Westwood's major grail gets closer

Lee Westwood punctuates his round of 67 with birdie on the 18th, putting him three shots out of the lead at 2-over 212.

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Lee Westwood punctuates his round of 67 with birdie on the 18th, putting him three shots out of the lead at 2-over 212.

SAN FRANCISCO — It had been easy to lump Lee Westwood in with the two other guys in his threesome the first two days. The difference was, he played well enough to hang around for the weekend, and he played well enough Saturday to get into contention for his first major title.

Luke Donald and Rory McIlroy, his mates in a group composed of the top three players in the world ranking, both failed to make the cut, which gave the group a bad name. Westwood hung in and made five birdies Saturday to shoot 3-under 67 and finish 2 over.

His round tied Casey Wittenberg for best of the day.

Of the U.S. Open, he said, "It has no respect for who you are or what your ranking is."

He turned the tables Saturday, not getting overwrought by the occasion or anything else.

"I go out and play golf for a living on the best golf courses in the world in the biggest tournaments," said the man who has seven top-three finishes in majors and 35 wins as a pro. "It's not a bad way to pass time."

Westwood overcame two bogeys to finish with five birdies, the last coming when he trickled a putt from about 15 feet into the hole on the historic 18th hole to bring the crowd roaring to its feet.

"I think every time you get yourself in contention you learn something new," Westwood said.

"I pick little bits out of all of those (times contending in previous majors), but the main thing is just to go out there and believe that I'm good enough."

LEFTY'S SERENADE: Phil Mickelson, a five-time Open runnerup, shot 71 and was 8 over for the tournament. But the crowd on 18 gave him some consolation. A large chunk of fans on the hillside green below the stately clubhouse serenaded him with Happy Birthday. Lefty turned 42: "It's a long, difficult day, even though it's my birthday. And it was very flattering of the fans, thank you."

PETERSON'S ACE: John Peterson, 23, playing in the next-to-last group with fellow LSU alum David Toms, was 4 over through 12 holes until he got to the 180-yard, par-3 13th. He saw his ball roll in the cup for a hole-in-one and leaped for joy. That brought him back within four of the lead. He shot 72 and was four strokes out of the lead.

STILES' DAY: Gulf High graduate Darron Stiles shot 73 and was 9 over for the tournament. He sandwiched bogeys on Nos. 16 and 18 around an eagle on the par-5 17th.

Golden Bear's golden anniversary

Today at 2 p.m., before its live Open coverage, NBC (Ch. 8) will debut a one-hour documentary, 1962 U.S. Open: Jack's First Major, chronicling Jack Nicklaus' playoff win over Arnold Palmer at Oakmont. Today is the 50th anniversary of the playoff. The win launched the "Golden Bear" toward his record 18 major titles and came on Palmer's home course, despite "Arnie's Army."

Westwood's major grail gets closer 06/16/12 [Last modified: Sunday, June 17, 2012 12:13am]

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