Westwood eyes first major title

SAN FRANCISCO -- Last Saturday at the Nordea Masters in Stockholm, Lee Westwood got his 40th worldwide victory with a five-shot win over Ross Fisher. But the 39-year-old Englishman reached this milestone at the Bro Hof Slott Golf Club without putting well. In his first 10 holes in the final round, he missed five putts inside 6 feet.

This is the same troublesome putter that kept him two shots out of the playoff at the Masters in April. His horrid performance on the greens at Augusta was enough for him to fire his putting coach. Westwood's tie for third at the Masters was his sixth top-three finish in his past 10 majors, but it wasn't any consolation for yet another disappointment in one of the game's four biggest events.

Westwood was jet lagged when he arrived in San Francisco last Sunday from London. But by Thursday, he was rejuvenated and ready to play. He dusted his European Ryder Cup teammates Rory McIlroy and Luke Donald over the first two rounds of the U.S. Open in the much-anticipated grouping of the top three ranked players in the world.

On Saturday, Westwood's 3-under-par 67 vaulted him into a tie for fourth. His 67, which included five birdies and two bogeys, was the low round on a day when the stroke average was 72. With 18 holes left, Westwood is two shots back of the leaders, Jim Furyk and Graeme McDowell.

"I had a lot of fun out there," Westwood said. "A lot of good chances to shoot a really good score out there.

"But obviously a 67 isn't a really low score, but I had a couple good chances at 16 and 17 that I didn't birdie, and then I made the last bomb at the last [hole] that you don't expect. So it was a good way to finish."

As past U.S. Open winners, McDowell and Furyk know what they need to do Sunday. There are 13 players within four shots of their 1-under-par lead. In that large group are two-time Open winner Ernie Els and Jason Dufner, who has won twice on tour this season.

But Westwood is the biggest threat among these players to take the lead from them by Sunday afternoon. Last year, Westwood had a tie for third at Congressional, but with McIlroy blitzing the field with an eight-shot win, he never had a chance to take the tournament. Now he's in a place to finish off the job that he has longed for since he turned pro in 1993.

On Saturday evening as Westwood was climbing the leaderboard, one golf columnist tweeted that Westwood, the best player to never win a major, had gotten himself in a position to get another second- or third-place finish.

By Sunday night, Father's Day, the dad to two children hopes to end those discussions of him as a great player who can't win the majors.

"I think I've probably been [in] contention in major championships more than anybody else over the last three or four years," Westwood said. "So I'm looking forward to tomorrow, and hopefully going to go out and have some fun and see what happens."

To win the U.S. Open, he will have to putt better than he did in the final round of the Nordea Masters, where he shot a 19-under-par total for the tournament. It's likely his chances to win will come down to his putter, because that's what it always comes down to for him at the majors.

At the 18th hole Saturday, Westwood made a 40-foot putt for birdie that must give him a lot of confidence headed into the final round. Through three rounds, Westwood has 86 putts, which means he's averaging about 27 putts a round or 1.59 putts per hole. He's hit 59 percent of his greens in regulation.

On Sunday, he can't put too much pressure on his putter. The scars from the Masters are too fresh.

After his third round, Westwood was asked whether it was inevitable that he would finally get a major after all his close calls.

"It's not inevitable, is it," he said. "It could happen. It could tomorrow, it could happen at the PGA, The Open, it could not happen at all. But what control do you have? You have to go out and play as well as possible."