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Star-Studded Leaderboard at Open Championship
True to its history, Muirfield has brought out the best for another Open Championship. The historic Scottish links, which has seen such luminaries as Harry Vardon, James Braid, Ted Ray, Walter Hagen, Harry Cotton, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Tom Watson, Nick Faldo (twice) and Ernie Els cart home Claret Jugs, has once again attracted the game's contemporary stars for this year's 142nd Open.
Among the players listed in the top-10 on the leaderboard through 54 holes are major champions Tiger Woods, Adam Scott, Angel Cabrera, Zach Johnson and Phil Mickelson.
But leading the way is Lee Westwood, a 40-year-old Brit saddled with the label of "one of the best players to never have won a major." Yet Westwood, a 22-time winner on the European Tour, has played steadily this week at par-71 Muirfield, posting rounds of 72, 68 and 70 to reach 3-under 210, two shots ahead of Hunter Mahan (68) and Woods (72).
He's one of only three players to break par at Muirfield through 54 holes.
On Saturday, Westwood carded three birdies, an eagle on the par-5 fifth and three bogeys. But perhaps his best score of the day was a bogey. On the par-3 16th he pulled his tee shot into the thick rough to the back-left of the green. He barely got it out of the cabbage with his second, and then putted off the fringe to 20 feet of the cup. From there, he sank the dramatic bogey putt to sustain the lead. Then he birdied the par-5 17th and parred the last for his 1-under effort.
"I played nicely. I didn't hit too many bad shots," Westwood said. "I made some good saves. Short game was sharp. Made some nice putts." (See below for his full post-round interview.)
Woods was among the players who noticed a different Muirfield on Saturday. Instead of the hard-and-fast conditions found on the first two rounds, Woods thought the course was much softer, and the greens were considerably slower. "It was very different today," said the top-ranked player in the world in search of his elusive 15th major.
"It was a lot slower out there. The greens were slower. It looked like they didn't roll some of them or cut them. It was very different. 18 was really slow. I'm sure that there were quite a few guys leaving putts short from below the hole.
"Lee got fooled a couple of times and so did I. We land the ball in green spots and it sticks. Land the ball in a dry spot and it runs 70, 80 yards. It was a really tough test and feel. And looking where you needed to land the ball and really try and land the ball on that number about with the correct spin."
Mahan will be paired in the final group with Westwood, while Woods will be in the penultimate twosome with Scott, who carded a 70 and is now at even-par 213.
When asked what's prevented him from winning his first major, Mahan said, "Not being good enough, I guess. Probably my short game hasn't probably been as strong as it needed to be. But I'm chipping and putting, I think great, and doing all the right things. So I feel comfortable with my game and excited about the opportunity and just have to go out there and trust it and let it happen."
Sharing fifth at 214 are Cabrera (73), Ryan Moore (72), Johnson (73) and Sweden's Henrik Stenson (74).
Mickelson shot a 72 and is tied for ninth at 215 with Italy's Francesco Molinari (72). Sharing 11th at 216 are Brandt Snedeker (69), Wales' Jamie Donaldson (71), Japan's Hideki Matsuyama (72), Aussie Jason Day (72), South Carolina's Dustin Johnson (76) and two Spaniards, Sergio Garcia (68) and Miguel Angel Jimenez.
The 49-year-old Jimenez began the third round with a one-stroke lead, but the 19-time European Tour winner fell down the leaderboard following a 77. Jimenez shot 3-over on both the front and back nines en route to posting two birdies, six bogeys and a double on the 16th on the day.
Mickelson said Sunday will be a shootout. "I feel like the only hole that is kind of a - I don't want to say gimme birdie, but a hole you should birdie - is No. 9 and everything else you've got to make a 20-, 30-footer," Mickelson told reporters. " You're very lucky if you hit it close. ...
Added the four-time major champion who won last week's Scottish Open, "Anything around par today was a good round. I think that I'll have to play a good round tomorrow, but I think it's right there."
