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MASTERS 2013 PREVIEW: Tiger Woods must wake up and smell the azaleas: he"ll need his driver to win

MASTERS PREVIEW: Tiger must wake up and smell the azaleas: he'll need his driver to win a fifth Green Jacket this week

-Picture-archive-Seve-Ballesteros-Jack-NIcklaus-Ben-Hogan-Tiger-Woods-Sandy-Lyle.html#ixzz2Q3O0jnsU” target=”_blank”>The Masters picture archive: Sandy dances a jig, Seve is a genius at work, Hogan eyes his prey, and more from the Augusta vaults…

Despite blowing away the opposition during his three wins this season, Woods has generally kept his driver in the bag where possible, and with good reason. Tiger ranks way down in 147th spot on the PGA Tour for driving accuracy this year, and has had to rely on his near-peerless shotmaking powers to recover from all sorts of bother – witness his stunning par save from water at the Honda Classic in March.

Whoever wins this week will need to shape his driver from right to left round Augusta's famous doglegs, and that opens the door for the world's best with the long stick – the likes of Westwood, Adam Scott, Justin Rose, Keegan Bradley, Louis Oosthuizen and Dustin Johnson.

It also favours the left-handers, who are able to hit less risky fades off the tee – and explains why Mike Weir, Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson have won in the last 10 years since the course was lengthened in the wake of Tiger's mauling in 1997. Expect three-time winner Mickelson and defending champion Watson to be in the mix down the stretch on Sunday once again.

It is often said that short-game expertise is the key to taming Augusta's notoriously tricky greens. But, while the winner will be no slouch with the wedge or putter, it is a power game that tames Bobby Jones' design these days.

Painful memories: Rory McIlroy has had two meltdowns in the last two years at Augusta

Painful memories: Rory McIlroy has had two meltdowns in the last two years at Augusta

Rory McIlroy

And there's one other chap who's pretty handy with a driver too. Rory McIlroy often looks like a kid in a candy shop at Augusta – make that a kid in a pro shop with his visit for souveneirs on Tuesday – and with good reason. On form, there's no better driver in all of golf than the world No 2. This course is made for him. He is destined to win here one day.

Masters masters…

Augusta's champions since Tiger's last triumph:

2012 Bubba Watson
2011 Charl Schwartzel
2010 Phil Mickelson
2009 ngel Cabrera
2008 Trevor Immelman
2007 Zach Johnson
2006 Phil Mickelson

But will this be his year Not if he plays like he has for most of the time since his controversial switch to Nike clubs. He'll have to stay on the course for the entire four days for starters, which he spectacularly failed to do at the Honda Classic, where he stormed off the course blaming his state of mind and then toothache.

The words 'McIlroy' and 'meltdown' sit together uncomfortably easily at Augusta too, after his final-round implosion in 2011 (remember that tee shot on 10 Not many golfers are synonymous with a cabin off a fairway, but he is), and again last year, when the Ulsterman and Sergio Garcia embraced on the 12th green after a third-round horror show.

But McIlroy's 11th hour decision to play in Texas last week led to a much-needed second-place finish and a huge boost to his confidence. Rory has a habit of turning his fortunes round quickly and on the grandest of stages – his two major wins have come immediately after periods of poor form and/or traumatic on-course experiences. So why not again here this week

England awaits: Justin Rose (left), Ian Poulter (right) and Lee Westwood (below) all have a good chance

England awaits: Justin Rose (left), Ian Poulter (right) and Lee Westwood (below) all have a good chance

England awaits: Justin Rose (left), Ian Poulter (right) and Lee Westwood (below) all have a good chance

McIlroy or anyone hailing from these shores will be battling history. 2013 marks 25 years since Sandy Lyle became the first UK golfer to win at Augusta but there has been no winner from these isles since Nick Faldo's comeback of all comebacks over Greg Norman in 1996.

