If you'd told Lee Westwood any time before this weekend that he'd be -5 heading into Sunday at the U.S. Open, he'd have been giddy beyond measure. If you'd told him he'd be in second place, he'd probably still be OK with that. After all, this is the U.S. Open; how far ahead could somebody else be? I mean, it's not like somebody would be in double figures below par on Saturday, right? Right ... ?
You've got to feel for Westwood; the guy slaves for years to play at the elite level, and then when he gets there, he can't quite close the deal. He was the last man out in two of the most famous two-man golf battles in the recent past: the Tiger Woods/Rocco Mediate U.S. Open battle at Torrey Pines in 2008 and the Tom Watson/Stewart Cink showdown at the British Open in 2009. He finished second to Phil Mickelson last year in the Masters, and he's had the "anti-closer" label around his neck like an anchor for years now.
He's never played a round of golf in the U.S. Open better than he did on Saturday, ever. So naturally, on the weekend he shoots some of the best major-championship golf of his life, Rory McIlroy happens to shoot some of the best major-championship golf in history. Typical Westy.
Still, Westwood has nothing to hang his head over. He shot 65, including a 30 on the back nine that included an astonishing birdie-birdie-birdie-eagle from 13 to 16. And he put himself in position to hold onto "a glimmer of hope," as he put it.
"Big leads are sometimes difficult to play with," he said after his round completed. "I have to play my own game when I'm chasing."
Still, he conceded the enormity of the challenge before him. "When you're 12 behind somebody, you can play as well as you want, but there's still an element of the other player coming back to you."
This weekend, planning on McIlroy coming back to the field is like planning on the sun coming up blue. So it's unlikely Westwood will catch McIlroy barring a historic collapse. But at least Westwood can take heart that McIlroy can't do this every major ... can he?