GULLANE, Scotland — Lee Westwood passed his first big test Saturday when he outplayed Tiger Woods and grabbed a two-shot lead in the British Open.
The next one figures to be the toughest test of all.
Westwood somehow salvaged a bogey from the knee-high grass on the 16th, pulled ahead of Woods with a birdie on the 17th and was solid down the last hole for a 1-under 70 that gave him a two-shot lead going into the final day at Muirfield.
Widely considered the best player of his generation to never have won a major, Westwood is the 54-hole leader for the second time. Phil Mickelson overtook him in the Masters three years ago. Two other times, Westwood missed a playoff by one shot.
“I'm hoping it's going to turn out differently because I haven't won one yet, and I'd like to win one,” Westwood said. “But what can you do? You can only do what you think is right and put all that practice and hard work you've done tomorrow, try not to get in your own way mentally and just focus on the job at hand and believe you're good enough.”
After three days on brittle, brown Muirfield, only three players remained under par.
Westwood was at 3-under 210, two shots clear of Woods (72) and Hunter Mahan, whose 68 matched the best score of the third round. Mahan, also going after that maiden major with far fewer credentials than Westwood, will be playing in the final group at his second straight major.
Woods lost his chance to get in the final group with one swing.
Tied with Westwood as they played the par-5 17th into a stiff breeze off the Firth of Forth, Woods tried to hit a 3-wood over a series of bunkers to allow for a simple wedge into the green. With his ball on the slightest slope, he got it up in the air just enough that the wind grabbed it and deposited the ball in the bunker. Woods had to blast out sideways and missed a 15-foot par putt.
Despite the late bogey, this is his best chance to end his five-year drought in the majors since the upheaval in his personal life at the end of 2009.
“I've got 14 of these things, and I know what it takes to win it,” Woods said. “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. It's not just us two. There's a bunch of guys who have a chance to win this tournament.”
Instead of playing with Westwood in the final group, Woods will be in the penultimate group with Masters champion Adam Scott, who had a 70. The Australian not only is poised to be the first player with a multiple-major season in seven years, he can atone for his meltdown a year ago.
“I go out there tomorrow not carrying the weight of the lead or not having won a major,” Scott said. “So it's a different feeling.”
Mahan made only two bogeys, and he avoided a third on the final hole when he made a 25-foot putt to save par from the bunker. He played with Mickelson in the final round at Merion and stayed in the game until late in the round, closing with a 75. One month later, he gets another crack at it.
And there are plenty of others still in the game: five major champions within five shots of the lead, a list that goes down to Mickelson at five shots behind.
Two-time major champion Angel Cabrera opened with 12 pars and had a roller-coaster finish — double bogey, birdie, bogey — for a 73. He was at 1-over 214 along with former Masters champion Zach Johnson (73), Henrik Stenson (74) and Ryan Moore (72).
But it starts with Westwood. He sees nothing wrong with imagining his name on the base of the claret jug, ending all those questions about whether he has the game and guts to win a major.
“I should be in the same frame of mind as I was today,” Westwood said. “I didn't feel any pressure today — felt nice and calm out there and in control of what I was doing.”
1. Lee Westwood 210 -3
2. Hunter Mahan 212 -1
3. Tiger Woods 212-1
4. Adam Scott 213 ESubscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.
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