Westwood finds best form to stay in with shout

By: samjack

Showers rushed in on a mischievous wind but Lee Westwood becalmed himself and played excellent golf to put himself in position to collect a decent cheque at the end of the 133rd Open Championship at Royal Troon.
The third day is when the master golfers make their moves and yesterday he was up to the challenge. The £720,000 first prize that goes with the Claret Jug and the kudos of being a major winner may elude him but his chances are not dead.
After his three-under-par 68, including four birdies and a bogey, he was clearly delighted, saying: “I played really well. I gave myself a lot of chances and could have taken them to have an even lower score.
“The four-iron I hit to 10 feet at the last was as good as anything I hit all day. The wind was difficult. It was blowing across slightly going out and then it seemed to be the same coming back.
“The rain may have made the greens a but slower but that was not really what I wanted. If you hit the ball to the right places you had chances. It’s how a championship course should be. The rough gives you a chance.”
Westwood’s form has been good of late. He finished second in the recent Smurfit European Open and many judges believe that a major win is not far away. “You know consistency has to come first and the signs are there,” he said.
The omens were not good for Westwood. He had followed one of his “strongly fancied” racehorses, Tequila Sheila, to the Hamilton meeting on Friday night to watch her come last of six.
Clearly not interested in a similar kind of golfing failure, he birdied the first yesterday and posted two more of the same for an outward half of 34 that had the solitary blemish of a bogey at the second. As the wind grew stronger, his game remained under control, taking him from one over par the night before into the red figures every golfer likes to see.
Westwood is clearly returning to the kind of form he showed before deciding in January last year that the time had come to change his swing. In the quest for perfection he turned to David Leadbetter, the so-called Sultan of Swing , who bases himself at Lake Nona, Florida.
There followed anxious, occasionally agonising months, as he tried to change the swing that had looked completely natural with the half-set his grandparents gave him at the age of 13. Before Leadbetter he worked successfully with Yorkshireman Peter Cowen and became an established star on the European Tour, playing in Ryder Cup teams, winning the Order of Merit and finishing 10th the last time the Open Championship was played at Royal Troon.
He has always been one of the most powerful strikers on tour but yesterday he was thinking his way around the course, looking for position and looking every bit the complete professional while his playing partner, the amateur Stuart “I’m just a wee lad from Forfar” Wilson, ran into difficulties with four bogeys on the first four holes of the back nine but will still get the silver medal as the championship’s low amateur. The others missed the cut.
As Wilson slumped, Westwood continued to move impressively, edging closer to the leaderboard that began to show some familiar names, Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els and Retief Goosen, making the kind of progress likely to unnerve those around them.
His 68, which began in a swirling wind and left him two under par going into the final round, was a commendable performance. It was matched by the 1998 champion, Mark O’Meara, an American prepared to eulogise the Open Championship.
After his round he said: “I cannot tell you how much I enjoy this championship and what it means to me. This is the greatest championship and I feel fortunate to have my name on the Claret Jug in 1998. I just couldn’t pick a better place to come and play. The people are great, the galleries are fantastic. The courses are awesome. This is the way golf should be played. This is where it started.”
There was also a return to form by Paul Casey, the young Englishman who opened his championship with a 66 and followed it with a 77. His one-under-par 70 put him on level par.
As usual, Ian Poulter (71) was the eye-catcher in black plus-fours with pink socks and shoes, topped off with a daft, back-to-front cap. The Union Jack suit will not be seen again as he has decided to have it auctioned for charity.

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