Woods seizes a once-familiar spot: leading a major

Associated Press
Tiger Woods of the United States waits to play off the first tee during the third round of the British Open Golf Championship at Muirfield, Scotland, Saturday July 20, 2013. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
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GULLANE, Scotland (AP) — Tiger Woods and Lee Westwood dueled for the lead at the British Open, two stars on very different missions.

For Woods, it's another chance to edge a little closer to Jack Nicklaus.

For Westwood, it's another opportunity to finally win the first major title of his career.

Playing together in the next-to-last group, the playing partners were tied for the lead as they approached the end of the third round Saturday at treacherous Muirfield.

With 36-hole leader Miguel Angel Jimenez running into trouble after two days of steady play, Woods and Westwood moved to the top of the board mainly by not making as many mistakes as the other contenders.

Westwood briefly put himself three shots clear of the field on the front side after curling in a 60-footer for eagle at the fifth. Woods fought back into a tie as they made the turn, Westwood grabbed the lead again with a birdie at the 14th, before a bogey at the 16th left them even again with two holes left.

It actually looked as though Woods might be leading when he walked off the par-3 hole, after he stuck his tee shot about 20 feet right of the flag while Westwood yanked his into the knee-high grass left of the green.

Westwood hacked the ball out but didn't even make it on the green. Then he putted up 15 feet short of the flag, needing that for bogey while fully aware that Woods was lining up a birdie attempt.

Woods' putt stopped alongside the cup for a tap-in par. Westwood rapped his ball right in the hole, giving up the lead but fortunate to lose only one shot instead of two or three.

The last time Woods led a major after 54 holes was the 2009 PGA Championship, which turned out to be the first time he ever lost a major when taking the lead to Sunday. Y.E. Yang pulled off the upset at Hazeltine.

Woods hasn't been in that position since then, his life turned upside down by scandalous affairs and divorce while his golf game was plagued by physical problems and a swing change. The last time he won a major was the 2008 U.S. Open, leaving him in an 0-for-16 slump that is the longest of his career, a stretch that includes missing four other majors because of injuries.

He looks healthy at Muirfield and intent on picking up his 15th major title, which would pull him within three of Nicklaus' record.

Westwood has contended in numerous majors, finishing second or third in golf's most prestigious events seven times. At age 40, he knows his window of opportunity is starting to close.

Woods had the lead all to himself when he birdied the second hole and Jimenez came along a few minutes later and made bogey. Then it was Westwood who had the crowd roaring with his long eagle putt, pushing his score to 3 under overall.

He appeared to be pulling away when he birdied the par-3 seventh.

Of course, it doesn't take long for things to change at baked-out Muirfield, where the weather has been postcard-perfect — sunny, temperatures in the 70s, with nary a hint of rain — but the course has proven to be a brutal test. The fairways could pass for paved roads. The greens are as firm as a snooker table.

Westwood's lead was gone by the time he headed to the back side. He closed the front with two straight bogeys, including the par-5 ninth when he drove into a bunker, ran his third shot through the green and couldn't get up-and-down.

Woods, on the other hand, did get up-and-down from a greenside bunker for birdie, snatching his ball out of the cup and heading to the 10th with a confident bounce in his step.

Jimenez scrambled to the lead over the first two days, but the Mechanic wasn't such a magician on Saturday. Errant drives and wayward irons began to take their toll, leading to bogeys on four of the first eight holes. A double-bogey at the 16th, where he needed two swings to get out of a bunker, dropped him four shots off the lead and desperate not to lose any more ground before Sunday.

Hunter Mahan was the leader in the clubhouse, shooting a 3-under 68 for a 1-under 212 total.

Masters champion Adam Scott, who bogeyed the final four holes last year at Lytham to squander what appeared to be a certain Open victory was in the mix again after a 70 left him to 213.

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