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U.S. Open: For Lee Westwood, a furious rally may not be enough

- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 18, 2011

The golfers passed on the footbridge without a word.

Lee Westwood walked Saturday evening as if he had the lead at the U.S. Open. But that belonged to blank-faced Rory McIlroy, who strode by with an entourage of officials, photographers and journalists eager to document his destruction of Congressional Country Club's Blue Course.

"I don't think he saw me," Westwood said, then raised his eyebrows.

They share an agent, Chubby Chandler. They shared dinner the last two nights. And Saturday, Westwood closed the gap with McIlroy on the course. Well, as much as one can close the gap with the leader holding an eight-stroke advantage on the field at 14-under par.

In a furious stretch of golf on the back nine, Westwood birdied three straight holes and recorded an eagle to move into a tie for third place with Jason Day and Robert Garrigus. Westwood finished the day 6-under par and is at 5-under for the tournament.

"I can't control how Rory is going to play, nor can he control my game," Westwood said. "I'm happy to be in the tournament. I thought I was going home after my round on Thursday. I played dreadful."

Knocked out of his spot as the world's top-ranked player last month, Westwood started the U.S. Open with a round of 75.

But the past two nights deposited nearly a half-inch of rain on the course. Hay covered well-traveled parts to combat the mud. The greens softened and slowed. And what the United States Golf Association made fearsome was rendered, well, playable.

"This would be a lot tougher if the course was playing firm," said Westwood, with 10 top-10 finishes at majors but no titles. "There would be some really tough flags out there."

Westwood's birdie binge started on No. 13 and continued the next two holes. Up came the 579 yards of No. 16.

"C'mon Lee," bellowed one supporter, "tighten the screws on them!"

In his dark brown polo emblazoned with the UPS logo, Westwood waved, then delivered.

He drove down the middle of the fairway — still soggy from the rain — then landed the ball 13 feet from the flag with an iron. Westwood rolled his putt toward the hole, but it slowed to an agonizing crawl inches away.

But the green was friendly.

A lone voice in the stands shouted, "Get in the hole!" The ball then dropped for an eagle.

With McIlroy setting the U.S. Open record for the best 54-hole score Saturday, Westwood's odds of catching him appear, at best, slim. McIlroy's meltdown at the Masters in April, when he surrendered the green jacket with a final round of 80, gives Westwood hope.

"You don't know how Rory is going to do," said Westwood, cracking that next year's U.S. Open will be lengthened to 8,000 yards because of McIlroy. "You don't know how he's going to deal with the big lead. He had a big lead in a major and didn't deal with it well before. There's pressure on him."

A roar from the bleachers followed Westwood as he exited No. 18 over the floating bridge crossing dark green water and occasional splashes from turtles. He handed an autographed ball to the standard-bearer, then tossed another ball into the stands. The cheers continued.

Westwood walked away, looking as if he had won.

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