The snatches of blue that peeped through the early-morning clouds never did grow into the day of sunshine Lee Westwood had hoped would illuminate the capture of his first major.
Playing to the rhythm of the elements, he first squandered a two-shot lead, then did repeated damage to his score with a string of ordinary shots and hobbled to the finish line of the 142nd Open in the shadow of Phil Mickelson, a most worthy and popular winner.
The American had been resting his weary feet for maybe half an hour – still smiling about a closing 66 too good for Westwood, Henrik Stenson, Ian Poulter, Tiger Woods and all the rest – when Worksop's finest received a ritual ovation coming up the 18th fairway that smacked as much of sympathy as understanding, never an agreeable mix at the highest level of sport. He rounded out the exercise with a little tap for par and a share of third place but, on a cooling evening at the end of a seductively warm week, there were probably a dozen places Westwood would rather have been – his new home in California, for one.
"I didn't play that badly," he said, "probably not so well at 7, 8 and 9. Phil must have played really well for five under par this afternoon, especially with a breeze going. The crowd were great, even when I bogeyed 16 and Phil was in at three under." As brave faces go, that was right up there. Westwood said the night before, when in upbeat mood after his best day of the championship, that there would be no external pressure, only that which came from within. Maybe that was the reason he lost, a five-letter word that haunts any world-class player who has not experienced a career-defining victory: doubt.
When he bogeyed the 16th to slip a shot behind Stenson into third place, resignation would surely have crowded out the final, flickering remnants of ambition. This had been his day for only a short while. He will hope another one will come along, of course, but he is 40 and he has tried 63 times now.
Westwood experienced all the vagaries on the front nine, having to sink three bogey putts to stay in the picture and grabbing a birdie at the 5th after going into the right-hand side bunker. It did not inspire confidence and he turned for home one under, sharing the lead with the Australian Adam Scott, a hole ahead of him, and Stenson, a further fairway closer to the clubhouse.
He also found the sand on the 461-yard 10th, and again saved with the putter, by now his only friend. These were nervy moments for Westwood and his trembling followers, the wind whipping at his shirt and self-assurance under still-grey skies. The locals reckoned the afternoon sun will always burn off the misty haar that embraces these shores but it did so grudgingly on Sunday. The brightest spot in the early stages of the run home hung over Scott, who grabbed the lead at the 11th to go a shot clear of Westwood, who was playing in his wake and faltering. As Mickelson, four holes ahead, birdied to draw level with the Australian, Westwood's calm was further disturbed.
At this point, just after 4.30pm, the only contender not to have dropped a shot was Zach Johnson, lurking at par with five holes of his contribution left to complete. Johnson slipped near home but there was no shortage of threat elsewhere for Westwood, fore and aft. He had a nerve-settling putt for par at the 11th but badly needed a confidence-boosting burst from the tee to rediscover a rhythm that might frighten his peers. It never came.
With Scott missing a regulation uphill putt to drop a shot, Westwood had a chance to regain the sole lead on the 189-yard 13th but shoved a four-iron into the wind, hard right into some long, green-side filth. His whirring recovery bounced off the bank opposite (brilliantly spotted and exploited) to roll his ball to within 15 feet, but he misjudged the line. His fourth bogey dragged him back to par with five holes left, his Sunday lead now used up, although he was still in the frame, two shots ahead of Woods, one behind the leaders, Scott and Mickelson.
He hit cleanly and straight down the 14th fairway to restore equilibrium, as news filtered through that back-to-back bogeys by Scott had left Mickelson alone at the front. Westwood's remaining bullet in the chamber was that he had more of the course left to play with than anyone else left in contention. A lovely shot to 20 feet gave him a rare birdie chance, but he left it a foot short.
With Mickelson walking to the 18th tee two shots clear, Westwood surveyed the 15th, but a play-off looked improbable. He got no purchase on the bounce of his otherwise fine approach shot and, unkindly, was parked on the upper corner of the green; somehow, he managed a grin, and parred. The greater joy was simultaneously spreading across the final green, however, as Mickelson stroked an ice-cool birdie for three under. What a classy finish that was. Westwood came within an inch of clawing back a shot with a firm, brave putt, but went to the 16th having to birdie his way to the clubhouse to pull off a minor miracle.
Once he put his tee shot straight into another bunker, he knew the jig was up. There would be no coming back from there, just a repeat of the 2010 Masters in which he surrendered his final-day lead to Mickelson, who went on to win. The gap that day, though, was a single shot. Westwood did not exactly throw away three shots on Sunday, but neither did he husband his advantage as well as he might have done. Others had worse days, but his will have hurt more, whatever the strength of his lingering smile.
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