Saturday, February 24, 2018
Golf

British Open: Tiger close, Westwood closer, Mahan repeater

A key opportunity gone with the wind for Tiger

Tiger Woods lost his chance to get into today's final group with one swing Saturday. Tied with Lee Westwood as they played the par-5 17th into a stiff breeze off the Firth of Forth, Woods tried to hit 3-wood over a series of bunkers to allow for a simple wedge into the green. With his ball on the slightest slope, he got it up in the air just enough that the wind grabbed it and deposited it in a bunker. Woods had to blast out sideways and missed a 15-foot par putt. After his 1-over 72, Woods was tied for second with Hunter Mahan, two shots back. Woods has never won a major when trailing going into the last day. Also, this is the sixth time he has entered a major's final round one or two shots back, and he has never broken 70 in those rounds. Still, the outlook didn't look bleak from his vantage point. "I'm only two back," Woods said. "There's only one guy ahead of me. … I've got 14 of these things (major wins), and I know what it takes to win it." Woods hasn't won a major since 2008, the longest drought of his career.

The best bogey of Westwood's life

Lee Westwood has contended enough in majors that he can identify important moments, even if he can barely see his ball.

He had a one-shot lead over Tiger Woods in Round 3, standing in grass up to his knees in the dunes left of the par-3 16th hole. It was one of the few bad shots Westwood hit Saturday at Muirfield, and by far his worst predicament.

Westwood slashed at the ball, and it didn't reach the green. He used a putter to belt his next shot up the hill to 12 feet. He poured in the putt to salvage bogey as Woods made par.

Westwood picked up two shots on Woods with birdie on the next hole as Woods bogeyed. He closed with par, giving him a two-shot lead at 3-under 210 going into today's final round.

"That was probably the biggest momentum thing I did all day, walk off (16) with a bogey," Westwood said. "That's what's been missing, making those putts. And back it up with a birdie at the next. Those are the sort of things you need to do."

Mahan's major do-over

Hunter Mahan, tied for second with Tiger Woods after 3-under 68, today makes his second straight appearance in the final group of a major. He was in the last group of the U.S. Open with Phil Mickelson last month at Merion Golf Club, another demanding layout. He strung together one tough par after another, only to fall out of contention with double bogey at the 15th. He finished tied for fifth and said at the time the experience wouldn't go to waste.

"Does it help?" Mahan said Saturday. "I think it does. Because I think it can be overwhelming at times. Being in the first or second, last groups there, to have everybody following you and seeing all the scores and everything, it can be overwhelming."

Major trivia

• A Lee Westwood win today would make him the first Englishman to win his national Open since Nick Faldo in 1992.

• Westwood, 40, would be the second player since 2000 to win his first major after turning 40. Darren Clarke won the 2011 British Open at 42.

• Westwood would be the third straight British Open winner in his 40s, following Clarke and Ernie Els, at 42 last year. Since 1861, only seven players have won their first major in their 40s.

• The 54-hole positions of the past 20 major winners: leader, 5; second, 6; third, 2; fourth or lower, 7.

• With Justin Rose winning the U.S. Open, Westwood could give England its first back-to-back major winners since 1909, when only two majors were played (George Sargent won the U.S. Open, John Henry Taylor the British).

Where are the crowds?

Despite flawless weather, the crowds at Muirfield have been noticeably smaller than they were the last time the British Open was at the course, in 2002. The opening-round crowd Thursday, as reported by the Royal & Ancient, was 23,393, a significant drop from 30,620 in '02. The trend was much the same the past two days.

Time and the R&A were not on his side

Japan's Hideki Matsuyama became the second player this year to get a one-shot penalty for slow play in a major.

The first nearly cost China's Guan Tianlang a weekend at the Masters. The second was more costly to Matsuyama on Saturday. He was three shots off the lead when he was assessed the penalty on 17. His par turned into bogey, and Matsuyama, 21, bogeyed 18 for 1-over 72. He finished 3-over 216, six shots behind.

The Royal & Ancient said each twosome had 3 hours, 41 minutes to complete the round and Matsuyama and Johnson Wagner had fallen 15 minutes off pace when they were first placed on the clock. Matsuyama took more than a minute on a putt at 15 for a warning. The R&A said he took 2 minutes, 12 seconds to play his second shot out of deep grass on 17, leading to the penalty.

Wagner said he supports slow play penalties but not in this case. "Given (Matsuyama's) position in the tournament, and given the shot he faced on 17 — laying it up out of the fescue over the gorse and pot bunkers — I don't think he took too long," said Wagner, who shot 73. "Under the situation, I think it's tragic. … The R&A should use better judgment."

R&A rules director David Rickman said the official with the group gave Matsuyama ample time to cope with the shot's difficulty.

Guan, 14, was given two bad times in the second round of the Masters and assessed a one-shot penalty. He still became the youngest player to make the cut in a major.

He'll always have his wine and cigars

Third-round leader Miguel Angel Jimenez, at 49 trying to become the oldest major winner, plummeted from contention with 6-over 77. He had four bogeys in the first eight holes, yet still was within striking distance of the leaders. Then he played the final five holes 4 over and sat at 3-over 216.

Compiled from Times wires, ESPN, cbssports.com, PGA Tour

   
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