In solo 18th at 217 is Spain's Rafael Cabrera-Bello (76), while tied for 19th another shot back is defending champion Ernie Els (70), fellow South African Richard Sterne (68), Germany's Martin Kaymer (70), England's Ian Poulter (75), and Americans Johnson Wagner (73) and 1997 British Open winner Justin Leonard (74).
The 21-year-old Matsuyama was assessed a one-stroke penalty for slow play on the par-5 17th hole. Instead of a par, he took a bogey. Playing partner Wagner thought the penalty was too harsh, calling it "terrible."
"I don't like slow play, either," Wagner told reporters. "But given his position in the tournament, and given the shot he faced on 17, laying it up out of the fescue over gorse and pot bunkers, I don't think he took too long. I think he executed a really good shot and under the situation, I think it's tragic, and I think the R&A should use better judgment in the penalizing of it."
When he went to the scoring tent Wagner voiced a protest, but to no avail. "I feel like I let the official know how I felt about it as gentlemanly as I could, but it infuriated me that he got a penalty," he added. "If they had tried to penalize me, I would have gone ballistic. So I tried to represent Hideki as good as I could, and couldn't get it changed."
At 9-over 222, the low amateur through 54 holes is Matthew Fitzpatrick of England. The 18-year-old is the youngest player in the field. He told reporters that the pros in the field have been very helpful this week. "All of them have just been absolutely fantastic. I'd probably say one that did stick Russell Henley," said Fitzpatrick. "Got my ball into the deep jungle on 17, and he sprinted after it. For me that showed out how supportive he was for me. And he was just a really nice guy."
After winning last week's John Deere Classic and opening with a promising 69 at Muirfield, another teenager, 19-year-old Jordan Spieth of Dallas, has recorded second and third rounds of 74 and 76 and is now tied for 25th at 6-over 219 with - among others - 2011 Open champion Darren Clarke, who also shot 76 Saturday.
For all the scores, visit http://www.majorschampionships.com/open-championship/leaderboard.html.
After signing his scorecard, Westwood met with reporters for the following interview.
MODERATOR: We have the third-round leader with us, Lee Westwood. Lee, that was a fantastic 1-under par round today. That gives you a two-shot lead going into the final round the Open Championship. Can you give us your thoughts on your round today, please.
LEE WESTWOOD: I played nicely. I didn't hit too many bad shots. I controlled well once I hit it well. I made some good saves. Short game was sharp. Made some nice putts.
MIKE WOODCOCK: That sounds very simple.
LEE WESTWOOD: Try to keep it as simple as possible.
Q. Great day's work today, Lee. You were in a high-pressure situation, until you get going again tomorrow. May I ask what you might do tonight to take your mind off things? LEE WESTWOOD: Well, actually I'm not in a high-pressure situation, because I'm going to go have dinner, and I'm so good with a knife and fork now that I don't feel any pressure at all. (Laughter). I'll think about winning The Open Championship tonight at some stage, I'm sure. I don't see anything wrong with that, picture yourself holding the Claret Jug at the final tee and seeing your name at the top of the leaderboard. When it comes to tee off around threeish, I should be in the same frame of mind as I was today. I didn't feel any pressure today and felt nice and calm out there and in control of what I was doing.
Q. You were interacting a lot with the crowd, particularly around 13. How important will the fans be for you tomorrow, the crowd?
LEE WESTWOOD: I was interacting with them all day. Obviously trying to give them as much to cheer for as possible. They were giving me good feedback. It's obviously great to play in an Open Championship in front of the crowds that they get here and I always get a good reception. It's nice to play well and hear those roars.
Q. I'm wondering how bad your lie was on 16 after the first shot, and if it was a big boost to get out of there with only a bogey?
