Englishman high on the leaderboard ahead of final round at US Open.
England’s Lee Westwood has himself in contention for a major title once again at the PGA Championship after a near miss at last month’s British Open.
And who should be his playing partner in Sunday’s final round at Oak Hill but defending champion Rory McIlroy, whose year of struggles could end with another major win.
Westwood and Northern Ireland’s McIlroy each finished 54 holes on three-under par 207, six strokes off the pace of US leader Jim Furyk, the 2003 US Open champion. McIlroy fired a three-under 67. Westwood shot 68.
But Westwood knows all too well that such gaps can be closed in the final round. He enjoyed the lead entering the final round three weeks ago at Muirfield before a late charge gave US star Phil Mickelson the title.
“You don’t know what’s going to happen in the last round of a major,” Westwood said. “You saw what happened when I had the lead in the last major and Phil was four, five behind, so anything is possible on the Sunday of a major.”
Westwood has 61 major starts, the most of any active player never to have won a major, and has 16 top-10 finishes, half of them top-three finishes.
He stays with his basic game plan, tweaking his swing with coach Sean Foley, and waits for the day when a major crown will be his.
“My game is a strong game, getting better every day,” he said. “I’m pleased with the work I’m doing with Sean and feel like I’m getting more control on the golf ball. And the work I’m doing on the greens as well, I feel like I’m putting a good roll on it.”
McIlroy has been working on his game as well since an equipment change to new sponsor Nike and a light early season schedule led to a season of struggles, his lone bright spot a runner-up showing at the Texas Open.
“It’s getting there,” McIlroy said. “It was good to feel the sort of rush again. I felt it a bit in San Antonio this year. I had a good chance to win there, and I holed some pretty good putts coming down the stretch. It was great to feel that.”
McIlroy finished with back-to-back birdies, an impressive feat with 17 the hardest hole on offer at Oak Hill.
“Making a birdie on 17 is like an eagle and then to follow it up with another on the last is even better,” McIlroy said.
“I wouldn’t say that was my best ball-striking round out there by any means, but I got it up and down when I needed to and that was the most important thing.”
McIlroy also recalled firing a final-round 62 at Quail Hollow in 2010 to win his first US PGA Tour title with a late charge.
“It gives me a bit confidence knowing that I’ve been in that position before and I’ve been able to win,” McIlroy said. “I know this is a major championship and it’s a bit different, but I felt good enough about my game that I could go out there and post a good one and at least give myself a chance.”