One step closer: Westwood takes 2-shot Open lead

Lee Westwood acknowledges the crowd on the 7th hole during the third round of the 142nd Open Championship at Muirfield.

Lee Westwood acknowledges the crowd on the 7th hole during the third round of the 142nd Open Championship at Muirfield.

— Lee Westwood has one hand on the old claret jug. Eighteen holes stand between him and destiny.

The Englishman takes a two-shot lead into the final round of the Open Championship over Tiger Woods and Hunter Mahan. He is on the verge of getting a huge monkey off his back.

Although he doesn’t see it that way.

“I’m not in a huge pressure situation,” Westwood said. “I’ll have some dinner tonight . . . and think of winning the Open Championship and seeing myself with the Claret Jug.”

The Englishman compiled a 1-under-par 70 to come from one behind overnight leader Miguel Angel Jimenez and jump into the lead on his own. The 40-year-old stands at 3 under par for the championship.

Westwood had a magical 50 minutes where he had a five-shot swing at Nos. 4, 5 and 7. He went from two behind the lead to three in front in that stretch.

After a bogey at the par-4 fourth hole, he then eagled the par-5 fifth when he holed a 60-foot putt from just off the green. He then birdied the par-3 seventh, holing from 5 feet. However, he said his bogey at the 16th was probably the key to the round.

Westwood hit his approach left on the 186-yard par 3, finding deep rough. He had to hack out and didn’t find the putting surface. He putted from off the green to 15 feet, then holed the bogey putt.

“That was probably the biggest momentum thing I did all day, to walk off there with a bogey,” he said. “It was the only bad shot I’ve hit all week.”

Westwood has only led one major after 54 holes. He entered the final round of the 2010 Masters with a one-shot lead over Phil Mickelson but finished second to the left-hander. Westwood shot a final-round 71 to Mickelson’s 67 to lose by three.

“I’ve had lots of chances in majors,” he said. “I know what it takes even though I haven’t won one. It’s just a case of going out there and doing my own thing. You focus on the job in hand, pile the pars up and make birdies when you can.”

After Rose’s win at Merion, there is an expectation that Westwood can follow his compatriot and become the first Englishman to win the Open Championship since Sir Nick Faldo in 1992 – on the same Muirfield course on which Faldo won his third Open. The Englishman says he’s not bothered about a nation’s expectations.

“The pressure comes from the expectations I put on myself. I don’t live my life outside in. I have my own ideas and my own plans. I don’t feel pressure out there.”

The Englishman is bidding to become only the seventh golfer to win his first major in his 40s. He already has 15 top 10 finishes in the blue ribbon events, including two seconds in the 2010 Open Championship and 2010 Masters. He also has three thirds, in the 2008 U.S. Open, 2009 Open Championship and 2009 PGA Championship.

Westwood perhaps should have won the 2009 Open at Turnberry. He thought he needed to birdie the final hole after seeing Tom Watson’s tee shot find the fairway. The Englishman charged his birdie putt, failed to make the return and then missed the playoff with Watson and Stewart Cink by a shot.

“I’ve contended for a lot of majors and could have won four just by the right things going my way. You try to learn from the things you did wrong and try and put them right.”

He has 18 holes to take care of that.

Needless to say, he knows what it’s like to play in the crucible that is the final round of a major championship. Whether he has what it takes to get over the line this time remains to be seen.

Westwood is bidding to follow Rose and become the second Englishman to win a major in the same year. You have to go back to 1909 to find the last time that happened. George Sargent won the U.S. Open that year, while J.H. Taylor won the fourth of his five Opens.

Westwood cried after the 2009 Open. There’s every chance there might be tears tomorrow. Tears of joy.

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