Since the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, Lee Westwood has been in the top six after 54 holes at a major championship eight times. For one reason or another, he hasn’t managed to get over that line and win one. Once again, the 40-year-old Englishman is in that position after firing a solid one-under 70 to take a two-shot lead over Tiger Woods and Hunter Mahan.
I’ve seen Westwood in the hot seat at majors on Saturdays before and I will say that he’s never appeared as relaxed and comfortable as he did today.
“I’m not in a high-pressure situation, because I’m going to go have dinner, and I’m so good with a knife and fork now that I don’t feel any pressure at all,” he said, laughing. “I’ll think about winning The Open Championship tonight at some stage, I’m sure. I don’t see anything wrong with that, picture yourself holding the Claret Jug at the final tee and seeing your name at the top of the leaderboard.
“When it comes to tee off around three-ish, I should be in the same frame of mind as I was today. I didn’t feel any pressure today and felt nice and calm out there and in control of what I was doing.”
Now, given he’s at an age where the opportunities to contend and win a major will only get slimmer, perhaps Westwood seems to be at peace with his accomplishments and his life, which clearly is not too shabby at the end of the day.
“I guess it’s hitting 40 and being on that decline, and just enjoying being in that situation, you know,” he said. “You stand on the range and work hard to try to get into position to win major championships. So when you’re in there with a chance to contend, you might as well enjoy it while you’re there, or the hard work is not worth it.”
The key to Westwood’s success has been with the flatstick, but question is, whether he can keep it up for another 18 holes. He’s been putting his face off, needing only one stroke on nearly 50% of the greens, which has been thanks to working with Ian Baker Finch as of late.
“I’ve won 40 times, you don’t not putt well winning that many,” said Westwood, who is trying to become the second Englishman to win a major this season. “I putted nicely this week. I’ve got a key that I’m thinking about and I’m rolling the ball well. It’s starting on the line that I pick, which is nice to see.”
Speaking of those 40 victories, Tiger Woods was kind enough to point out in a non-direct way that none of them have been majors.
“I’ve got 14 of these things, and I know what it takes to win it,” said Woods, who shot one-over 72. “He’s won tournaments all over the world. He knows how to win golf tournaments. He’s two shots ahead and we’re going to go out there and both compete and play.”
On that note…
*Tiger Woods: Believe it or not, Woods has NEVER won a major when he hasn’t held the 54-hole lead. That’s right, his 14 major titles have always come when he’s either tied or leading when going into the final round. Though he’s an excellent frontrunner, he hasn’t seemed to figure out how to convert a major victory when he’s chasing. Which isn’t to say he can’t do it tomorrow.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
Well, he wants it badly — we all know that. I think we almost want it just as bad in a way, so he can get it over with and we can stop having to ask him why it is that he hasn’t won a major since the 2008 U.S. Open.
“I really do,” said Woods when asked how hungry he is for the W. “I’m looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to the challenge of it. I’ve been in this position before, in the past five years, and I’ve been in that hunt in that mix. And I’m in it again. Hopefully tomorrow I can play well and win the tournament.”
Just the fact that he’s not defensive and openly discussing his drought feels like a positive.
*Adam Scott: The 2013 Masters champ is plodding along quietly and into contention. Scott shot a one-under 70 on Saturday, even-par total, which puts him in solo fourth headed into the final round. He trails Westwood by three shots and Woods and Mahan by one. As we saw today, a two- or three-shot swing can happen with a blink of the eye.
He’s in an excellent position and he no longer has that pressure of letting one slip through his fingers.
“I feel like I’ve got, well, nothing really to lose tomorrow and majors to gain,” said Scott. “So that’s certainly a nice feeling, whereas before in some ways it was getting to the point where you’re hoping it was going to happen tomorrow. It is absolutely a weight off your shoulders to have the first one. I can’t tell you anything other than that.”
*Hunter Mahan: Playing in the final group on Sunday for the second consecutive major, Mahan is also trying to break through for his first, but perhaps with some time on his side, there’s less pressure. He admits the missing ingredient has perhaps been that he hasn’t quite been strong enough around the greens.
“Probably my short game hasn’t probably been as strong as it needed to be,” said Mahan, whose wife is due with their first child next month. “But I’m chipping and putting, I think, great and doing all the right things. So I feel comfortable with my game and excited about the opportunity and just have to go out there and trust it and let it happen.”
I’m telling you, he deserves it. He’s got karma on his side from the U.S. Open!
*Angel Cabrera: Man, El Pato just has the majors down pat, doesn’t he? He’s virtually a non-factor at regular events, but at the big events, he steps it up and it’s never a surprise to see his name near the top of the leaderboard. Cabrera, who lost to Scott in a playoff at the Masters, shot a one-over 73 on Saturday and he’s among the group of four players — Zach Johnson, Ryan Moore, Henrik Stenson — that are one-over for the championship.
That said, who’s my money on? Well, literally? I don’t want to jinx anything, so I’m not going to say, but you know if you follow me on Twitter closely enough! Who do I *think* will win? Who knows. Well, perhaps the golf gods do.