LEE WESTWOOD: Yeah, that was probably the biggest momentum thing I did all day, probably, walk off there with a bogey. It was probably one of the few bad shots I hit all day. I was trying to hit a hard fade in there and just pulled it, and it found the worst lie I've found all week. There's so many bad things that could have happened from there, if you would have said you can have a 4, I would have taken it. Looking at the lie, it had gone down right down to the bottom in a bit of the hole. And there weren't many options - well, not good options, anyway. I was pleased to make 4. But that's what's been missing, making those putts. And backing it up with a birdie at the next, those are the sorts of things you need to do.
Q. You've had your handful of close calls and chances in majors and been there. I wonder what you will draw from those tomorrow? And how much better equipped do you think you are from having gone through those times?
LEE WESTWOOD: Well, I've had lots of chances, sometimes I've played well, other times I've played not to well. Although I can't remember playing that poorly. Obviously I had a chance at Turnberry in 2009. I missed up a bit. That can fall back on, you know, just getting out of the zone, worrying about what other people were doing and not focusing on my own game. But you know, I have had lots of chances. I felt like I played well when I had a chance at the Masters, and felt like I had a great round. Hit good shots, probably one of the shots of the year out of the trees there. So I know what it takes. Even though I haven't won a major, I know what it takes to win one. It's just a case of going out there tomorrow and having the confidence in my game, which I've got. And putting it to the test.
Q. Have you ever putted as well as this over a period of three or four days, three days? And what will you be having for dinner tonight?
LEE WESTWOOD: Normally pass dinner - just to recharge, but I might go the Andy Murray route and have 50 pieces of sushi or something like that. I've won 40 times, you don't not putt well winning that many. I putted nicely this week. I've got a key that I'm thinking about and I'm rolling the ball well. It's starting on the line that I pick, which is nice to see.
Q. You mentioned on TV that something that players don't like to say, but try and treat tomorrow as it is just another 18 holes. Can you expand on that, how you try to treat the process.
LEE WESTWOOD: Well, like I said earlier, you try and picture yourself winning The Open Championship tonight, but forget about it tomorrow and go and tee off down the first, and focus on it in the middle of the fairways with the first tee shot and then go from there. The way this golf course is set up, it is a very strategic golf course. You have to plot your way around it. Most major championships are like that. They grind you into the ground, even your game plan, and the way you attack the golf course. It tests that to the limit, as well, not just the way you're playing. Mentally and physically it's draining, and you just have to focus on the job at hand, and pile the pars up and try to make birdies wherever you can.
Q. That fantastic putt at the 5th, that rattled in, did you intend it to go that pace?
LEE WESTWOOD: I intended it to go in (laughter). I was aiming for the hole.
Q. I understand that, yeah.
LEE WESTWOOD: But, no, I hit two good drivers to get to there. I don't know how many people have knocked it on the green on two. I left it in a good spot. It was one of those putts with it being so obvious, I faded it up the hill and it would come down, and it would probably finish somewhere near. It's nice to see. It's a bonus when those go in. You get it on line and get it the right speed, every now and again they do go in.
Q. How does that round compare with your all-time best putts?
LEE WESTWOOD: It was nice to hole, after bogeying the third and making a good par on 4, it was good to get some momentum going.
Q. Obviously this Scottish weather is identical to Florida when you lived over there. How significant do you think that move to the States was? And are you now reaping the benefits of it?
LEE WESTWOOD: Little did I know when I moved to Florida that I was acclimatizing for The Open in Scotland (laughter). I'm just too smart for myself. Obviously it would be daft to move the whole family to Florida for four tournaments; I wouldn't do that. But we decided for other reasons just to change, to go and live in Florida. But I'd hoped that living in that kind of climate and having access to great golf courses and faster greens and stuff like that and practice facilities, that it was going to help my game. And so far this year I've contended - you pick out the big tournaments, which so far for me this year, the Masters, the Players, the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship at Wentworth, I've contended in all of them. And now the Open Championship. So you'd have to say it's worked to a certain extent in a positive way for my game.
Q. You mentioned Andy Murray there, inadvertently, are you aware of the expectation, that it's been another Great British sport that the nation is now looking to tomorrow as another highlight?