Northern Irish players have taken the title at four of the last 11 majors, and McIlroy again looks most likely to triumph from the home nations.

No Tiger, no great champions

The list of Major winners since Woods won his 14th and last major at the 2008 US Open divides opinion.

Some have heralded a great and unpredictable period full of brilliant golfers, while others have suggested none have the class of Woods.

2012 Bubba Watson, Webb Simpson, Ernie Els Rory McIlroy

2011 Charl Schwartzel, Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke, Keegan Bradley

2010 Phil Mickelson, Graeme McDowell, Louis Oosthuizen, Martin Kaymer

2009 Angel Cabrera, Lucas Glover, Stewart Cink, YE Yang

2008 Padraig Harrington (x2)

But Rose is in the form of his life, has a good record at Augusta and proved he can do it on the biggest stage of all when beating Mickelson at the Ryder Cup last year. Westwood is always in the mix here come Sunday, Ian Poulter reserves his best golf for when he can grab the most attention, and Graeme McDowell always seems to contend at majors these days.

So there is more than a little hope that the long wait will finally end this year. Just so long as none of them wins the traditional Par-Three Tournament on Wednesday. No-one has ever triumphed in that and gone on to win a Green Jacket four days later, as Luke Donald found to his cost two years ago.

Arguably though, the par threes are the least important holes at Augusta. The champion will have to take apart the par-fives – Watson went -8 on these holes last year – while the par-fours will separate the men from the boys (and that probably includes 14-year-old Guan Tianlang, the extraordinary Chinese who will become the youngest Masters competitor ever on Thursday, but whose tee shots will probably prove too short at 250 yards to compete.)

The two-shotters at the Cathedral of Pines ranked the second hardest of all courses on the PGA Tour last year, and collectively played at an average score of 0.2 strokes over par.

Dangermen: Keegan Bradley (above) and Phil Mickelson both boast power games that can tame the course

Dangermen: Keegan Bradley (above) and Phil Mickelson both boast power games that can tame the course

Dangermen: Keegan Bradley (above) and Phil Mickelson both boast power games that can tame the course
Shooting a number

3 – Number of players who have successfully defended their Masters title (Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo, Tiger Woods)

0 – Number of Australians who have won The Masters

63 – The course record for a single round, held by Nick Price and Greg Norman.

270 – Lowest winning score in history, shot by Tiger Woods, aged 21, in 1997.

23 – Number of holes-in-one at the Masters.

If the wind picks up, as is forecast for Thursday and Friday, more than a few of the favourites will be blown off course. But the sun is set to shine over the weekend, which usually means low scoring, roars echoing around the trees, and what is often the most nerve-shredding, adrenaline-rushing Sunday at any golf tournament in the world.

The good weather in Georgia this Spring has also provided a much-needed boost for those of us suffering in the chill winds this side of the pond. After last year's early bloom, August's galaxy of flowers have exploded into colour in perfect time for this year's Masters.

Woods will need to wake up and smell the azaleas: he needs his driver to win here this week.

THE 77TH MASTERS TOURNAMENT

Course: Augusta National Golf Club, par 72, 7435 yards.

Defending champion: Bubba Watson.

TV: All four days on Sky Sports. Par-three contest from 7.00pm on Wednesday.
COverage of rounds one, two and three start at 7pm, round four from 6pm on Sunday.
Day one and two highlights on BBC, plus round three from 8.30pm and round four from 7pm.

Bookies’ favourite: Tiger Woods.

Three to watch

RORY MCILROY – You bet he's the one to watch. This course is made for the Northern Irishman, but has he found his form again after a horrible start to 2013 And, perhaps even more importantly, has he got over his two meltdowns in the last two years at Augusta

ADAM SCOTT – Recent history suggests great drivers do well at Augusta, and there's few to rival the big Aussie with the big dog. Went close in 2011, went even closer at Lytham last summer… it's only a matter of time before he nails a major.

