SAN FRANCISCO — No matter the major, there are always seems to be at least three or four names that get bandied about as potential first-time winners every year.
Luke Donald. Matt Kuchar. Dustin Johnson. Sergio Garcia. There's no question you'll hear all of their names at least a hundred times in the run-up to a major.
And then there's Lee Westwood. You know, the guy who holds the albatross title of "Best players to never win a major." It's a title that's been run into the ground over the years, but there's no question Westwood holds the crown. He's crashed and burned enough times in major championships to make you wonder if he'll ever win one in his career.
Every year pundits find a major championship track that's right for him and, like clockwork, he finds a way to miss the cut or implode on weekend. So when he started off his first nine holes of the U.S. Open with three bogeys and a double, most just shrugged their shoulders and said, "Well there goes another missed opportunity."
But here's the deal: Instead of letting things get out of hand, Westwood started to grind, closing with a birdie on the 17th hole to finish at 3-over 73. There was a moment where you felt like it could potentially be a turning point in the week.
After Saturday's 3-under 67, which moved him to 2-over for the tournament and within three shots of the lead, it's looking more and more likely that we could look back on those last nine holes on Thursday afternoon as the moment Lee Westwood finally got the major championship monkey off his back.
On paper, Olympic Club set up perfect for Westwood. It's a course that rewards solid play off the tee -- which is why so many had him pegged for success this week. But Westwood isn't conquering the course with his driver.
It's actually another club in his bag that keeping him in contention: his putter. Without a doubt, the flatstick has been the one club in his bag that's kept him from winning a major of the years. But not this week.
Westwood needed only 28 putts on Saturday, getting out of trouble with some clutch par saves to stay in contention. Even when he bogeyed the eight and ninth holes to go out in even-par 34, Westwood immediately bounced back with birdies on the 10th and 11th. This isn't the Westwood we're used to seeing at majors.
Another reason to like his chances tomorrow? He's have fun for a change. I know, that doesn't even sound possible at a major championship, but Westwood has looked incredibly loose this week, laughing, smiling and joking with his caddie during each round.
"I had a lot of fun out there," Westwood said after his third round. "Really enjoyed the day. Finished it off nicely. A lot of good chance to shoot a really good score out there."
With the pressure on Jim Furyk and Graeme McDowell tomorrow, Lee Westwood has a chance to go out there tomorrow and do the exact same thing he's been doing all week: have some fun and maybe, just maybe, walk away with his first major championship.
It didn't seem possible early in the week, but on the eve of the final round of the U.S. Open, the thought of Lee Westwood kissing the U.S. Open trophy on Sunday evening doesn't sound crazy.
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