Pressure? Westwood doesn’t feel it, he says

Lee Westwood wipes away sweat at No. 14. Temperatures were well into the 90s on Saturday.

Scores

The Players (Rd. 3)

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Perhaps Lee Westwood should hope karma doesn’t come into play Sunday, that the golf gods are sleeping. Last year, he skipped the Players because it didn’t fit into his schedule. Last week,s he dissed the Players, calling it about the world’s eighth most important tournament instead of fifth, as widely viewed.

But there he is, rock steady, 14 under par and one stroke ahead after 54 holes of The Players.

Contending in a big event, of course, is nothing new for the Englishman, the leading money winner on the 2009 PGA European Tour. He’s one of the best players in the world and perhaps the most efficient ball striker. Over the past 23 months he has finished in the top 3 in each of the four major championships.

You may see that he didn’t close out the 54-hole lead at this year’s Masters. Or the 63-hole lead at last year’s British Open. Or that he has won but once in the United States, in 1998 in New Orleans.

He frames it differently.

“I don’t feel any pressure,” Westwood said after shooting a 70 that put him one stroke ahead of Robert Allenby and two up on Ben Crane, Lucas Glover and Francesco Molinari. “I just perform as well as I can and try to peak at the big events. So far this year I’ve done it two in a row.”

Westwood, of course, was passed by Phil Mickelson on Masters Sunday. At the last British, he faltered coming in and missed the Stewart Cink-Tom Watson playoff by a shot.

Half empty? Not to hear Westwood.

“I’m pleased with myself knocking on the door and getting in position,” he said. “Some of the golf I’ve played in big tournaments has been great stuff.”

Westwood is better equipped to excel in golf’s most prestigious tournaments because he has shored up his short game the last couple of years. He looked around and saw that leading players such as Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els and Padraig Harrington had “wicked short games.”

“Once it sunk in,” he said, “it started paying dividends.”

He’ll need a complete game to close Sunday at the TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course, one of the world’s toughest courses when firm and windy. Five players are within two shots at the top, and nine are within three.

Whatever, you can expect one speed from Westwood.

“You should see the middle of the fairway and the flag,” he said. “I’ve always been quite aggressive on the golf course.”

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