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The contender

No player in the last 78 years has more top-three finishes in golf's crown jewels without winning than Lee Westwood. His Saturday 67 has him tied for third, and he's drawing strength from putting himself in the hunt yet again.
The contender

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The contender

SAN FRANCISCO -- If major championships were contested over 63 holes, Lee Westwood would be a two-time champion.

But the final nine, and the 18th hole in particular, have been costly for the affable Englishman, who finds himself with a chance to win another on Sunday at The Olympic Club.

Westwood fired a 67 in a slugfest of a third round that moved him to 2 over and just three strokes off the lead at the 112th U.S. Open held jointly by Jim Furyk and Graeme McDowell. This marks Westwood's 57th major championship, and we'll find out Sunday if the world No. 3 will be smoking a cigar rather than rueing another of those close finishes without one.

"I think I've probably been in contention in major championships more than anybody else over the last three or four years," Westwood said, stating facts, not bragging, and there is no disputing his words. "So I'm looking forward to tomorrow and hopefully going to go out and have some fun and see what happens."

Westwood has finished second or third in six of the last 10 majors and seven of the last 15, most recently when he tied for third at the Masters, two shots out of the playoff Bubba Watson won in April. No golfer in the last 78 years has posted more top-three finishes in golf's crown jewels without a win than the 39-year-old Brit.

But Westwood isn't the type to brood over the missed opportunities. You certainly won't find him telling reporters or friends or anyone else who would listen that he's just not good enough to win a major like a frustrated Sergio Garcia did after shooting 75-71 on the weekend at Augusta National earlier this year.

"I'm not made up like that," Westwood said. "I'm half-full-glass-type person."

Westwood, who has been known to lift a pint or two, then went on to joke that "actually my glass is normally empty." But in reality, if anyone had the right to moan and groan, it would be the snake-bit Englishman. Instead, he choses to draw strength from the way he keeps putting himself in the hunt.

"I think every time you get yourself in contention you learn something new," Westwood said. "I've been in contention a lot in different kinds of positions, leading, coming from behind. ... So, yeah, I pick little bits out of all of those, but the main thing is just to go out there and believe that I'm good enough.

"I must be, I keep getting myself in contention often enough."

Granted, not all of those seven finishes of second or third were chances Westwood squandered. For example, he simply ran into two players performing at their absolute best when he finished runner-up to Louis Oosthuizen, seven shots shy, at the 2010 British Open and tied for third at the 2011 U.S. Open, 10 strokes behind the child-prodigy, Rory McIlroy.

Westwood can't say the same, though, about those ties for third at the 2008 U.S. Open and 2009 British Open or the second-place he posted in the Masters the following year. He led the first two entering the problematic final nine holes and took a one-stroke lead over the eventual champ, Phil Mickleson, into the final round at Augusta National.

Bogeys on Nos. 10, 12 and 13 at Torrey Pines in 2008 had Westwood, playing in the final group with Tiger Woods, playing catch-up as the pressure heightened that Sunday afternoon. Even so, he had -- and missed -- a 20-footer on the 72nd hole that would have earned Westwood a spot in Monday's memorable playoff with Woods and Rocco Mediate.

Westwood's collapse at Turnberry came later in the day, in the veritable gloaming, as he bogeyed three of the final four holes. Still, he would have joined Stewart Cink and five-time Open champion Tom Watson in their playoff had Westwood, thinking he needed birdie, not three-putted the final green from 60 feet.

And finally, at that Masters, Mickelson just played better in the final round, shooting a 67 to Westwood's 71 to earn his third Green Jacket.

"It's tough to win out here," Westwood said. "And I think there's more to it than all you can do is perform as good as possible and see what happens after that. Somebody might perform better. So winning is fickle. And all I'm trying to do is play as good as I can play and get into contention and see if I can finish it off and have a bit of fun doing it."

Westwood, who traversed eight time zones when he flew to San Francisco after a win last week in Sweden, certainly had fun on Saturday, making five birdies, including what he called a "bomb ... that you don't expect" at the final hole. He improved 25 spots and will start the final round tied for fourth, playing in the penultimate group with Fredrik Jacobson.

Westwood's record on Sundays of late is pretty strong, too. He has shot par or better in the final round of the last eight majors in which he's made the cut. But the glass-half-full guy wouldn't bite when a reporter asked whether he felt the elusive win was just a matter of time.

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

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