Westwood holds off Mickelson charge

First Briton in 19 years to lead major on final day is unfazed by American's eagles
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So much for this golf tournament being simply about Tiger Woods, so much for the comeback of the disgraced No 1 hijacking the first major of the season. Between them, Lee Westwood and Phil Mickelson ensured that all the talk in Augusta last night was at last focused on the 74th Masters and not the 14 mistresses.

Has there ever been a more spectacular Masters Saturday? Mickelson's many fans will answer in the negative. Just as a brilliantly composed Westwood looked to have stolen a march on the field and be heading for Britain's first major in 11 years, so the left-hander struck with back-to-back eagles which capped the greatest three-hole stretch in Masters history.

In 35 staggering minutes Westwood had gone from being five ahead of Mickelson to one behind. And the truly stunning fact for the Englishman to swallow at that stage was that he only contributed to the overhaul with a solitary bogey.

That realisation would have shattered most golfers, particularly as the Mickelson cheers swarmed down the fairways towards him. But after coming within a shot of two major play-offs in the last two years, Westwood knows what it takes.

The 36-year-old put his head down and carried on grinding. And when he eventually tapped in on the 18th for a 68, he had re-established a one-shot advantage at 12 under. Westwood thus became the first Briton in 19 years to take the lead into the final round of the Masters. The tales of the last two countrymen to do so – Ian Woosnam in 1991 and Sandy Lyle in 1988 – provide rich encouragement. They both prevailed.

Woods is four behind Westwood. This was expected to be one of the biggest audiences in golfing history as the world tuned in to see whether Woods could continue his extraordinary charge at a 15th major. What they witnessed was a player who had lost his rhythm and who was desperately trying to cling on as the biggest rival of his tenure threatened to tear him asunder.

In the event, Woods's 70 was tremendously gutsy, his birdie on the 18th helping to negate the damage of three three-putts. "I was fighting it all day," he said. "My warm-up wasn't good and I struggled with the pace of the greens. It was a tough day. I just wanted to put myself in contention and I did that. The boys were running away from me out there. At one stage I was seven back. I'm only four back now, and a good round tomorrow and you never know."

But still, the new Tiger will have to do what the old Tiger could never manage: win a major when trailing after 54 holes. Westwood no doubt has many obstacles to negotiate today but the record books, if not the evidence of our own eyes, suggests that Woods will fall short ultimately.

Mickelson is Westwood's threat. After his 67, the two-time champion has the momentum, as well as the emotion, on his side. This is the first time his family have travelled with him to an event since last year's Players Championship. It was just after Sawgrass when his wife, Amy, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Soon his mother was battling the same disease. Mickelson was forced to miss last year's Open and has to play a limited schedule because of his wife's ongoing treatment. The world No 3 has yet to win so far this year, but his form has arrived just in time. "I haven't played this well in a long time," said Mickelson. "It's my favourite tournament of all. I love being in contention on the Sunday of the Masters."

What is the likelihood of Mickelson recreating yesterday's magic? Doubtful, as he did produce the most astonishing passage of play. So much for the Augusta roar being a noise of the past. Mickelson picked up five shots and came within an inch of posting three eagles in a row for the first time in the history of the majors. Even this theatre of the unexpected has never seen anything quite like it.

The eagle on the par-five 13th was merely routine – on in two, a holed six-footer – when put alongside the two on the 440-yard par-four 14th. Mickelson had 100-plus yards and flipped up a lofted iron. It landed to the left over the pin, spun back and then right and so it dropped, plop. He raised his arms and screamed "wow". The galleries needed no encouragement to bellow their own astonishment. As a gauge of the resulting tumult, 400 yards away on the 11th green Ian Poulter had to back off his putt.

Could Lefty achieve the unprecedented hat-trick on the par-five 15th? The patrons surrounding the water-guarded green had little time to consider his chances. Within a minute, Fred Couples had chipped in for his own three on the 15th to move within touching distance of the lead. The evergreen – and ever green-jacketed former champion – eventually signed for a 68 and at seven under still has a squeak of becoming the game's oldest major champion. Yet Couples will have watched Mickelson's heroics on the television last night and wonder if the fates have already decided on their champion.

How close Mickelson came to posting an immortal hat-trick of eagles. His drive was too far left and he could only lay up. He was 100 yards away and needing to hole out again. Within a few seconds that prospect was not as outlandish as it seemed. His approach rolled around the back of the hole, coming to rest within a few inches. Augusta was abuzz. Mickelson was on the march.

But Westwood clawed him back and on the last conjured a wonderful up-and-down to secure the outright lead. Alongside him, Poulter had seen his own challenge fade with a 74, which leaves him at six under, six off the pace. If Poulter cannot land the green jacket himself, he will be rooting for his friend. Westwood will need all the support he can get. Georgia will go mad for Mickelson today. What a day we have in store.

Leaderboard

Third round (US unless stated, par 72):

204

Lee Westwood (Eng) 67 69 68

205

Phil Mickelson 67 71 67

208

Tiger Woods 68 70 70

K J Choi (S Kor) 67 71 70

209

Fred Couples 66 75 68

210

Ian Poulter (Eng) 68 68 74

Ricky Barnes 68 70 72

Hunter Mahan 71 71 68

211

Anthony Kim 68 70 73

Y E Yang (S Kor) 67 72 72

213

Jerry Kelly 72 74 67

Steve Marino 71 73 69

Bill Haas 72 70 71

214

Trevor Immelman (SA) 69 73 72

Tom Watson 67 74 73

215

Kenny Perry 72 71 72

Nick Watney 68 76 71

David Toms 69 75 71

Sean O'Hair 72 71 72

Geoff Ogilvy (Aus) 74 72 69

Heath Slocum 72 73 70

216

Soren Kjeldsen (Den) 70 71 75

Adam Scott (Aus) 69 75 72

Steve Flesch 75 71 70,

Angel Cabrera (Arg) 73 74 69

217

Charl Schwartzel (SA) 69 76 72

Matt Kuchar 70 73 74

Camilo Villegas (Col) 74 72 71

218

Lucas Glover 76 71 71

Ryan Moore 72 73 73

219

Dustin Johnson 71 72 76

Francesco Molinari (It) 70 74 75

Mike Weir (Can) 71 72 76

Ernie Els (SA) 71 73 75

Miguel Angel Jimenez (Sp) 72 75 72

Yuta Ikeda (Japan) 70 77 72

Scott Verplank 73 73 73

220

Robert Karlsson (Swe) 71 72 77

Steve Stricker 73 73 74

Ben Crane 71 75 74

Sergio Garcia (Sp) 74 70 76

Zach Johnson 70 74 76

*Matteo Manassero (It) 71 76 73

221

Retief Goosen (SA) 74 71 76

222

Jason Dufner 75 72 75

224

Robert Allenby (Aus) 72 75 77

227

Nathan Green (Aus) 72 75 80

Chad Campbell 79 68 80

* amateur

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