Westwood in contention

This just might be his chance to finally break through and win a major.

Posted: June 18, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO - England's Lee Westwood, who at 39 has worn the proverbial best-player-to-never-win-a-major-title albatross for some time, is no stranger to this situation.

He's flirted in majors before. A bunch, in fact, especially lately.

He tied for third at the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines in 2008, the last major title for Tiger Woods, who won in 91 holes on one leg. The next year Westwood finished third in the PGA Championship at Hazeltine, where Y.E. Yang finally showed that Tiger can lose a 54-hole lead just like any other earthling. In 2010 Westwood was second at the Masters, when Phil Mickelson got his third green jacket.

Three months later Westwood also was runner-up, golf's version of Miss Congenialty, at the British Open. But it was a distant runner-up to Louis Oosthuizen. Then, at last June's U.S. Open at Congressional that Rory McIlroy dominated, he tied for third. Again, it was way distant.

So, should we mention that at the Masters two months ago, he missed the playoff between Bubba Watson and Oosthuizen by 2 strokes?

OK, it happens. But does it have to keep happening to him? At some point, you just don't want to be the second coming of Colin Montgomerie.

Anyway, here he is again, in the conversation at the second major of the season. He put himself there with a third-round 3-under-par 67 Saturday at the Olympic Club. Which means he'll head out today with at least a reasonable shot. So who knows? Maybe the moment will finally be his. For better or worse, he has plenty of experiences to draw upon. That has to count for something, right?

"I think I've probably been in contention for major championships more than anybody else over the last three or four years," Westwood acknowledged. "So I'm looking forward to tomorrow and hopefully going out and have some fun and see what happens."

He won't have the lead, or the added pressure that goes along with that, which might not be such a bad place to be.

You think he'd take one more 67 and see what that would do for him? Or, the way this course might play, even anything in red numbers?

Not too shabby of a recovery, for a bloke who opened the tournament with a double bogey.

"I played nice the first two days without too much of a reward," said Westwood, who had five birdies, including a "bomb" on the last hole Saturday, which was one more birdie than he had the first two days combined. "But at 5-over [after 36 holes] I was still not out of it. So as long as I shot a good score today then I was going to have a chance. So I'm pleased with that. And I reset a new [target] for tomorrow."

At this point, there can be only a singular goal: hoisting the trophy. Then maybe hoisting some pints.

"I think every time you get yourself in contention you learn something new," Westwood said. "I've been in contention in a lot of different kind of positions. So I take little bits out of all of those. But the main thing is to go out there and believe that I'm good enough. I must be. I keep getting myself in contention often enough.

"It's a golf tournament. It's the game of golf. There aren't many smiles [out there]. Which is a shame because it's one of the biggest tournaments of the year and one that I would assume everybody looks forward to. I think you should give yourself a break and [try to] enjoy it."

Even if you're 0 for 56 in the four events that fairly or not tend to define careers.

The first two days, Westwood played in the other marquee threesome, with world No. 1 Luke Donald and second-ranked Rory McIlroy, the defending champion. Both missed the cut. Westwood, who's No. 3, is trying to become the third straight European, and seventh international player in nine years, to win this title.

"I didn't do that much preparation coming in here," Westwood admitted. "I snapped into U.S. Open mode quickly . . . You just focus in on the plan you've set out to tackle the golf course and sticking to that, really, and not thinking about what happened 10 years ago. I'm a half-full-glass type person. Actually my glass is normally empty.

"It's tough to win out here. You can't beat yourself up about it when you don't win. Somebody might perform better. It's fickle. All I'm trying to do is play as good as I can and see if I can finish it off and have a bit of fun doing it.

"It's not inevitable, is it? It could happen. It could happen tomorrow. It could happen at the [British] Open, the PGA, [or] it could not happen at all. But what control do you got?"

We'll soon find out, once again.

Contact Mike Kern at kernm@phillynews.com.


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