Muirfield also provided another chance to handicap Woods and his pursuit of the record 18 majors by Nicklaus.
Woods is back to winning more than everyone else, but all he can say about the majors is that he’s back to contending in them. He has left a mark in five of the last six majors _ either a share of the 36-hole lead or close enough on Sunday to pay attention to that red shirt _ but he has yet to be a serious contender. He says he has been in “probably about half the majors on the back nine on Sunday with a chance” since his last major in 2008.
That’s a stretch. Contention is best defined as having a chance in the final hour. That hasn’t been the case since his downfall. It would be foolish to dismiss his chances of at least catching Nicklaus, but this won’t be easy. At this stage, the bigger threat to him is not how good he is, but how much better everyone else is.
Westwood doesn’t feel as though he played badly, and while he closed with a 75, that was not a disgrace. Mahan also had 75 in the last group. Woods was in the group ahead and shot 74. This wasn’t a meltdown like Scott’s last year at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, or Nick Watney and his 81 at Whistling Straits in the 2010 PGA Championship, or Dustin Johnson’s 82 at Pebble Beach in the U.S. Open.
This was more like a slow bleed. The bandage started to come undone on the seventh tee. There was the sound of a camera clicking on Westwood’s 9-iron, perhaps from the gallery. Westwood only turned to glare after his ball came up short and headed into a pot bunker. It didn’t seem to be that big of a deal, but his reaction was the first sign of frayed nerves. He was tentative on some birdie chances on the back nine.
Westwood made 12 birdies and an eagle going into the final round. He made one birdie on Sunday.
Of the top five players on the leaderboard, he was the only one without a birdie on the back nine. This would have to fall under the category of “missed opportunity” more than “blown opportunity.” But at 40, those opportunities might not come along as often.
For Mickelson, who captured the third leg of the career Grand Slam, the U.S. Open can’t get here soon enough.