Lee Westwood leads British Open by two shots

PAUL NEWBERRY
Last updated 08:22 21/07/2013
Lee Westwood
Reuters
IN FRONT: Lee Westwood leads the 2013 British Open after three rounds.

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Lee Westwood is positioned to win the first major title of his career.

Boy, does that sound familiar.

Long considered one of the best players without a signature win on his resume, the Englishman curled in a 20-metre eagle putt on the way to a one-under 70 that put him two strokes ahead of Tiger Woods and Hunter Mahan in the British Open overnight (NZ time).

The 40-year-old Westwood has been a perennial contender in majors, finishing second or third a staggering seven times.

But he's never been able to finish the job.

He'll try to do it tonight (NZ time) at baked-out Muirfield, playing in the final group with Mahan.

Woods will be in the next-to-last pairing after shooting 72, a stumble at the end leaving him two shots behind Westwood's 54-hole total of 3-under 210.

They are the only three players under par for the championship.

New Zealand's Mark Brown is tied for 51st after a solid one-over par round of 72. Brown had 14 pars, three bogeys - on the fourth, sixth and 15th - and an eage three on the ninth.

Adam Scott is again a contender for the claret jug, though this time he'll have to come from behind. Last year, he seemed to have it wrapped up at Lytham until he bogeyed the final four holes, a stunning collapse that left him one stroke behind Ernie Els.

Scott matched Westwood's 70 and was at 213.

Miguel Angel Jimenez, the popular 36-hole leader, faded from contention on a miserable day. The Mechanic bogeyed four of the first eight holes, unable to scramble for pars as he did the first two days when his drives and iron shots got away from him. He limited the damage with birdies at the ninth and 13th, but things can turn quickly at Muirfield.

Jimenez bogeyed the 14th, took a double-bogey at the 16th when he needed two swings to escape a towering pot bunker alongside the green, and a lipped-out putt on 17 gave him another bogey. The 49-year-old staggered to the finish with a 77 and 216 total, his one-shot lead after the second round now a six-shot deficit going to the fourth round.

Those closing holes were crucial.

One shot ahead of Woods, Westwood faced the possible three-shot swing at the 16th when he yanked his tee shot into the tall grass, far left of the green, and Woods plopped his ball about 20 feet away from the flag on the right.

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 5m 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.

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As it turned out, the big swing came at the next hole. Westwood made another clutch putt on the par-5 17th, sinking a 3.5m putt for birdie. Woods made a sloppy bogey after a baffling mistake, shanking his second shot in a fairway bunker.

They both made par at the final hole, denying Woods at least a share of the 54-hole lead in a major for the first time since the 2009 US PGA Championship.

Woods 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 still has a shot at moving closer to Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 major titles.

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 F (20s C), 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.

Most of the attention was focused on Westwood and Woods.

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

- AP

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