Westwood in control

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The Independent Online
They regard each other as the best player in the Europe, and the best player in Europe under 30. But the fact that Lee Westwood is the latter, rather than the former, is no bar to his expectation of victory over Colin Montgomerie in the Murphy's Irish Open today.

The young man from Worksop fears precisely "no one" and thinks "you'd be daft not to" expect to win when he has a three-stroke lead going into the final round. "Barring disasters," he added. "But I'd like to get off to a better start tomorrow."

Despite dropping three shots in his first seven holes, Westwood, who finds it difficult to worry about such things, showed why by birdieing five of the next seven holes. At nine under par after a round of 70, he maintained a handsome advantage over defending champion Montgomerie, who shot a 69.

David Tapping, a less heralded young Englishman, birdied the last hole to break out of a pack at three under which includes Nick Faldo and Jose Maria Olazabal, who was one outside Michael Jonzon's day-old course record with a 65.

"This will be a good test for him and it will be interesting to see how he fares," said Montgomerie, who started one ahead and beat Westwood by five at Slaley Hall last month. "It's not just me, but there is Nick and Jose just behind. I started playing really well at the end and could have narrowed the gap further. I'll have to shoot my best score of the week to win."

At the par-five 16th, Montgomerie's three-wood hit the pin but he then missed for eagle. In fact, he had missed from inside 12 feet at each of the last five holes, which suggests Westwood will have to be on his mettle to record what would be his second win on the European tour, his fourth in all as a professional, but his most impressive to date.

For the third day running, Olazabal was paired with Paul McGinley; Seve Ballesteros had not been able to join them for the weekend. It was a perfect morning to play golf, before it clouded over later, and Olazabal advanced on greens that had not yet had a chance to spike up. He was three under on both halves of the course and, but for being an inch off the ninth green, would have hit all 18 putting surfaces in regulation.

The last time he severely missed a green was at the fifth on Friday, and for the holes since then he is nine under par. Yesterday's round was a matter of holing more of his chances, except the 12-footer he had at the last to tie the record. "It was a great round of golf, maybe close to being my best this year," said Olazabal, who has yet to finish worse than 26th since his comeback at the end of February.

Faldo was on the verge of something similar to the Spaniard, considering his 68 included four missed putts inside four feet. "A couple of them were me, the others were bobbling on the greens, well, you know," Faldo said without wanting to say too much more about the putting surfaces. "I need a fast start tomorrow but it would be nice to get in there, play some good shots under pressure."

Jonzon, the tall Swede, briefly topped the leaderboard before suffering not one, but two triple- bogey sevens. The first came at the seventh and the next at the devilish 13th, the hardest hole on the course, where he found the water with his approach. His Scandinavian colleague, Thomas Bjorn, went one worse with an eight at the hole without going into the water but including a fresh-air shot after he put his third under a tree by the green.

Such dramatic retreats down the leaderboard could only be matched by the share price of PGA European Tour Courses. The price, which has halved in the last year, slumped again on Friday, wiping pounds 1 million off the value of the company, a joint venture between the European tour and Mark McCormack's International Management Group, when managing director Sean Kelly resigned.