Lee Westwood Must Improve Ball-Striking to Win 1st Major at 2013 British Open

Matt FitzgeraldCorrespondent IIIJuly 20, 2013

GULLANE, SCOTLAND - JULY 20:  Lee Westwood of England reacts from the 3rd tee during the third round of the 142nd Open Championship at Muirfield on July 20, 2013 in Gullane, Scotland.  (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

Lee Westwood is in ideal position to capture his maiden major championship at the 2013 British Open, holding a two-stroke lead after 54 holes thanks to a one-under round of 70 on Saturday.

However, in order to beat out his closest competitors in Tiger Woods, Hunter Mahan and the countless others hoping for their first taste at major glory, the Englishman must get his ball-striking in order for the final round.

A cushion of multiple shots can evaporate quickly at Muirfield Golf Links, with trouble lurking at every turn in the form of knee-high rough and ruthless greens. Thus, Westwood has to be on top of his game to emerge with the Claret Jug.

Two recent developments have helped Westwood to where he is now.

Westwood turned to a new pair of eyes to check on his swing in Sean Foley, and discovered a revelation of a mentor in 1991 Open champion Ian Baker-Finch to help him with his putting.

The golf swing is a fluid, fluctuating phenomenon that isn't ever fully mastered—even the planet's best hit wild shots from time to time.

Westwood, though, has struggled in relation to the rest of the field in with his long game.

His form wasn't good before he consulted with Foley—who coached his compatriot Justin Rose to victory at the U.S. Open and is Woods' coach as well—but there has still been inconsistency from tee to green at the Open.

Granted, the conditions at Muirfield aren't exactly ideal for lighting it up. Also, it does take some time to adjust to even the most minimal of swing changes, especially at this high of a level in golf.

What has saved Westwood through the first three rounds is his putter, which he can apparently thank Baker-Finch for.

Westwood leads the tournament with 26 one-putts—almost half of the greens. That has historically been the shakiest part of his game, and in layman's terms, he's out of his mind with the flatstick in hand.

Nine or so one-putts tomorrow under the circumstances is a rather tall task to manage. Maybe the veteran can continue to surprise rolling the rock, but his grind toward the trophy would be far easier with a few more realistic looks at birdie.

Hitting 57.1 percent of fairways has Westwood tied for 52nd at the Open, and his 57.4 greens in regulation percentage is T-62.

Considering how penal the rough is and the ratcheted-up intensity as the tournament draws nearer to its conclusion, Westwood will have to leave himself in better position to maintain his lead.

When he finished out his round with a tap-in on the 18th from short range, it took longer than expected. Perhaps it was an aberration given the huge putts he holed for bogey on No. 16 and birdie at the par-five 17th, but Shane Bacon of Yahoo! was particularly critical:

It will obviously be key to hole putts, but more shots like his brilliant iron play at No. 14 that set up a birdie must be struck to keep the mind clear of burdensome swing thoughts.

Sunday won't be as much about making birdies for Westwood, but rather about minimizing mistakes, which he has done extremely well all week.

To ensure his long-awaited major triumph, the swing is the thing to get Westwood to the summit.

Note: Tournament statistics were obtained from TheOpen.com.