Another close call in a major for Westwood

Lee Westwood (right) shakes hands with Masters champion Phil Mickelson on Sunday.

Lee Westwood (right) shakes hands with Masters champion Phil Mickelson on Sunday.

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AUGUSTA, Ga. – AUGUSTA, Ga. – When Lee Westwood headed to the scoring hut to sign off on another close call in a major championship, he got a bit of advice from someone who’s done that many times.

Phil Mickelson was once known as the best player without a major title on his resume. Now, he’s got four of them – and he’s sure Westwood will win one, too.

“I’ve been in that position, and it sucks,” Mickelson said. “But I also told him he is playing some of the best golf of anybody in the world, he’s an incredible player and I pull for him. I want him to win his first major soon, because he is that kind of talent, that type of player and a quality guy.”

Westwood was runner-up to Mickelson at the Masters on Sunday, after settling for third-place finishes at the previous two majors. The Englishman went into the final round with a one-stroke lead, but a mediocre front side held him to a 1-under 71 as Mickelson pulled away for a three-stroke win.

What’s next?

More of the same as Westwood doesn’t plan any changes to his game.

“You can’t get lured into the thought that you have to do something drastic,” Westwood said. “I just have to keep working on what I’m working on. ... The law of averages says the door is going to open one day.”

He was third in the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, the tournament that Tiger Woods won on a shredded knee, and third again at the last two majors of 2009. Westwood just missed out on the British Open playoff between Stewart Cink and Tom Watson and finished behind Y.E. Yang and Woods at the PGA Championship.

Now, Westwood has his best showing yet in a major.

“The closer I get to winning these major championships, the more I want the next one to come around,” he said. “Obviously, when you’ve come close, there’s a tinge of disappointment straight off. I was disappointed walking up to the last green, obviously. But once that’s passed, I didn’t do too much wrong today. I can walk away with a lot of positive thoughts and memories from this Masters.”

Westwood’s biggest miscues came on the front side. He hooked his opening tee shot into the trees and wound up taking bogey. He made another at the fourth, then three-putted at No. 9 to make the turn with a 1-over 37 – his worst showing of the week on the front side. The first three days, he was a cumulative 8 under on that stretch of the course.

“I didn’t get off to a fast start like I would have wished today, being one shot in the lead,” Westwood said. “If I got to 2 or 3 under through seven or eight holes, and maybe it would have been a different result. But I didn’t drive the ball quite as well over the first few holes.”

His game came around on the back side. Westwood got safely through Amen Corner and made a birdie at the par-5 13th. But he failed to take advantage of the other par-5 hole, No. 15, despite hitting his second shot just over the green. His chip down the ridge checked up short, and his birdie putt caught a tiny spike mark and skidded off line.

Mickelson made his birdie for a three-stroke lead with three holes left. Westwood bounced back with a 6-foot birdie at 17 to put some pressure on Mickelson, but Lefty rolled in his par-saving putt to take a two-stroke lead to the final hole. That allowed him to hit a nice, safe 3-wood off the tee, and when his second shot nuzzled up 8 feet from the hole, Westwood was done.

The Englishman settled for par. Mickelson rolled in the birdie.

“I shot a 71, which at the end of the day is not a terrible score around Augusta when you’re in the lead,” Westwood said. “Phil shot 67, which generally wins major championships when people are (in the lead) or thereabouts going into the last round. He hit good shots when he needed to around the back nine.

“I think Phil won that one fair and square.”

Westwood can’t wait to get to the next major: the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach in June.

“If you sat me down at the start of the year and asked me to rate which ones suit me, I would probably put the Masters last,” he said. “To finish second is obviously a massive boost for the rest of the year. I’ve just got to keep doing the things I’m doing. I think my short game can still improve, even though it’s a lot better.”

He noted how well Mickelson played around the greens, especially at the ninth and 10th holes to save par after wild tee shots.

“It was master class from Phil out there,” Westwood said. “That’s the sort of standard you’ve got to be up to.”

In the scoring hut behind the 18th green, Mickelson delivered those words of encouragement to his playing partner.

“He’d been that man who kept knocking on the door, finishing second and third and wondering if it ever does,” Westwood said. “Suddenly it does, and winning majors becomes easier in your own mind. He said I’ve been playing some of the best golf of anybody out there recently, and just keep plugging away and eventually it will happen.”

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