Belfast Telegraph

Friday 25 July 2014

Westwood tops Open leaderboard

Lee Westwood is looking to win his first major at Muirfield

Lee Westwood will take a two-shot lead into the final round of the 142nd Open Championship after a rollercoaster third day at Muirfield.

That means Tiger Woods will have to make history to win his 15th major title and deny the Englishman a first at the 62nd attempt after failing to keep pace with his playing partner on a dramatic afternoon.

Westwood carded an eagle and three birdies in a round of 70 that left him atop the leaderboard on three under par, with Woods (72) and fellow American Hunter Mahan (68) the only other players in red figures on one under.

Masters champion Adam Scott, who 12 months ago squandered a four-shot lead with four holes to play at Lytham, was another shot behind on level par, with Sweden's Henrik Stenson, Zach Johnson, Angel Cabrera and Ryan Moore another stroke back.

"I know what to expect tomorrow," Westwood said. "I know what to do, I know what it takes.

"It's just a case of believing you are good enough to win. When you analyse it, you don't want to say it, but tomorrow is just another 18 holes. I'm playing well and putting well and there's no reason why I can't carry on."

Westwood led by three shots when he eagled the fifth and birdied the seventh, but saw that wiped out by the ninth and was tied with Woods after holing from 20ft to scramble a bogey on the 16th.

But the 40-year-old then birdied the 17th as Woods bogeyed to take a welcome cushion into the final round, where he will play with Mahan and Woods with Scott.

Scott's caddie Steve Williams worked for Woods for 13 of his 14 major victories, all of which have come when he led or shared the lead going into the final round.

The last of those was in the 2008 US Open at Torrey Pines, where Westwood and Woods played together in the final round and Westwood missed out on the play-off between Woods and Rocco Mediate by a single shot.

Westwood has also come close to breaking his major duck in the Open, most agonisingly in 2009 when he three-putted the 72nd hole believing he needed a birdie, only to again fall short of a play-off - between Tom Watson and Stewart Cink - by a shot.

Woods' driver made its first appearance of the week, but it was two shots from the longest club in Westwood's bag which helped ignite the championship.

Woods had employed a conservative strategy over the first two days at a parched Muirfield and it looked to be paying dividends when he briefly moved into the outright lead with a birdie on the second.

He and Westwood then split the fairway on the 559-yard par five, Woods by using a driver for the first time, with Westwood then hitting his driver again for his second shot to leave his ball just short of the green.

The 40-year-old, putting superbly since working with 1991 Open champion Ian Baker-Finch, was faced with a testing putt from around 35ft but promptly holed it for an eagle three.

"My emotions were pretty calm all day although when something exciting happened like that eagle I allowed that to pump myself up," Westwood said. "You don't really expect to make those but I could see the line easily breaking in off the hill."

When he followed that with a birdie from five feet at the seventh as Woods bogeyed, Westwood suddenly had a three-shot lead that only lasted until he three-putted the eighth and dropped another shot on the ninth as Woods birdied.

Westwood reclaimed the outright lead with a birdie from close range on the 14th but looked set to relinquish it again when he pulled his tee shot to the 16th into heavy rough and was unable to reach the green with his second.

However, once more his putter - so long an Achilles heel - came to his rescue and he holed from 20ft to drop just one shot as Woods narrowly missed his birdie attempt.

"I got away with another four and I would have taken that when I saw the lie in the rough," added Westwood, who then birdied the 17th as Woods dropped a shot after finding a fairway bunker with his second shot.

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