LEE WESTWOOD – His last three visits have yielded finishes of second (2010), 11th (2011) and and third (2012). Has improved on his short game in Florida this year, which could make the difference in his final major before he turns 40.

Bandit

MATT KUCHAR – Boasts a game that rarely breaks down and a Cheshire Cat smile whatever happens on the course. Has also developed a taste for winning big in the last year, as his PLAYERS and WGC-Accenture Match Play title prove. The American revival is gathering momentum after the Ryder Cup – watch out, Europe.

In bloom: Augusta National is looking its best ahead of the 77th edition of The Masters

In bloom: Augusta National is looking its best ahead of the 77th edition of The Masters

MASTERS GROUPINGS AND TEE-TIMES (BST)

1:00pm S Lyle (Sco), J Peterson (USA), N Smith (USA)

1:11pm L Mize (USA), B Gay (USA), R Henley (USA)

1:22pm I Woosnam (Wal), D Lynn (Eng), K Na (USA)

1:33pm D Toms (USA), R Sterne (Rsa), T Potter Jr (USA)

1:44pm T Watson (USA), R Moore (USA), K Streelman (USA)

1:55pm R Garrigus (USA), C Pettersson (Swe), T Clark (Rsa)

2:06pm M Weir (Can), L Westwood (Eng), J Furyk (USA)

2:17pm B Snedeker (USA), R Ishikawa (Jpn), J Rose (Eng)

2:28pm J Olazabal (Esp), M Leishman (Aus), T Vogel (USA)

2:39pm C Schwartzel (Rsa), W Simpson (USA), P Hanson (Swe)

2:50pm Z Johnson (USA), KJ Choi (Kor), G McDowell (NIr)

3:12pm M Thompson (USA), J Huh (USA), J Senden (Aus)

3:23pm S Cink (USA), N Colsaerts (Bel), T Wiratchant (Tha)

3:34pm B Watson (USA), I Poulter (Eng), S Fox (USA)

3:45pm T Woods (USA), L Donald (Eng), S Piercy (USA)

3:56pm J. Day (Aus), R Fowler (USA), P Harrington (Irl)

4:07pm J Merrick (USA), T Olesen (Den), DA Points (USA)

4:18pm C Stadler (USA), B Curtis (USA), M Weaver (USA)

4:29pm M O'Meara (USA), M Laird (Sco), J Donaldson (Wal)

4:40pm P Lawrie (Sco), T Bjorn (Den), G Fernandez-Castano (Esp)

4:51pm T Immelman (Rsa), G Coetzee (Rsa), A Dunbar (NIr)

5:13pm E Els (Rsa), S Stricker (USA), N Watney (USA)

5:24pm B Crenshaw (USA), M Manassero (Ita), T Guan (Chn)

5:35pm B Langer (Ger), L Glover (USA), H Stenson (Swe)

5:46pm V Singh (Fij), B Van Pelt (USA), YE Yang (Kor)

5:57pm A Cabrera (Arg), S Garcia (Esp), A Scott (Aus)

6:08pm F Couples (USA), D Johnson (USA), B Grace (Rsa)

6:19pm H Mahan (USA), H Fujita (Jpn), F Molinari (Ita)

6:30pm P Mickelson (USA), L Oosthuizen (Rsa), M Kaymer (Ger)

6:41pm R McIlroy (Nir), K Bradley (USA), F Jacobson (Swe)

6:52pm J Dufner (USA), M Kuchar (USA), B Haas (USA)

Luke Donald misses the cut in Malaysian Open

Donald loses proud record as his Masters build-up takes knock in Malaysia

By
Derek Lawrenson

PUBLISHED:

11:49 GMT, 23 March 2013

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UPDATED:

19:49 GMT, 23 March 2013

Poor form: Luke Donald missed the cut in Malaysia

Poor form: Luke Donald missed the cut in Malaysia

They were playing in tournaments thousands of miles apart, but Luke Donald and Phil Mickelson headed home united by one common thought: with the Masters less than three weeks away, they have plenty of work to do.

