July 20, 2013

Westwood leads Woods going to final round of British Open

The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

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Lee Westwood gestures on the third tee box during the third round of the British Open at Muirfield, Scotland on Saturday. Westwood has a two-shot lead entering Sunday's final round.

AP

Westwood whacked at his ball but couldn't make it onto the green, watching it roll back to the edge of the second cut. Then he putted it up the hill, the ball stopping about 15 feet short of the cup. As Woods lined up a possible birdie, Westwood knew he could do no better than bogey – or worse.

Woods' putt stopped right alongside the hole, a tap-in par. Westwood calmly rolled his ball right in the center of the cup, having surrendered only one stroke to his playing partner.

As it turned out, the big swing came at the next hole. Westwood made another clutch putt on the par-5 17th, sinking a 12-footer for birdie. Woods made a sloppy bogey after a baffling mistake, shanking his second shot in a fairway bunker.

"He played solid," Woods said of Westwood. "He hit a couple of loose shots here and there, but he really played well. He made a couple of big putts at 16 and 17. And it looked like he was going to make double there (on 16) and made a nice birdie on 17."

The finishing holes denied Woods at least a share of the 54-hole lead in a major for the first time since the 2009 PGA Championship.

He has never won any of his 14 major titles when trailing after three rounds. He had never lost one from that position, either, until Y.E. Yang pulled off a stunning upset at Hazeltine nearly four years ago.

Woods hasn't been in that position since then, his life turned upside down by scandalous affairs and divorce while his golf game was plagued by physical problems and a swing change. The last time he won a major was the 2008 U.S. Open, leaving him in an 0-for-16 slump that is the longest of his career, a stretch that includes missing four other majors because of injuries.

He looks healthy at Muirfield and still has a shot at moving closer to Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 major titles.

"I've been in this position before, in the past five years, and I've been in that hunt on that mix," Woods said. "And I'm in it again. Hopefully tomorrow I can play well and win the tournament."

Westwood briefly put himself three shots clear of the field on the front side, the most memorable shot a long, curling putt off the front of the fifth green for eagle. Woods fought back into a tie as they made the turn, Westwood grabbed the lead again with a birdie at the 14th, before Woods pulled even at 16.

Of course, it doesn't take long for things to change at this course along the Forth of Firth, where the Scottish weather has been postcard-perfect – sunny, temperatures in the 70s, with nary a hint of rain – but the course has proven to be a brutal test. The fairways could pass for paved roads. The greens are as firm as a snooker table.

Mahan quietly moved into contention with a barely noticed 68, the best score among those at the top. Like Westwood, he has contended in majors, but hasn't been able to finish.

"Probably my short game hasn't probably been as strong as it needed to be," he said. "I'm chipping and putting 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."

On Saturday, he could go about his business without much distraction.

Most of the attention was focused on Westwood and Woods.

That figures to be the case again on Sunday, two stars of the game chasing very different goals.

 

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