Englishman Lee Westwood has the 54-hole lead at the 2013 British Open, and at age 40, he is seeking his first major championship. Westwood is at three-under-par overall, two strokes ahead of Sunday playing partner Hunter Mahan and 14-time major champion Tiger Woods.
The world No. 1 Woods played alongside Westwood during the third round, and considering the incredibly fast, burned-out conditions at Muirfield Golf Links, he golfed his ball solidly.
To his credit, Westwood simply played better, firing a one-under 70 to Woods' 72.
Majors have been Westwood's longtime professional plight.
Getting over the hump in these pressure-packed events isn't easy. Plenty of world-class players deserve their maiden titles—but perhaps none more so than Westwood. He's finished a record seven times in the top three in majors without a victory, per ESPN's Justin Ray:
The good news for Westwood is that Woods has never come from behind to win a major, but Mahan is playing in his second consecutive final group at a major. Mahan played with Phil Mickelson at the U.S. Open approximately a month ago.
So many other players are within striking distance, too. Taking into account the fact that Ernie Els captured the Claret Jug from six strokes behind last year, just about anything can happen.
Kyle Porter of CBS Sports highlights marquee players facing that deficit entering the final 18 holes:
Brandt Snedeker, Sergio Garcia, Dustin Johnson and Jason Day are all considered overdue for their first major wins. That is definitely not a quartet to count out just yet.
Let's take a look at the complete pairings and make some predictions for how the Round 4's sure-to-be-exciting action will play out.
Note: Statistics are courtesy of PGATour.com and EuropeanTour.com. British Open information was obtained from the official website. Tournament history can be located at the Official World Golf Ranking.
Possible First-Timers Fall Short
All of the past champions at Muirfield since 1929—with the exception of Alf Perry in 1935—had either won majors before their respective victories in Gullane, Scotland or went on to be multiple major winners.
Each one went on to make the Hall of Fame, and while a slew of contenders could very well have a breakthrough and jolt their careers in that direction, it seems the more experienced and battle-tested players win at this venue.
So that counts out the aforementioned formidable foursome of Snedeker, Garcia, Johnson and Day. It would also eliminate final-group partners Mahan and Westwood, unfortunately.
The only five men left standing in the last nine pairings in that context are Mickelson, Woods, Angel Cabrera, first-round leader Zach Johnson and reigning Masters champion Adam Scott.
Woods and Scott will be part of the penultimate Sunday pairing, which should be arguably the most compelling to watch for a multitude of reasons.
Tiger's Drought Continues
Plain and simple: Woods has never won a major without at least a share of the overnight lead entering the last round.
TV personality Skip Bayless is a lightning rod for controversy, and he brings up a polarizing point about the "greatest golfer of all time" discussion between Woods and Jack Nicklaus, who owns 18 majors to Woods' 14:
On one hand, several notable legends played alongside Nicklaus in his heyday. To be fair, though, the combination of golf technology, advanced teaching academies and modern physical training—which Woods was a pioneer for—have made fields as deep as ever.
What made Woods so dominant in the early part of his career was how adamant he was with regard to fitness and strength—and the incredible achievements he obtained at such a young age.
That has to be considered a contributing factor to his major drought as his career has progressed.
Woods has won four times this season and has played brilliant golf thus far at Muirfield, but he hasn't quite been able to conjure up his trademark magic at golf's biggest tournaments lately.
Champion Golfer of the Year: Phil Mickelson
Part of that aforementioned fitness trend Woods set has allowed elite players such as Westwood and Mickelson and others to be competitive into their 40s and beyond.
Being five strokes back is essentially nothing at an Open Championship, and Mickelson hasn't put together his very best round yet.
While players like Woods and Westwood have made just about every putt imaginable, Lefty has three-putted from three feet in the third round and blown a number of other missed opportunities.
Mickelson has a great chance at notching the third leg of the career Grand Slam, finally adjusting his game properly to links golf.
Pressure will be cranked up a notch, adrenaline will be flowing and conditions will be as tough as they've been all week on Sunday. Thus, players are liable to misjudge distances more frequently—including Mickelson.
That's where his short game will set him apart from the rest of the pack, as it did when he won the Scottish Open less than a week ago.
Mickelson's putter hasn't gotten hot yet in the Open, but I have a feeling it will in the final round. With his experience, major pedigree and recent liking to the links, Phil will thrill on Sunday with a dramatic come-from-behind triumph.