Donald crashed out of the Malaysian Open at the halfway stage on Saturday to spoil one of the things he was most proud about in his career.

It was the first time he had ever missed a halfway cut in a European Tour event.

'I guess all good runs come to an end eventually, but I'm hugely disappointed,' he said.

Mickelson looked positively shattered after running up a horrific 79 in the second round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

'I just played terribly,' he said. Only three times in his last 12 Masters appearances has the three-time champion finished outside the top five, but the gifted lefty sounded like a man who did not expect to keep that remarkable run going.

He also had a dig at the PGA Tour for changing the schedule this year. Instead of the Houston Open – a tournament Mickelson loves – being the event before the Masters, it will be the Texas Open.

'Personally, I like playing on a course the week before that's similar, but the Texas Open layout is tight and it's windy, and that's not conducive to getting ready for Augusta,' he said.

'That makes it difficult for me. I find when I take a week off I come out and play like I did here – not mentally sharp. That's not good at the Masters, where you have to be sharp out of the gate.'

Donald's first missed cut on the European Tour came in his 119th start, stretching back a decade, and followed poor rounds of 74 and 73 to fall short by three shots as he struggled to read the slow greens at the Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club.

'I've got two weeks at home now and I'm going to have to be diligent in my Masters preparation,' he said.

Two up: Kiradech Aphibarnrat of Thailand claimed a two shot lead in the second round

Two up: Kiradech Aphibarnrat of Thailand claimed a two shot lead in the second round

Leaderboard

Click here for the latest standings

'It's true we've all seen players
who are seemingly out of form go and have a good week at the Masters,
but I need my scoring clubs – from 100 yards and in – to be better than
they have been.'

Meanwhile, as the third round of the
Arnold Palmer Invitational got underway at Bay Hill yesterday, Lee
Westwood did not improve his position among the back markers with a 72,
while Graeme McDowell is almost propping up the field after a 75.

One of the best early moves came from
Scot Martin Laird, a former winner of this event, who shot 68 to leap
up 35 places into the top 40.

Englishman Justin Rose began his third round tied for the lead with American Bill Haas, while Tiger Woods was four back.

Here in style: Charl Schwartzel of South Africa arrives in a helicopter on Saturday

Here in style: Charl Schwartzel of South Africa arrives in a helicopter on Saturday

Canada's Mike Weir, winner of the 2003 Masters, withdrew with a rib injury.

Weir, who was looking forward to
celebrating the 10th anniversary of his only major win at Augusta next
month, walked off the Bay Hill course after going four over through 11
holes.

Playing on a career money earnings
exemption after three barren injury-plagued seasons, Weir had begun to
show signs of turning his game around after making the cut for only the
fifth time in a PGA Tour event over the past three years.

Three of those have been this season, with a best finish of tied 50th at Pebble Beach.

'I'm feeling closer,' he said after his opening round on Thursday.

'It's not easy, but it's part of the game. I want to compete and that makes the hard work easier. I still love the game.'

Weir had been scheduled to play the Houston Open next week in his final competitive tune-up before the year's first major.

Paul Lambert says Ciaran Clark has a great future with Ireland

Lambert claims Clark is a 'great catch for Ireland' as Villa boss says England missed out

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UPDATED:

22:30 GMT, 7 December 2012

Giovanni Trapattoni will watch Ciaran Clark on Saturday with Aston Villa boss Paul Lambert suggesting that England have made a mistake in not fighting harder to secure the defender's services.

Trappatoni, the veteran coach of the Ireland team, will be at Villa Park to see the centre-half continue his encouraging start to the season against Stoke City.

The 23-year-old defender, now capped three times for the 'Mighty Greens,' was a part of England's set up at junior level, appearing for four different age groups before being persuaded to switch allegiance.

