Westwood's chance to be a nation's hero

Martin Rogers
Yahoo! Sports

TURNBERRY, Scotland – The Open is the Open in these parts, not the British Open.

Whatever America refers to this tournament as, there is no chance you will get the United Kingdom to follow suit and add a geographical distinction to the name of its favorite golf tournament.

So when the home public and media start talking about a "British Open champion" it means one thing – an Open champion who is British.

Confused? (Come on, think about it.)

Don't worry, British golf fans often wear a look of bemusement at this tournament, too. The source of their puzzlement, plus a dash of ire, is that the event has failed to produce a local winner since the days when woods were wooden and golf balls were smooth.

That's an exaggeration of course, but the frustrated home nation can be forgiven for going slightly stir-crazy when this particular topic comes up.

For the record it has been exactly a decade since the U.K. could celebrate a triumph at its Open and even then, it came in the form of an extraordinary feat of generosity; Jean Van de Velde kindly squandering his own tournament hopes on the final hole and gift-wrapping the claret jug to Scotland's Paul Lawrie.

The wait for an English winner is even longer, dating back 17 years to when Sir Nick Faldo (then just plain old Nick) triumphed at Muirfield.

Lee Westwood knows all this, plus plenty more painful details of British shame in this tournament. Like for any other British golfer of standing it has been unavoidable for him, the constant reminders from an agitated country providing a tortuous form of learning by rote.

With a day to go at Turnberry, Westwood is in a strong position to have a crack at ending the pain and making himself a national icon in the process.

Two shots back and in a tie for fourth, Westwood is the bookies' favorite to emerge as champion. Sure, compatriot Ross Fisher is one shot ahead of him, but Westwood's pedigree is stronger and chances greater – with Fisher potentially set to leave the final round at any point if his wife goes into labor.

"I do feel ready to win," said Westwood. "I have come close in majors before and haven't quite got there. I am happy with how my game is coming together and if I stay patient I can be there or thereabouts."

Patience was a key element to Westwood's play Saturday, as he held his nerve and game together amid testing conditions.

Opting for the safer side of quickening greens, his only big mishap was caused by overaggression on 18, before a delightful chip shot restricted the damage to a bogey.

Westwood may feel he is due after a decade of regularly excelling on the European Tour and in the Ryder Cup. He has 29 tournament wins and came close at the 2008 U.S Open at Torrey Pines, failing by a single shot to get into the playoff in which Tiger Woods beat Rocco Mediate.

"The more experiences you have, the more equipped you become to handle most situations and deal with most things that come at you," said the 36-year-old. "Having been in contention at the U.S. Open last year, and playing that last round with Tiger, I learned a lot."

Westwood is popular in Britain without being wildly so. He is seen as a good sort, a strong Ryder Cup performer and a decent guy, but not as a superstar. That could change starting Sunday night.

He certainly looks readier than ever, striding purposefully around the course during Saturday's even-par 70, dressed in businesslike brown.

Championship Sunday of this odd and unpredictable staging of an ancient event might just be the biggest day of Lee Westwood's career. As he steps into the fray he will have the hopes of a nation spurring him onwards, and a glut of recent history blocking his path.

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