GULLANE, Scotland – Lee Westwood leads Tiger Woods and Hunter Mahan by two strokes entering the final round of the 142nd Open Championship. Seven other players are within five strokes of the lead. We asked our writers on-site at Muirfield to pick a winner.
By JAY COFFIN
It’s Lee Westwood’s time to win a major championship.
You may view it as the odds are stacked against him. He’s contended so many times that there are bound to be demons floating through his brain down the stretch. Tiger Woods is hot on his heels as he looks for his 15th major championship and his first in more than five years. A balky putting stroke has plagued him in pressure moments for the better part of his career and it’s bound to catch up with him for the first time this week.
I look at it differently. Westwood has so much scar tissue that one more disappointment can’t possibly do more damage. Woods has never won a major championship while not leading after 54-holes. Westwood is leading the field in putts per round, having used 81 swats with the flatstick. And, the best one, Westwood will have the support of all of Great Britain as it attempts to extend its summer of joy following victories from Justin Rose at the U.S. Open and Andy Murray at Wimbledon.
It’s also better that Westwood isn’t in the same pairing with Woods. Westwood stared him down Saturday and bettered him by two shots, but it’s a blessing not to have to do that again. There will be less pressure playing alongside Hunter Mahan.
Lastly, I believe in trends. Adam Scott and Rose were each first-time major winners this year. Makes sense that the Breakthrough Slam will continue here at Muirfield, and it’ll do so with a Brit leading the way.
By REX HOGGARD
The record says Tiger Woods is 0-for-16 in majors since that historic 2008 U.S. Open victory. That he’s never won a Grand Slam while trailing after 54 holes. That he’s broken par on Sunday at a major just once in his last six Grand Slam starts.
But all that ignores the stars that are aligned over Muirfield.
Not since 2006 at a similarly brown and bouncy links has Woods been so prepared, in mind and body, to wrest himself out of his major drought.
The rock hard turf lends itself perfectly to Woods’ affinity for hitting fairway wood and long iron “stingers,” a fact that is made all the more relevant given the fact that he has hit driver just once this week (at the par-5 fifth on Saturday).
He’s also controlling his golf ball better than anyone else in the field, “flighting” shots below the wind and playing the bounces like he was born in Scotland.
It’s also worth noting that just four of the top 10 players through three rounds – Adam Scott, Angel Cabrera, Zach Johnson and Phil Mickelson – have a major on their mantel. And all of those would-be contenders are trailing Woods.
If ever there was a place suited for Woods to collect major No. 15, it would be Muirfield.
By RYAN LAVNER
History suggests Lee Westwood will hoist the claret jug on Sunday. After all, he leads by two shots, and since 1972 the 54-hole leader at Muirfield has gone on to win the Open four of the five times it was played.
But I’m still picking Tiger Woods to win.
The reason is simple, really: He is playing better, tee-to-green, than anyone else in the field. He is T-2 in fairways hit (33 of 42), T-9 in greens in regulation (38 of 54) and T-15 in putts per round (90 putts).
Westwood, by comparison, hasn’t been nearly as sharp with his long game, ranking T-52 in fairways hit (24 of 42) and T-62 in greens in regulation (31 of 54). The difference has been with the flatstick; he has an Open-best 81 putts through three rounds, five better than anyone else in the field. But his revamped putting stroke has never faced major Sunday pressure.
I know, Woods has never won a major when trailing after 54 holes. But the best player of his generation, arguably the greatest of all time, can’t possibly go his entire career bagging majors only from the pole position.
The guess here is that changes Sunday.