Good catch: Ciaran Clark has been capped three times for Ireland

Good catch: Ciaran Clark has been capped three times for Ireland

'Ciaran has a massive future,' said Lambert, 'and the more caps he can accumulate, then great.

'It's hard to say if England have missed a trick, or not. It wasn't until recently that I found out Gabby Agbonlahor qualifies for Scotland.

'England do have good centre halves. To have Ciaran is definitely Ireland's gain – there are not many left-footed centre-halves about, so that gives him a great advantage.

'I saw him play against Greece and I thought he did really well. It's there for him to go and do it and have a big career now for Ireland.'

The Scot believes that Villa 'are doing really fine' after a run of results which has seen them lose just two of their last seven matches in the Barclays Premier League.

Villa remain perilously close to the drop zone and are the second lowest scorers in the top-flight.

Positive: Clark has helped Villa on a strong run, but they remain close to the drop

Positive: Clark has helped Villa on a strong run, but they remain close to the drop

They are just two points ahead of Southampton who lie third from bottom and have found the net just 12 times this season.

Yet they are also within touching distance of a mid-table spot in a division that has become heavily congested outside of the bottom three places.

Former manager Alex McLeish, whose reign was heavily criticised, had amassed five more points at a similar stage last season but there is an air of calm around Lambert.

'I think in the last seven games only the two Manchester clubs have beaten us,' he said, 'I think people tend to overlook that.

'We've been unfairly criticised at times because we are young and people look at us and think 'young team' but if you look at the way things are going at the moment, we are doing really fine.'

Just fine: Lambert is happy with the performances his side have put in

Just fine: Lambert is happy with the performances his side have put in

Luke Donald aiming for 499 puts out of 500

In short, Donald is supreme: Golfer closes in on almost-perfect putting milestone

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UPDATED:

22:30 GMT, 22 November 2012

Last year, Luke Donald went 449 holes without a three-putt. This year’s amazing illustration of the Englishman’s prowess on the greens isn’t bad either.

Sometime on Friday, if all goes to plan at the Dubai World Championship, Donald will complete 500 putts inside 3ft, with 499 of them successfully holed.

Think about that for a second. All those putts of smelly length on devilishly fast greens with the flags usually located in mischievous spots. And he has missed just one

How about that Luke Donald is close to an astonishing 499 out of 500 holes putted within 3ft

How about that Luke Donald is close to an astonishing 499 out of 500 holes putted within 3ft

DP WORLD TOUR CHAMPIONSHIP

Click here for the full leaderboard

‘One of the things that both those stats
show is how hard I’ve worked on my lag (long) putting, and making sure I
don’t leave myself too many difficult second putts,’ he said.

It is not only from short distance
that Donald is so good, of course. Give him greens as pure as these at
the Earth course and he will invariably hole more than his fair share
from any distance.

Out in front: Donald is the leader after round one of the DP World Tour Championship

Out in front: Donald is the leader after round one of the DP World Tour Championship

That was certainly the case on Thursday
as he followed up the three 66s with which he finished last year’s
event with a 65 to take the first-round lead.

This time last year Donald was fending
off Rory McIlroy to clinch the Race to Dubai.

That title has already
been sewn up this time by the latter, of course, but given the form of
the world’s top two there must be a chance of a thrilling duel on Sunday
for the other trophy on offer here, after McIlroy opened with a fairly
effortless 66 to be tied second with Scot Marc Warren and Spaniard
Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano.

Strolling: Donald (right) Francesco Molinari of Italy walk to the 17th green

Strolling: Donald (right) Francesco Molinari of Italy walk to the 17th green

As for the rest of the Ryder Cuppers,
Lee Westwood shot a useful 67 with Justin Rose and Nicolas Colsaerts a
further stroke behind. Ian Poulter, however, could only manage a 72.
His reponse: ‘Completely disgusted with myself, I’ve finally hit the
wall and jetlag has hit me for six.’

