Pressure on Westwood even if he doesn't feel it
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
GULLANE, Scotland -- As is often his custom, Lee Westwood turned to humor to deflect the question.
"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," the affable 40-year-old said with a grin.
The reporters laughed and scribbled in their notebooks, just as the man who leads The Open Championship with 18 holes to go had planned for them to do.
But the fact remains Westwood has played in 61 other major championships and never won a single one of them. He's had his chances, finishing second or third a phenomenal seven times, including six times in the last 15 majors he's played.
Sunday, though, just may be his best chance ever.
Westwood owns a two-stroke lead over Tiger Woods and Hunter Mahan entering a final round that will be played on a brutally parched links with a leaderboard that features four men in the top 10 who have won a total of 22 majors. Of course 14 of those belong to Woods, who was once the ultimate closer and is seeking to end a major victory drought of his own that stretches back to the 2008 U.S. Open -- where Westwood finished one shot out of the playoff with Rocco Mediate.
So on a day when another Brit is expected to win the Tour de France and just two weeks after a Scot won Wimbledon, Westwood will look to end an English drought at The Open Championship that stretches back to Nick Faldo's victory on the same course in 1992.
Simple, huh? No pressure, right? Are you kidding me?
"But the pressure comes from the expectation I put on myself," Westwood said. "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."
Woods does, too. He may have won four times already this year but his dreams have always revolved around eclipsing Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 professional majors. After a spate of injuries and injurious behavior, though, Woods has seemingly hit the wall when it comes to delivering the goods in the game's most pressure-packed situations.
And he has never come-from-behind to win one of those many majors. Not to worry, though.
"I've got 14 of these things, and I know what it takes to win it," he said firmly. "He's won tournaments all over the world. ... He's two shots ahead and we're going to go out there and both compete and play.
"It's not just us two. There's a bunch of guys who have a chance to win this tournament. And all of us need to really play well tomorrow."
Adam Scott, who squandered a four-shot lead over the final four holes a year ago at Royal Lytham, is glad to relinquish the spotlight to Westwood and Woods, who will play with the Aussie in Sunday's penultimate twosome. Scott rebounded in a big way at Augusta National four months ago, too, beating Angel Cabrera, who is tied for fifth right now, in a playoff and relegating Woods to fourth.
"I feel like I've got, well, nothing really to lose tomorrow and majors to gain," said the 33-year-old, who starts the final round at Muirfield even par for 54 holes. "So that's certainly a nice feeling, whereas before in some ways it was getting to the point where you're hoping it was going to happen.
"It is absolutely a weight off your shoulders to have the first one."
Muirfield will have a say in the proceedings, as well. The course on the shores of the Firth of Forth has drawn rave reviews from the players even when it's drawn blood at the end of 18 holes. Five players shot in the 60s on Saturday but "to do it tomorrow on a Sunday, Open Championship Sunday, that's another story," defending champion Ernie Els said.
"When you start pushing on this course it pushes back," explained Els, who made up six shots a year ago on Sunday and now trails by eight.
Maybe so. But Westwood has looked extremely comfortable through the first three rounds at Muirfield.
And who knows? Maybe it's turning 40, as Westwood did in April, and "being on the decline," he joked, that has taken the stress out of the situation.
"You stand on the range and work hard to try to get into position to win major championships," Westwood said. "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."
So after Westwood puts that knife and fork down and pushes himself away from what is likely a plate of pasta on Saturday night his mind might wander. The important thing, though, is to concentrate on Sunday.
"I'll think about winning The Open Championship tonight at some stage, I'm sure," Westwood said. "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 time, 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. ... You just have to focus on the job at hand, and pile the pars up and try to make birdies wherever you can."