting approach shots on the front nine where he sank five birdies from inside four feet.
He switched to cruise mode with another birdie on 10 but dropped two shots on the difficult par three 11th hole when his tee shot found the water. Two more birdies on 14 and 16 put him back in prime position at the Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club.
“It was solid stuff. I got a bit unlucky at the 11th – the wind just gusted on me and it came up short into the water. But I rallied well and ended up shooting 66,” said Westwood, whose last victory was at the 2012 Nordea Masters in Sweden.
A winner of 12 titles in the region, the Asian specialist has enjoyed a welcome return to form after starting work with new swing coach Mike Walker recently and he was mighty pleased with his form.
“I saw an immediate improvement on the range but at first it was difficult to take it onto the golf course. But the last few weeks I’ve managed to do so. We didn’t do anything drastic. We are just trying to get it in a different position on the backswing to give me a better angle of attack on the way down,” he explained.
Lascuna surprised even himself when he brilliantly turned in 31 before going on to add three more birdies on his homeward nine at a venue where he has enjoyed very little success in five appearances, with his best finish being tied 20th in 2012.
“Honestly, I didn’t expect to shoot this score because this course is a very long golf course for me. My goal was to shoot one or two-under on each day but after nine holes I was five-under! It was amazing. After 17 holes I was like ‘wow’. Maybe now I can aim for a pair of three-under rounds in the weekend,” said the 43-year-old, who is winless on the Asian Tour.
The powerful Colsaerts, a two-time European Tour champion, turned in 32 but struggled to keep pace when he dropped one bogey on his way home to trail Westwood by four shots.
“I thought I actually played a lot better today. I made a fantastic start and was quickly under par, but I got a bit sloppy at one stage. I gave myself great birdie looks from nine to 14 but didn’t make any of them. I could’ve kept it going and gone really low, but I ran out of a bit of steam on the back nine,” said the 31-year-old.
Pablo Larrazabal of Spain had to endure the ‘scariest moment in his career’ when he repelled a hornet attack on the fifth hole by jumping into the lake. He courageously recovered from the scare to complete a 68 for tied 25th place.
“I’m walking along and suddenly I felt something on my nose. I swatted it away and suddenly … they were not bees, they were three times the size of bees. They were huge and like 30 or 40 of them started to attack me big time,” he explained.
“I didn’t know what to do. My caddie told me to run, so I start running like a crazy guy, but the hornets were still there, so the other players told me to jump into the lake.
“So I ran to the lake, threw my scorecard down, took off my shoes and jumped into the lake. It was the scariest moment of my career, for sure. I’ve never been so scared,” added the Spaniard, who received two injections on course from a doctor before he resumed his round.
The halfway cut was set at 145 with a total of 73 players making it through to the weekend rounds.
Leading second round scores
131 – Lee Westwood (ENG) 65-66
135 – Antonio Lascuna (PHI) 70-65, Nicolas Colsaerts (BEL) 66-69
136 – Danny Willett (ENG) 70-66
137 – Julien Quesne (FRA) 68-69, Andy Sullivan (ENG) 70-67, Eduardo De La Riva (ESP) 69-68
138 – Ricardo Santos (POR) 67-71, Masahiro Kawamura (JPN) 68-70
139 – Garth Mulroy (RSA) 71-68, Scott Jamieson (SCO) 68-71, Jbe Kruger (RSA) 68-71
140 – Steve Lewton (ENG) 71-69, Louis Oosthuizen (RSA) 72-68, Scott Hend (AUS) 70-70, Michael Hoey (IRE) 67-73, Bernd Wiesberger (AUT) 69-71