Finally, as for the answer to the day’s big question… Donald’s miss came on the 12th hole during The Open at Lytham.

USPGA Championship 2012: Rory McIlroy ready to turn the screw

Confident McIlroy ready to turn the screw after solid start in the USPGA Championship

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UPDATED:

07:17 GMT, 10 August 2012

Rory McIlroy made golf look ridiculously easy again on Thursday, but he was expecting to have to work a lot harder on his return to Kiawah Island on Friday.

One behind US-based Swede Carl Pettersson after starting the USPGA Championship – golf's final major of the year – with a five-under-par 67, McIlroy was in no mood to make any bold predictions.

'We know that there's going to be a bit of wind coming in and maybe a bit of bad weather,' the 23-year-old Northern Irishman said.

Stay cool: Rory McIlroy is well in the hunt after the first round of the USPGA

Stay cool: Rory McIlroy is well in the hunt after the first round of the USPGA

'It's just something that you're going to have to deal with and I'm just happy that I got off to a great start – I have a great platform to go from.

'Hitting balls on the range there was completely no wind. It was flat calm and I really thought that I had to take advantage of the conditions.

'I'm pretty comfortable on the golf course. I played nine holes on Monday, nine holes on Tuesday and that was it.

Driving on: McIlroy is one off the lead

Driving on: McIlroy is one off the lead

'I didn't feel like I needed to play any more. I've got my lines off the tees and I know what it's like around the greens.

'I think that was any first bogey-free round in a while, and it's always nice to shoot a round with no bogeys.

'I've had my fair share of weeks where I've started well and had a couple of bad rounds. I think that's just golf.

'You get weeks where you're feeling good and you're playing well and you're just able to keep rolling and continue the momentum from one day to the next. Hopefully this is one of these weeks.'

McIlroy worked with putting coach Dave Stockton in Akron last week, but it was more than just technical stuff.

'He sort of said to me, 'Just go out there and have fun and enjoy it and smile'. That's something that I've really tried to do and it's definitely helped.'

Alongside McIlroy are another Swede, Alex Noren, Spanish Ryder Cup hopeful Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano and big-hitting American Gary Woodland.

Graeme McDowell was handily placed on four under – part of a group which also included Adam Scott, the Australian who blew the Open last month with four closing bogeys.

Catch him if you can: Carl Pettersson is out in front in Kiawah Island, South Carolina

Catch him if you can: Carl Pettersson is out in front in Kiawah Island, South Carolina

Tiger Woods, Justin Rose and Wales' Irish Open champion Jamie Donaldson shot 69s, while Ian Poulter and 2008 champion Padraig Harrington – both looking to move into a Ryder Cup qualifying place – had 70s.

Two late birdies helped Martin Laird to a one under 71, but Luke Donald was in the water on the 17th as he shot 74 and Lee Westwood also finished poorly and signed for a 75.

Former Open champions Darren Clarke and Paul Lawrie both had 73s like Simon Dyson and David Lynn, while Robert Rock took 76 and Paul Casey, with only one cut made since dislocating his shoulder snowboarding last Christmas, struggled again and handed in a 79

.

Tiger Woods hails The Open as "favourite major"

Woods hails 'favourite major' as he chases Nicklaus' record at Royal Lytham

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UPDATED:

12:07 GMT, 14 July 2012

Tiger Woods is looking forward to what he calls 'my favourite major championship' – one which he hopes will finally take him closer to Jack Nicklaus' record.

Woods is expected to arrive at Royal Lytham sometime this weekend ahead of The Open starting on Thursday.

Before flying from America he wrote his first website blog for three months and reminded his fans why he is such a fan of links golf.

Walking tall: Tiger Woods can't wait to start his Open campaign on Thursday

Walking tall: Tiger Woods can't wait to start his Open campaign on Thursday

'You can have so many different weather conditions. You just don't know,' Woods said. 'That's one of the unique things about the British Open and why it's my favourite major championship.

