What has already been a magnificent tournament will assume epic proportions if Lee Westwood is the last man standing at Muirfield today. The Englishman, seeking a first major victory at 40, goes into the final round of the Open championship with a two-shot lead over Tiger Woods, a golfer chasing a little history of his own, and Hunter Mahan.
Westwood demonstrated the nerve required to see him home with two 20-footers over the closing holes, one for a bogey at 16, the other a birdie at 17, to steal the momentum on a day of oscillating fortunes with a round of 70. Westwood’s career has delivered so much. None has won more in prize money on the European Tour. More than 40 wins worldwide speak of a talent that runs deep, yet still no major.
An afternoon in the company of Woods chasing down the greatest prize in golf told us much about his candidacy here. Westwood preached patience at the end of his second round, and acceptance when the ball does not bounce your way. He would need every ounce of that as the pendulum swung back and forth.
Only nine players began the weekend in red numbers. If there was little the R&A could do to combat the climate, they might at least be generous with the pins. Rounds of 68 and 69 by Richard Sterne and Shingo Katayama in the first group out suggested the organisers indeed had a heart. There were nine scores of par or better returned by players in the first dozen groups, two of whom had plans for the weekend that did not involve golf.
Paul Lawrie thought he was cooked on eight over par on Friday and drove home to Aberdeen. Tongchai Jaidee was recalled from the check-in at Heathrow airport. “I didn’t think for a second that 7-over par had any chance of making it, never mind 8, so we packed up and drove home,” said Lawrie after shooting a 70.
“I was gripping a new set of Wilson irons when I got the message so I walked the dog, had a bite to eat and then drove all the way back. We got back about a quarter past 11 but it was worth it because I played well today.” Jaidee arrived back at Muirfield shortly before midnight with his clubs still encased in a flight bag. His reward was a 71.
The applause that greeted overnight leader Miguel Angel Jimenez when he sauntered on to the range 30 minutes before his round was loaded with affection. They love the bendy eccentricity, the exaggerated stretching routines all executed with a smouldering cigar clamped to his lips. The ostentatious ponytail, an absurd affectation on any other 49-year-old, is tolerated on him. He pushed and he pulled, he stretched and he tweaked, hit a few balls then, vamos, off he went to meet destiny head on.
The greens were watered overnight and 2mm sprinkled on the fairways. The early starters reported slightly softer conditions but by the time the leaders went out shortly after 3pm, Muirfield was fast and furious again, pounded by unrelenting sunshine and winds gusting at 15mph. Henrik Stenson, who lost a fortune in the financial scandal perpetrated by Allen Stanford, dropped a shot at the first. Jimenez was a victim at the second, Westwood the third and Woods the fourth. At least Muirfield was indiscriminate in letting the players have it.
In this epic game of snakes and ladders, it was Westwood who made the first significant move, holing out from off the green for an eagle at the fifth. A birdie two holes later took him into a three-shot lead at four under par, all too much you would imagine for parents, Trish and John, and son, Sam, walking among the vast gallery watching a penultimate pairing that included Tiger Woods.
His three-shot lead had gone by the turn. Successive bogeys were countered by a Woods birdie at the ninth. Locked together at two under par they turned for home with a one-shot lead. Jimenez was listing badly. Bogeys at four and five and a double at eight took him to one over par. It was time for a deep intake of smoke and quiet word with oneself. Dustin Johnson, who started with a share of second place, dropped four shots by the turn to drift down a leaderboard of restless complexion.
Moving in the opposite direction, Mahan bolted from two over at the start to lead in the clubhouse on one under after a round of 68. Mahan, you might recall, chased Justin Rose most of the way home at the US Open before faltering at the 17 on Sunday. His up-and-down out of the island bunker at the last yesterday revealed bottle aplenty. “Any score in the red is good,” Mahan said. “I felt like I had a really good understanding of what it (putt) was going to do. I hit it the perfect speed and it went right in the middle, a nice way to end the round.”
An afternoon of quiet accretion saw Adam Scott also move into contention. The Masters champion was round in 70 to close one behind Mahan on level par. Ian Poulter dropped a shot at the last for the second time this week. His round of 75 took him to five over par, one better than Darren Clarke, who shot 76.
Westwood edged ahead again with a birdie at the 14 but a poor tee shot at the short 16th left him in long grass and deep trouble. If he does prevail today, he will remember the 20-foot putt he drained to limit the damage to a bogey. The birdie at 17 iced the cake.Reuse content