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England ace Lee Westwood's hopes of breaking duck are dashed again by classy Phil Mickelson

By James Lawton

He had walked these steps before, too many times to recount comfortably no doubt, and nor did it help Lee Westwood that for the second time in three years it was the hit-and-miss American plunderer Phil Mickelson who stood in the place of triumph.

It was the one which he had begun to believe was at last reserved for him before Mickelson, the grinning and sometimes swaggering idol of country club America, laid his hand on his fifth major title, this one the great old prize of Westwood's homeland to add to three US Masters and one PGA title.

Westwood, who has fought so hard over recent years to end his days in the major tournament wilderness, insisted on the eve of the climax to the 142nd Open that if he should meet again with disappointment it would not be the end of the world.

His status as one of the world's most successful golfers, a serial winner at every level below the one which tends to define the greatest players, would hardly be questioned.

Yet if there was a loud cry of support for the 40-year-old from Nottinghamshire when he forlornly tapped in his final putt – a par in the last round 75 which saw him slide to a three-way tie for third place with Ian Poulter and US Masters champion Adam Scott – there was also the grim possibility that his last chance – and certainly his best – to win a major title might just have come and gone.

Westwood's game from the tee lacked the authority of Saturday, when he took a two-shot lead, and on several occasions he was required to make saving putts of great resilience to stay in front, but there had never been a stronger sense that he might just deliver a winning performance in a major tournament.

It made the denouement all the more poignant as Mickelson finished a round 66 filled with both boldness and an almost nonchalant killing touch with a superb one-two of eagle and birdie.

Mickelson, the 43-year-old who also had to experience a desperate time of doubt when it looked as if too would be denied a major as he lived under the permanent shadow of the young and apparently indestructible Tiger, was the man who so ferociously broke Westwood's ambition in Augusta three years ago.

Westwood was philosophical enough as the feting of Mickelson proceeded in the chill dusk that followed days of burning heat and disabling tension.

He said: "Sometimes you play well and somebody plays a bit better and sometimes you play poorly. I didn't really do either today and Phil obviously played well. But you've got to play well to give yourself your own momentum and I just couldn't get there today. I felt pretty comfortable out there. I felt good on the greens and I rolled a lot of putts. But some days it just doesn't happen."

There were moments, certainly, when Westwood displayed the resilience of a fighter who, having taken a heavy blow, had the will and the craft to get back into what might still prove to be the most important contest of his career.

The most dramatic example came on the par-3 seventh hole when a poor tee shot left him facing the possibility of a double bogey. That would have engulfed the lead he held over the hard-driving Stenson and perhaps delivered an early, killing blow to his chances. Instead, Westwood produced a 12-foot putt which both preserved his advantage and suggested there was still much fight left in the man from Worksop.

Unfortunately, in the end there wasn't nearly enough composure. The last of it disappeared when he was obliged to pursue his final chance to stay alive – a major impact on the par-five 17th hole. An eagle there, to match the one unfurled so effortlessly by Mickelson a little earlier, might just have created a late if improbable surge for survival.

Before yesterday's trial he was asked how confident he was of reproducing for the nation the kind of exhilaration achieved by Andy Murray when he beat Novak Djokovic on Wimbledon's Centre Court earlier this month.

"Hopefully," he said, "I can give the country that kind of moment but you know the pressure comes not from the people but the expectation I put on myself."

Yesterday, Westwood brought a formidable collection of such beliefs and yearnings to the task of stopping Phil Mickelson. In the end Mickelson consumed the Scottish golf course and the English professional. He did it with great force and confidence.

Westwood was what he has always been, a player of considerable talent and most impressive application. Phil Mickelson was also true to his deepest strength, which was to go all-out to win in any circumstances. It was a division which Westwood has almost certainly never before found quite so harsh.

Belfast Telegraph


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