GULLANE, Scotland — Lee Westwood has contended enough in the majors that he can identify important moments, even if he could barely see his ball.
He had a one-shot lead over Tiger Woods, standing in grass up to his knees in the dunes left of the par-3 16th hole. It was one of the few bad shots Westwood hit Saturday at Muirfield, and by far his worst predicament. Westwood slashed at the ball and it didn’t reach the green. He used a putter to belt his next shot up the hill to 12 feet.
What followed was a finish that allowed him to believe he was closer than ever to ending his 20-year pursuit of a major.
Westwood poured in the putt to salvage bogey. He picked up two shots on Woods with a birdie on the next hole. He closed with a solid par, giving him a two-shot lead going into the final round, and most significant Sunday of his career.
“That was probably the biggest momentum thing I did all day — walk off there with a bogey,” Westwood said. “That’s what’s been missing, making those putts. And back it up with a birdie at the next. Those are the sort of things you need to do.”
Had he made putts like that, Westwood might not have missed the playoff at the U.S. Open that Woods won in 2008 at Torrey Pines. Or the playoff at Turnberry in 2009. He might even have been able to hold off Phil Mickelson at the Masters in 2010.
Westwood is widely considered the best player of his generation without a major. Maybe that’s about to change.
The 40-year-old from England passed one big test when he outplayed Woods on another tough day at Muirfield for a 1-under 70 and grabbed a two-shot lead over Woods and Hunter Mahan, the only players still under par.