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Westwood will keep firing until he bags that elusive major

Monday, April 12, 2010

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If anyone was suited to offer words of encouragement to Lee Westwood on Sunday after he lost the final-round lead at the Masters, it was the man who usurped him, Phil Mickelson.

Lee Westwood and caddie Billy Foster watch as Phil Mickelson makes a birdie putt on No. 18 to finish off his third Masters victory. Westwood closed with a 71. (Michael Holahan/Staff)

Mickelson long carried the label as the world's top player never to win a major before he rolled in an 18-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole of the 2004 Masters Tournament to beat Ernie Els by one stroke.

He reminded Westwood of that on Sunday evening, shortly after his round of 5-under-par 67 left him at 16-under, three strokes clear of the Englishman, who shot 71.

"Phil was just saying in the scoring hut after we had finished that he'd been that man who kept knocking on the door, finishing seconds and thirds, and wonder if it ever does happen," Westwood said, "and suddenly it does and winning majors becomes easier in your own mind."

Westwood has been on the verge of winning a major for most of the past year. He tied for third at both the British Open and PGA Championship and held the 54-hole lead this year at Augusta National Golf Club after rounds of 67, 69 and 68.

He was close to becoming the first player ever to fire four rounds in the 60s before his 71 on Sunday. In truth, Sunday's round was less of a collapse by Westwood than a textbook example of how to play the course by now-three-time Masters champion Mickelson, who played the final 36 holes at 10-under.

"I shot 71 at the end of the day, which is not a terrible score around Augusta when you're in the lead," Westwood said. "Phil shot 67, which generally wins major championships when people are there or thereabouts going into the last round."

Westwood did little to relinquish the one-stroke advantage he carried into the day, although he was dismayed by a three-putt bogey on No. 9, which Mickelson parred to remain at 12 under and take the lead. Westwood would never match Mickelson again on the back nine, despite playing it at 2-under.

"I tried to put a bit of pressure on Phil," Westwood said. "But he played well on the back nine and took his chances when he had a bit of luck and hit some great shots when he needed to."

Despite his disappointment in losing the tournament, Westwood remains optimistic about where his performance at Augusta puts him going forward. Europe's top player knows that several enticing courses -- including Pebble Beach and St. Andrews -- remain on the major tournament schedule this year, providing more opportunities for him to add an elusive major title to his résumé.

"If you sat me down at the start of the year and asked me to rate which ones suit me, I would probably put the Masters last and say it was the one that suited me the least," Westwood said. "So to finish second is obviously a massive boost for the rest of the year."

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