Muirfield Golf Links again played foil to the world's best golfers. Sunny skies and a lack of humidity made for fairways that played more like a parking lot than a links golf course at the 2013 Open Championship.
But one man stands above the rest after a thrilling third round Saturday.
Englishman Lee Westwood carded a one-under 70 during his third round, pushing him to three under overall and giving him a two-stroke lead over the field heading into the final 18 holes. The twosome of Tiger Woods and Hunter Mahan are one under for the tournament, as both had strong outings on another day that saw scores skyrocket.
Mahan carded a three-under 68, tied with Sergio Garcia and Richard Sterne for the best score of the day. Overall there were 12 players who went under par Saturday, a three-golfer improvement over a near-unplayable second round.
Masters champion Adam Scott is in fourth place, the tournament's only player at even par. Here is a look at how the leaderboard stacks up prior to Sunday:
Westwood's journey to his first 54-hole lead at an Open Championship is a long time coming. At age 40, Westwood has been on the scene dating back to the late 1990s. His first PGA Tour win came in 1998 at the Freeport-McDermott Classic, and while he's only taken one more since, Westwood has become widely regarded as one of the best major-less golfers in the world.
Westwood has 11 top-10 finishes in major tournaments over the past decade, including a run of seven since 2010. With seven top-three placings, Westwood has the most ever such close calls in the post-Masters history, per ESPN's Justin Ray:
Based on his play Saturday, Westwood is in awfully good position to finally get off the schneid. Jostling with Woods back and forth for the lead the entire day—both players were alone atop the leaderboard at certain spots and spent much of their round tied—Westwood kept making shots whenever he needed them.
Should he come away with the Open Championship, Westwood will likely remember two Round 3 holes better than any other.
The first was an eagle on the par-three fifth. Having already dropped a shot, Westwood went for the green in two and got himself within 40 feet—seemingly perfect two-putt position.
But rather than simply lay up and get himself close to the pin for an easy tap-in, Westwood went for it and hit one of the finest shots of the entire week.
The other will be the par-five 17th—a hole that may haunt Woods as much as it pleases Westwood.
One of just three holes to play under par during these difficult conditions, No. 17 is seen as a place where you gain strokes you previously coughed away. Such was the case for Westwood, who knocked through a nice birdie to finalize his birdie-making for the day and get to three under.
As Westwood was knocking through a clutch birdie putt, Tiger found himself in a rare spot—scrambling for an even score on a par-five hole. One of the world's best at coming away with a four on the lengthy holes, as he did on No. 9 earlier in the round, Tiger left his second stroke in the bunker and needed to get up and down from 100 yards to save par.
He missed a difficult putt from 18 feet out, tapped in for bogey and gave up two strokes to his biggest competition on one hole.
As Woods and Westwood were doing battle, Mahan was merely having the best round of anyone Saturday afternoon. Hanging on the fringes of contention heading into Round 3, Mahan needed an excellent score to even have a shot—and that's exactly what he pulled off.
The 31-year-old American started out birdie-birdie, then settled into a more relaxed round filled with pars and make-up holes from mistakes. Mahan finished his day with birdies on Nos. 15 and 17, with his only blemishes coming on the hard par-three fourth and 13th. He'll be playing alongside Westwood Sunday, hoping to continue the trend of early-30s golfers winning their first majors this year.
The first to do that this year, Scott, was nothing but steady during his one-under 70. He hit fairways, knocked down putts and made only two over-par scores on the day. Buoyed by the confidence of his first major at Augusta, it will be interesting to see whether Scott can atone for his collapse a year prior.
If he does, it will have to come at the expense of Westwood, who is trying to become the second straight English major champion. Westwood has had one opportunity to finish off a 54-hole lead, blowing the 2010 Masters as Phil Mickelson went roaring by.
With history on the line and Tiger lurking, it should be fun to watch.
Complete Round 3 Scorecards for Leaders
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