Lee Westwood posted a 1-under 70 in the third round of the British Open, which left him with a two-shot lead over Tiger Woods and Hunter Mahan. Afterward, he was so confident with the way he handled his flat stick that the winner of 39 global tournaments and no majors had zero concerns about how he would do Saturday night with his flatware.
"Actually, I'm not in a high-pressure situation because I'm going to go have dinner," Westwood said with a laugh about being the frontrunner heading into Sunday’s finale at Muirfield, "and I'm so good with a knife and fork now that I don't feel any pressure at all."
To hear the 40-year-old Englishman banter with reporters after besting Woods in their one-on-one duel, a listener could be forgiven for forgetting that Westwood was on the precipice of winning the first major championship of his 20-year professional career. Just another day at the office for the favorite of the Scottish fans, who lustily applauded each putt that the constant major contender drilled from short and long range.
"I was interacting with them all day, obviously trying to give them as much to cheer for as possible," said Westwood, who clearly had the gallery on his side in his head-on beat-down of the world No. 1. "They were giving me good feedback. It's obviously great to play in an Open Championship in front of the crowds that they get here and I always get a good reception. It's nice to play well and hear those roars."
Westwood sounded like the most relaxed of all the competitors aiming to hoist the Claret jug on Sunday, even if, with seven top-three major finishes since 2008 and with the most starts (62) without a victory, according to GolfChannel.com’s Will Gray, he’s the current "best golfer never to win a major." Perhaps that’s because he has learned to bring his relaxed, off-the-course demeanor with him onto the greens, thanks to his recent work with Ian Baker-Finch, the Australian version of American putting guru Dave Stockton.
"I did a lot of work with Ian," Westwood said on Friday. ""He gave me a couple of tips on getting the tension out of my arms."
His new-found putting prowess was on parade all day on the sun-baked greens and fairways at Muirfield. While his 12-foot birdie putt on the par-5 17th sank Woods, who had to settle for an untidy bogey after finding a fairway bunker with his second shot, his long putt from the front of the fifth green for eagle let Tiger know he was in for a long day.
"I intended it to go in. I was aiming for the hole," Westwood dead-panned. "It was nice to hole, after bogeying the third and making a good par on 4, it was good to get some momentum going."
Westwood hopes to maintain his drive come Sunday when he tees it up in the final pairing with Hunter Mahan, another student of his and Woods’ swing coach, Sean Foley. With Woods and reigning Masters champion Adam Scott playing in the group ahead, Westwood knows he'll have his work cut out for him but was unfazed by the prospect.
"I haven't won one [a major] yet and I'd like to win one, but what can you do?" Westwood said. "You can only do what you think is right and put all that practice and hard work you've done tomorrow, try not to get in your own way mentally, and just focus on the job at hand and believe you're good enough."
Westwood, who professed to have no worries about sleeping on the three-day lead, may like to know that he has history on his side heading into Sunday. The 54-hole leader has held on to win the British Open 30 times in 55 tries since 1958, according to Gray.
The odds of Westwood winning are even greater since he’ll try to do so at Muirfield. In 15 tourneys played on the Scottish links, players with at least a share of the lead have triumphed 10 times, Gray noted.
"Even though I haven't won a major, I know what it takes to win one," Westwood said. "It's just a case of going out there tomorrow and having the confidence in my game, which I've got. And putting it to the test."