Lee Westwood grabs 2-shot lead on Tiger Woods going to final round of British Open
Lee Westwood of England speaks at a press conference during the third round of the 142nd Open Championship at Muirfield on July 20, 2013 in Gullane, Scotland.
Photograph by: Rob Carr, Getty Images
Gullane, East Lothian - The thing Lee Westwood would like us all to know is that -- history notwithstanding -- he is not a bundle of nerves, sweating the prospect of stepping to the tee in the final round of the Open Championship with a two-stroke lead.
Of course, he says that now. He just finished going head-to-head with Tiger Woods at the holy terror that is Muirfield, and beating him by two strokes in Round 3, 70 to 72, so is he supposed to be quaking at the idea of a final-round pairing with Hunter Mahan?
"I'm going to have dinner," Westwood said Saturday evening, when asked what he would do to relieve the stress, "and I'm so good with the knife and fork now, I don't feel any pressure at all."
Sure, jokes aside, he knows what the doubters are thinking.
He's been right there in majors before, and he's still looking for his first win, and he's 40 years old. He lost in 2008 when Tiger won the U.S. Open on one leg. He left an Open on the table in 2009 at Turnberry, though Tom Watson did so more famously. There was a Players Championship. There was a Masters.
"Even though I haven't won a major, I know what it takes to win one," he said, after finishing 54 holes at three-under-par.
He doesn't have to do anything terribly different this week than he did all those other times; just make a putt here or there, just get a bounce to go his way.
Saturday, he made two putts that turned the whole game around: a bomb for eagle at the par-five 5th, where Woods missed a shorter one for birdie, and a crucial 25-footer to save bogey at the par-three 16th, where his tee shot had landed in the high fescue and his pitch came almost back to his feet and his score could have been much, much worse.
"That," he said of the putt at 16, "was probably the biggest momentum thing I did today, walk off there with a bogey. And that's what's been missing. Making those putts, and then backing it up with a birdie at the next hole."
The to-and-fro between Westwood and Woods had more than a few twists and turns, but the two-stroke swing that finally gave Westwood the upper hand came at the 17th, where both men drove it in the fairway, but Woods's second caught a cross-bunker 100 yards short of the green. He had to come out sideways and couldn't get up and down from there for par. Westwood stayed on the short grass and holed a birdie putt.
As important as the lead it gave Westwood -- although it's arguable whether Woods is anything like the intimidating force he once was -- the bogey by Tiger dropped him into a tie for second with Mahan, who finished before him with a stout 68 and therefore gets a place in the final pairing.
They are the only three players under par.
"Well, I figured if I was going to win this championship, I would have to beat Tiger," Westwood said. "That's the case in any tournament he's in. But that wasn't my main focus going out."
The conditions followed the established pattern: softer in the morning after a modest overnight watering, burnished by the wind and hot sun as the day wore on.
"Little did I know when I moved to Florida that I was acclimatizing for the Open in Scotland," Westwood said.
But there are no conditions, even soft in the morning, under which Muirfield surrenders an easy par.
"I thought so today," said defending champion Ernie Els, who shot one-under-par 70 playing near the start of the field with Canada's Graham DeLaet, in the best of the weather and course conditions, "but when you start pushing on this course, it pushes back."
Twenty players shot under par Thursday, just nine were there by the end of play Friday. And now there are only three.
Mahan, who said he hit "13-ish" greens -- meaning places he could putt from, if not in the strictest sense on the green -- is in the final group for the second straight major after he and Phil Mickelson both faded in the U.S. Open, won by Justin Rose.
He said that lousy Sunday wasn't an essential learning experience.
"I think you can go out and win a major without anything. Does it help? I think so," said Mahan. "Because it can be overwhelming at times. But there's no rules (about who can win) in this game.
"The putter was pretty strong today. I had a pretty good feel for it, because you're going to have 50-60-footers out here whether you hit good shots or bad," he said, having holed a few bombs, including a lengthy par-saver at the 18th.
Woods, meanwhile, will play alongside 2012 runner-up, Adam Scott, who gift-wrapped the Claret Jug for Ernie Els at Royal Lytham but gets his shot at Open redemption the very next year.
"It's a good feeling to sit here in this position, absolutely (one behind Woods, four back of Westwood)," said the Masters champion, who shot 70 for an even par 213 total. "I think I go out there not carrying the weight of the lead or of not having won a major.
"But this course, it can turn around on you in a heartbeat, if you're not careful. I'll be treading cautiously tomorrow."
Four players share fifth place, one stroke behind Scott, four off the lead: Angel Cabrera, Zach Johnson, Ryan Morre and Henrik Stenson.
The day featured a rare one-stroke penalty for slow play to Japan's Hideki Matsuyama, who, according to the R&A timers, took two minutes, 12 seconds to hit his second shot to the 17th hole, his second bad time of the day. His 71 became 72 and the penalty knocked him back to three-over for 54 holes, and off the first page of the leaderboard.
"I thought they were getting a little hard-core with the watch out there this morning," said Graeme McDowell, whose pairing with France's Gregory Bourdy was put on the clock but not penalized. "I get it, we're up against TV and they're trying to get this thing done and keep play moving, but have a little common sense, boys. There's a difference between bad golf and slow golf."
Westwood said he and Woods were put on the clock, as well, for reasons he didn't understand.
Both were grinding over every shot.
"It was very different today, the greens were slower," said Woods. "It looks like they didn't roll some of them, or cut them. Lee got fooled a couple of times and so did I. We land the ball in a green spot and it sticks. Land it in a dry spot and it runs 70, 80 yards. I was a really tough test and feel."
But he likes where he is: two strokes back, with only one player to catch.
"I'm looking forward to the challenge of it," Woods said. "I've been in this position before in thew past five years, in that hunt, in that mix. And I'm in it again. Hopefully I can play well and win the tournament."
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