Herd thinned by prime cuts

Westwood heads group shown exit

It was rough going for second-ranked Lee Westwood, who hacked his way to a second-round 73 and missed the cut. It was rough going for second-ranked Lee Westwood, who hacked his way to a second-round 73 and missed the cut. (Peter Muhly/AFP/Getty Images)
By Steve Douglas
Associated Press / July 16, 2011

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SANDWICH, England - Lee Westwood was full of bluster and confidence on the eve of the British Open. He said he had the patience to conquer Royal St. George’s and win that elusive first major.

By yesterday, he was gone.

A second-round 73 sent a frustrated and irritable Westwood tumbling out of the tournament at 4 over, a stroke below the cut.

The second-ranked Englishman wasn’t the only big name out before the weekend. Top-ranked Luke Donald hit the exits, as did former winners Padraig Harrington, Ernie Els, Ben Curtis, and Mark Calcavecchia.

The undulating links course in southeast England also took out No. 7-ranked Matt Kuchar and 2010 US Open champion Graeme McDowell.

Of the 71 players remaining, only 13 occupy positions in the world’s top 30. And two of the leftovers are amateur players - 21-year-old New Bedford native Peter Uihlein (2 over) and 20-year-old Englishman Tom Lewis (1 under).

Uihlein, the reigning US Amateur champion, had four birdies through seven holes to get to 2 under yesterday, but a bogey on eight and a double on nine derailed his momentum. He steadied himself on the back nine with eight pars (and one bogey) for a 71.

The only crumb of comfort for Donald, who bogeyed his last four holes for an uncharacteristically sloppy 75, is that he’s assured of retaining his No. 1 ranking next week.

That’s because Westwood followed him out of Sandwich.

After Westwood’s bold claims on Tuesday that he would master Royal St. George’s, he departed with barely a whimper, refusing to talk to reporters.

Much had been expected of him. A top-three finisher in all the majors, he ended Tiger Woods’s 281-week reign as No. 1 in October and has been one of the world’s most consistent performers in 2011.

Westwood started yesterday like he meant business, making a birdie at the par-4 No. 1 to go to even par.

That was as good as it got.

A dropped shot at No. 2 was soon backed up by a double bogey at No. 8, and he couldn’t recover.

Both of Westwood’s rounds were played when the course conditions were at their most benign, when the breeze of the English Channel had largely relented. No wonder he was so glum for much of his two rounds.

The same could be said for McDowell (5 over), two-time British Open winner Harrington (4 over) and Kuchar (11 over), one of 25 Americans to miss the cut.

Coming off a win at the Scottish Open last week, Donald also seemed primed to make a run at his first major victory.

Even after a first-round 71, Donald - who has been atop the rankings since the end of May - said his game was there but he missed out by two shots.

“It’s very disappointing not to be here for the weekend,’’ said Donald. “I believe in my ability but for whatever reason, it’s just not happened for the last two majors.’’

He finished tied for 45th at last month’s US Open.

“I feel like I’ve tried everything,’’ Donald said. “I’ve played in countless majors and come close a couple of times but now I’ve got to figure out a way to contend a bit more.’’

It’s the second time this year that a No. 1 has failed to make the weekend at a major - Martin Kaymer fell short at the Masters.

Els missed the cut in his first Open as an amateur in 1989, and he didn’t miss another until last year. He won the event at Muirfield in 2002.

The 41-year-old South African finished 8 over like Calcavecchia, the 1989 champion at Troon who was 1 under after the first round.

The champion the last time the British Open was held at Royal St. George’s is gone, too.

Curtis, who triumphed unexpectedly here in 2003 as a rookie, had rounds of 77 and 74.

Tenth-ranked Nick Watney wound up 5 over and Hunter Mahan botched a chip onto the green at the par-4 18th, two-putting to miss out by a stroke.

The shot revived memories of last year’s Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor, when Mahan mis-hit a pitch on the 17th green to effectively give McDowell the win.

Those glory days, and his US Open win at Pebble Beach, must seem a distant memory to the Northern Irishman, who was highly critical of his attitude after crashing to a birdie-less 77.

“I’m not in the right frame of mind right now,’’ he said. “There’s something going on. Maybe my expectation level is putting a little too much pressure on myself.’’