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Saturday, March 30, 2013
Lee Westwood rounding into form

By Farrell Evans
ESPN.com

HUMBLE, Texas -- The excitement around the majors wouldn't be what it is without players like Lee Westwood, who has accomplished about everything in the game except winning one of golf's biggest events.

Whoever came up with the moniker -- the best player to never win a major -- would have the 39-year-old Englishman in his hall of fame.

After a 5-under 67 on Saturday, Westwood is tied for seventh at 9-under par at the Shell Houston Open heading into the final round. The eight-time Ryder Cup player is on a packed leaderboard that includes 26 players within 5 shots of the 11-under lead shared by Stewart Cink and Bill Haas.

Westwood, who now lives full time in the U.S., has made all six of his cuts on the PGA Tour in 2013, but his best finish has been a tie for ninth at the Honda Classic.

"I played OK this season without playing great, and I wanted to play well this week and get confidence," Westwood said. "I feel like I got back into the race today a little bit."

Earlier this month, Westwood finally settled into a new home with his family in West Palm Beach, Fla. The stress of uprooting his brood from his hometown of Worksop, England, has been a major distraction to his game.

"Just recently it's starting to calm down and I can focus more on golf," said Westwood, who turns 40 a week after the Masters. "I'm not 22, 23 years old again where golf is the only thing in my life. When you're 40, you have a lot of things to do. Sometimes it gets in the way of golf."

But now is the time for Westwood to win a major. Over the years, his short game, particularly his putting and scrambling, has kept him from winning these big events. He has shown improvement in those categories this season, but not much has materialized in competition.

On Saturday, a hot putter led him to six birdies, but a missed 7-footer on the 17th hole for par revealed some of his vulnerabilities in that area of his game. In recent weeks, Westwood has begun using a longer putter that helps him swing the blade more freely.

"Golfers are never satisfied, are we?" Westwood said. "We roll a few in and think we can roll a few more in. Just a vicious circle.

"I like the way I putted today, and the greens were a little bit slower -- that's what I found tricky about it. I left a lot of putts short."

Last year, Westwood finished in a tie for third at the Masters after finishing T-21 a week before at Houston. That T-3 at Augusta was his third top-3 in four years at the event. He hasn't played as well this year as he did at this point in the 2012 season, but there is not a better time than now to have his game firing on all cylinders heading into the year's first major.

"The start of the year has been fairly slow," Westwood said. "I felt like I've been playing well. It's been trying to convert from the range and the shots, turn them into some low scores this week, started to do it a little bit more for Augusta."

Nine Shell Houston Open winners have won a total of 17 Masters. Westwood would like to join this illustrious company that includes Byron Nelson, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Phil Mickelson.

On Sunday, he'll have to beat former major champions Cink, Angel Cabrera, Louis Oosthuizen, Keegan Bradley and Mickelson. With the exception of Lefty, all these men were fortunate enough to have never matured into the best player without a major.

At nearly 40, Westwood is ready to outgrow this baggage that threatens to overshadow his legacy as one of the most prolific winners of his generation.