After so many flirtations, it's fair to wonder whether Lee Westwood is finally ready to capture a long-awaited major title. The 40-year-old Englishman outdueled playing partner Tiger Woods Saturday at Muirfield to emerge atop the leaderboard through three rounds of the 142nd Open Championship.
Westwood, who has never won a major tournament, owns a two-stroke lead over Woods and Hunter Mahan following a third-round 70 that sets the stage for an epic Sunday atmosphere. He'll tee off tomorrow morning sitting at three-under, looking to finally break through for a climactic major victory after frequently being denied on the doorstep.
You can be sure the majority of a passionate British Open crowd will spend Sunday supporting Westwood, who could become the first English player to claim the Claret Jug since Nick Faldo in 1992. The emotions of Britain's golf fans reached fever pitch Saturday afternoon, when Westwood buried three birdies and an eagle.
The conditions are perfect for Westwood to walk onto the course, rewrite his reputation and send a rallying cry across the country. However, it's easy to question if he's ready to accomplish a feat he's failed to reach on several occasions.
Westwood settled for second place at the 2010 Masters and 2010 Open Championship. His career also features five third-place finishes at major tournaments, all of which have occurred since 2008.
Each time Westwood has walked down this path, his journey ended with someone else claiming that elusive award. It's a frustrating personal history that he believes will help fuel him at Muirfield with the finish line in sight.
"I have had lots of chances," Westwood told Sky Sports. "I could have won four (majors) with the right things going my way. They are the things you feed off. You try to learn from the things you did wrong and put them into practice."
He held the 54-hole lead at the Masters three years ago. Phil Mickelson ultimately made a late charge at the green jacket with a final-round 67, denying Westwood satisfaction at a major once again.
Carrying the weight of past close calls, it's compelling to see what effect national attention and admiration will have on Westwood when he resumes play Sunday. Famous British cricketer Stuart Broad seems to believe this may be the latest positive development in a supremely successful month for the country's athletes (Andy Murray's win at Wimbledon; British and Irish Lions rugby title).
I would love @WestwoodLee to win The Open 2moro. Got a feeling its happening, its been Nottingham's month!— Stuart Broad (@StuartBroad8) July 20, 2013
British sports media mogul Sky Sports isn't even attempting to hide its affections for Westwood. The outlet has joined the rest of the country in backing the man it hopes can halt a 21-year national drought.
Golf (@SkySportsGolf) July 20, 2013
The good vibes can only go so far for Westwood, who is paired with Mahan on Sunday. He still must prove to the planet, and most importantly to himself, that he can close out a major tournament with Tiger and a collection of talented golfers nipping at his heels.
"I'll think about winning the Open Championship tonight at some stage," he told Sky Sports. "I'm sure. I don't see anything wrong with that—picture yourself holding the Claret Jug and seeing your name at the top of the leaderboard. But when it comes time to tee-off tomorrow I should be in the same frame of mind as I was (Saturday)."
Once again, a title opportunity is presented to Westwood on the final 18 holes of a major championship. A nation waits on bated breath to see if he can seize what has slipped through his fingers so many times before.