Lee Westwood was ever so close to capturing his elusive first major title at the Masters last month in Augusta. He now finds himself in the lead of what would again be the defining win of his career to date in the 2010 Players Championship.
Westwood holds a one-shot advantage in a log-jam leader board at TPC Sawgrass heading into Sunday’s final 18 holes.
Westwood showed the poise of a veteran player on the PGA Tour on Saturday, as he was the overnight leader from Friday. By the time Westwood made the turn in the third round, his lead had vanished and he trailed by a shot. He did not waver or falter and plotted along on the back-nine knowing that there were certain spots he could take advantage.
“There was no real scope for thinking about anything else other than what I was doing,” Westwood said in a post-round interview. “It’s that kind of golf course. If you play well, birdies are available. If you don’t hit good shots, they penalize you. That’s what good golf courses do to you.”
Westwood is one-shot clear of Robert Allenby, and two shots ahead Ben Crane, Lucas Glover and Eduardo Molinari heading into Sunday’s final round.
The man who beat out Westwood in the Masters, Phil Mickelson, carded a 6-under round of 66 to get back into contention in the tournament, with an outside chance if he can duplicate his Saturday round.
Mickelson began the day nine shots behind.
“I feel like things started to click a little bit today, and I think I’ve got one more low round in me,” Mickelson said. “I just hope that it will be enough, that I’ll be within striking distance.”
If Mickelson wins tomorrow, he would vault over Tiger Woods for the No.1 ranking in the world.
Woods continued to struggle, carding a second consecutive round of 71, and bogeying his finals two holes of the day. He is now left a full 10 shots behind the leaders, at 4-under par.
Allenby found himself five shots behind the leader heading to the fourteenth tee box. However after an eagle on No.16 and a birdie on No.17, he propelled himself into the tournament’s final pairing for the final 18 holes.
“That’s the thing,” Allenby remarked after his round. “You don’t know what’s going to happen out there. All you can do is just play your own golf. But I knew I had to push it a little bit just to try to get within reach. Obviously, the leaderboard changed a couple of times through the back nine. Luckily for me, I did well on the finishing holes.”
Westwood also navigated his way through the back-nine under par.
“The golf course changed a lot. It got really firm this afternoon,” Westwood said. “I thought I played well — gave myself a lot of chances, missed a couple, but all in all, I was pleased with the way I played. I didn’t make too many poor shots out there.”
He escaped with par on No.18 after leaving his tee shot out to the right, and made an aggressive approach to the green that worked out.
“Had to go under one limb and then over the next lot of trees,” Westwood remarked. “It just looked perfect for the trajectory.”
Westwood is the betting favorite on Online Sportsbooks to win the 2010 Players Championship.