LEE WESTWOOD: Hopefully I can give it. But the pressure comes from the expectation I put on myself, not - I was trying to explain earlier on to somebody, that I don't really live my life outside in. I don't live it and run it according to what other people think. I live it the other way around. So I have my own ideas and my own dreams and my own plans.
Q. Of the three men under par, I believe all three of you have relationships with Sean Foley. How does he get split up on the practice tee tomorrow?
LEE WESTWOOD: Well, he's taken the chickens out and gone back to Florida, I believe, this morning. So you won't see him on the range tomorrow.
Q. You said you weren't fazed at all today and you felt completely calm. It was a high-pressure situation, whatever you say.
LEE WESTWOOD: I didn't feel any pressure out there.
Q. Have you felt that comfortable before, when it's been a situation like this?
LEE WESTWOOD: Probably not, no. But I guess it's hitting 40 and being on that decline, and just enjoying being in that situation, you know. You stand on the range and work hard to try to get into position to win major championships. So when you're in there with a chance and contend, you might as well enjoy it while you're there, or the hard work is not worth it.
Q. The fact that you were able to outscore Tiger by two shots, that must give you a lot of confidence?
LEE WESTWOOD: Well, I figured if I was going to win this tournament, I was going to have to beat Tiger. It generally works like that, whatever tournament you're playing in that he's playing in. That wasn't my primary goal for going out. It was to try to make as many birdies as possible and get as far in front. But I have a good relationship with Tiger and I enjoy playing with him. And I tend to feed off how good a player he is. I think my recent record with playing him in major championships is very good.
Q. After Justin Rose won the U.S. Open, he said that Adam Scott had told him that this is our time to start winning these tournaments. Have you drawn any inspiration that those two players broke through this year to win their first major? And has anyone suggested to you that this is your time?
LEE WESTWOOD: Not really. Apart shouts from the crowd, "This one is yours." No, I think there's been a lot of first-time winners. I think that shows the strength and depth of golf at the moment. I've contended for a lot of major championships. If I'd have done the right things at the right times and just a couple of things had gone my way, this wouldn't be my first major championship win, if I do that tomorrow. I've had lots of chances. I could have won four with just the right things going my way. So those are the things you feed off. And you try and put - you try and learn from the things you did wrong and change them, and obviously do them right and put that into practice tomorrow.
Q. You mentioned winning 40 times around the world. As the majors have gone past and chances have slipped by, have you ever allowed yourself to think, maybe it won't happen for me?
LEE WESTWOOD: It's not the end of the world if it doesn't.
Q. We've talked a bit about all the near misses, does this one feel differently in any way?
LEE WESTWOOD: Not really, no. I'm playing well again in a major championship, testing myself. And I'm giving myself a chance to win one. It feels the same as it did in 2008 playing at Torrey Pines. It feels the same as Turnberry, feels the same as the Masters. It's enjoyable, it's where you want to be.
Q. No feeling that it might turn out differently?
LEE WESTWOOD: Well, I'm hoping so. I'm hoping it's going to turn out differently because I haven't won one yet and I'd like to win one. 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.
Q. Were there any issues, firstly with the slow play this afternoon? And secondly, do you think young Sam behind me is going to be a good omen? I believe he was in Scandinavia last year when you won.
LEE WESTWOOD: Yeah, we got put on the clock. I'm not really sure why. It's just one of those things. There's a lot going on out there. There's a lot of people inside the ropes. You have to back off it now and again. And I think we slipped four minutes out of position. We were both chuckling about it, about like two old ladies, we had to wait. And it's part of this thing, they're enforcing faster play. That was just one of them things. Hopefully Sam is a good omen, yeah. He's been to one tournament, this is his second one, walking around. I won that one by five or six - five. He'll probably send me an invoice, if I win tomorrow, won't he? Pay him a commission. (Laughter).
MODERATOR: Thanks very much. Best of luck tomorrow. Well played.
The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.