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SAN FRANCISCO: Lee Westwood made a tour around the treacherous Olympic Club Lake Course look like a walk in the park on Saturday, firing a three-under 67 to put himself in contention for a first major title.
While his rivals spoke of plodding and grinding through the punishing par-70 layout, where the greens and fairways were baking dry in California sunshine, Westwood smiled and chatted with Aussie playing partner John Senden.
“It’s a golf tournament. It’s the game of golf... So I don’t take it too seriously,” Westwood said. “After you’ve been doing it for 20 seasons out here, I think it’s time to relax and give yourself a break and enjoy it.”
Not that the stakes aren’t high for Westwood. The world No.3 is the highest-ranked player left in the field after the departures of No.1 Luke Donald and No.2 Rory McIlroy — who was the defending US Open champion.
Westwood himself has swapped the world No.1 spot with Donald and McIlroy over the past year, but has yet to gain a major title despite a bevy of near misses on golf’s biggest stages.
Not only is he seeking a first victory in one of golf’s Grand Slam events, Westwood’s performance Saturday had him poised to become the first Englishman to win one of the four majors since Nick Faldo’s dramatic come-from-behind victory over Greg Norman at the 1996 Masters.
Westwood’s three-under effort gave him a two-over par total of 212. When he walked off the course, he was just two shots off the pace.
He seized the clubhouse lead with his fifth birdie of the day at 18.
“If you’re hitting the ball well you can give yourself a few chances, and I’ve been hitting the ball well,” said Westwood, who arrived in San Francisco fresh from a victory in Sweden’s Nordea Masters.
He played the first two rounds with Donald and McIlroy, and the first two rounds were a slog.
“The three of us didn’t hit sort of full gear at any stage,” Westwood said.
"The two lads struggled a bit. You pay the price on the US Open style setup. You can’t afford to miss too many fairways out here.”
Now, Westwood said, he’ll try to keep his optimistic attitude going along with his game on Sunday.
At the Masters in April, Westwood finished two shots out of the playoff in which Bubba Watson beat Louis Oosthuizen.
That made it six top-three finishes in his last 10 majors, and 10 top-five finishes in his career in majors.
He insisted Saturday that the near-misses, rather than sapping his spirit, had been valuable learning experiences.
“I think I’ve probably been in contention in major championships more than anybody else over the last three or four years,” he said.
“I think every time you get yourself in contention you learn something new. I’ve been in contention a lot in different kinds of positions, leading, coming from behind — and in this tournament and other tournaments.
“I pick little bits out of all of those, but the main thing is just to go out there and believe that I’m good enough. -- AFP