With so many strong players near the top of the leaderboard heading into Saturday's third round, most golf fans figured that it would be a wild day at Muirfield. That was certainly the case, as Englishman Lee Westwood leads The Open Championship by two strokes over Americans Tiger Woods and Hunter Mahan.
Part of the excitement on Saturday had to do with some of the lesser-known players in contention, but essentially all of them fell off. That was especially true of 36-hole leader Miguel Angel Jimenez, as he shot six-over par in the third round, and basically played his way out of contention unless something miraculous happens on Sunday.
Here is a complete breakdown of the stars who find themselves in an ideal position at the British Open and have a legitimate chance to secure the Claret Jug.
It's no secret that Westwood has never won a major, but it's also no secret that he has come agonizingly close on many occasions. The 40-year-old star has at least one finish of second or third in each of golf's four major championships, which means that he knows how to contend, but he simply hasn't yet figured out how to win on the big stage. If Westwood's performance on Saturday is any indication, though, that may be changing rapidly.
Westwood was among several players who were tied for second place at two-under par heading into the third round, but rather than folding as he has many times in the past, Westwood elevated his game. It would have been very easy for Westwood to implode when adversity hit, especially playing alongside Tiger, but he actually outdueled Woods with a birdie on the 17th, while Tiger bogeyed, according to BBC Sport.
Things could have been disastrous for Westwood as a wayward shot found the high grass on 16. He struggled to get it out, and left himself with a long bogey putt. Woods barely missed a lengthy birdie putt on the same whole, while Westwood buried his bogey try. Even though it was a bogey, it gave him a ton of momentum to close out the round. Westwood hasn't done it before, but this is the best position that he has been in when it comes to finishing off a major title.
Tiger Woods hasn't won a major since the 2008 U.S. Open, and while his third round at the British Open didn't close in ideal fashion, he is still very much within striking distance. Woods and Westwood were tied after 16 holes, but the aforementioned bogey putt by Westwood changed everything. Now Woods must accomplish a first in his career if he is to win The Open Championship, as he has never won a major without at least a share of the lead after three rounds, according to SportsCenter.
It's an amazing statistic when you consider that Woods has won 14 majors, and is certainly one of the most dominant players of all time, but he simply plays better out in front than from behind. Woods was in the lead for much of the third round as he and Westwood matched each other step for step, but one mistake and a couple narrow misses late in the round have put him in a spot that requires him to make a comeback.
Just because Woods has never done it before, that certainly doesn't mean that he's incapable of coming from behind. It's important to note that Westwood has a penchant for coming up small in the final round of majors, so all it takes is for Westwood to lose a stroke or two, and Tiger to gain a stroke or two. The only issue is that they won't be going head to head, since Woods is in the second-to-last group, but Westwood figures to feel the pressure regardless.
One player who wasn't being talked about much leading into Saturday was Hunter Mahan. Although Mahan finished tied for fourth at the U.S. Open and has made some big strides at majors, he was somewhat of an afterthought. Mahan entered the third round at two-over par, but he played spectacularly, and now finds himself in the final pairing for the second consecutive major tournament, according to Will Gray of Golf Channel.
Only a small handful of players shot under par on Saturday, and Mahan's three-under 68 was easily the most impactful among them. When essentially everyone around him was crumbling and falling down the leaderboard, Mahan scratched and clawed his way near the top. He now finds himself in the same position as Woods as he trails Westwood by two strokes, but he figures to have momentum on his side after such a strong showing on Saturday.
Although Mahan hasn't been around as long as Westwood, and he hasn't experienced quite as much heartbreak either, he is constantly on the hunt in majors, only to fall just short. Many are expecting that Westwood will be the one to finally end his string of bad fortune at majors, but perhaps it will be Mahan instead. Whatever the case, the final round at Muirfield promises to be extremely interesting and unpredictable.
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