'It's the only tournament besides the sandbelt courses in Australia that we can actually use the ground as a friend and bounce the ball into the greens. Modern golf is all up in the air.'

Woods has not added to his 14 majors since the 2008 US Open and so remains four behind Nicklaus.

He is returning now, however, to a course where he does have a share of a record.

Back in 1996 and only 20 at the time, he shot a three under par total of 281 that matches Englishman's Iain Pyman best total by an amateur in Open history. It has still to be bettered.

Coming for you: Woods is targeting Jack Nicklaus' Major record

Coming for you: Woods is targeting Jack Nicklaus' Major record

Coming for you: Woods is targeting Jack Nicklaus' Major record

Woods, who missed last year's event at Sandwich through injury, returns now having had four victories in the last eight months.

The most recent, however, was followed by a missed cut at the Greenbrier Classic just over a week ago, but that failure has not dented his confidence too much.

'I didn't play poorly,' Woods wrote. 'I had trouble gauging distances with my short irons and it was tough for me to adjust to the greens.

'They were slower than I expected and had a lot of wobble in them. Now I'm focused on the British Open. This will be my third visit to Royal Lytham and St Annes, where I tied for 22nd in 1996 and tied for 25th in 2001.

'I like the golf course, but I know they have made some changes since we played there. I think they lengthened a few holes, so it will play different.

'Plus in '01 it was pretty dry and firm. They've had a very wet summer, as we saw at Wimbledon, and the golf course is pretty soft.

'Weather plays such a huge role in the tournament. It will be interesting to see how the course is set up.

Ready for action: Royal Lytham & St Annes golf club will host The Open

Ready for action: Royal Lytham & St Annes golf club will host The Open

'It's different, because we're not really
on the water – we're slightly inland. That train track that runs right
along the golf course gets a lot of use that week.

'The time change is easy because I play all over the world. It's getting used to the conditions that week. Each British Open has its own little quirks.

'For instance, Hoylake was burnt out, some years at St Andrews the wind blew hard, this year it will be a little bit softer than it normally plays.

'But we don't know if it's going to rain or blow, so that adds different challenges as the week develops.

'I'll bring my five-wood and two-iron and decide which club to carry once I get there and feel out the conditions.'

US Open 2012: Graeme McDowell leads from Jim Furyk and Lee Westwood

McDowell sets up Olympic Club duel with Furyk… but resurgent Westwood lurks

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UPDATED:

02:55 GMT, 17 June 2012

US Open leaderboard

Click here to see all the third round scores

This time last year Graeme McDowell was at home in Portrush cheering like everyone else as his great mate Rory McIlroy took ownership of his US Open trophy. Now, could the roles be thrillingly reversed

There's certainly every chance of the trophy staying in Northern Ireland for an utterly incredible third year in a row after the gutsy 32-year-old put together an excellent 68 to tie the lead with 18 holes to play at Olympic.

No-one is happier than McDowell when the test calls for patience and inner fortitude, when par is a meaningful score. No-one is more content when this championship comes to America's West Coast.

Leader: Graeme McDowell walks off the 18th green after a birdie putt at the Olympic Club

Leader: Graeme McDowell walks off the 18th green after a birdie putt at the Olympic Club

Fine finish: Lee Westwood celebrates his birdie putt on the 18th hole during the third round

Fine finish: Lee Westwood celebrates his birdie putt on the 18th hole during the third round

It was a two hour drive down the road at Pebble Beach that McDowell won this trophy two years ago. Here he has had that same look in his eye, with the same equable temperament and making enough things happen to be one of only two players to stand under par with a round to play.

The other is Jim Furyk, who might well be his American equivalent and was his playing partner for the first two rounds. So two of the game's nice guys will be paired up once more on Sunday, in the spot that carries all the pressure. Not once in four previous US Opens at Olympic has the third round leader gone on to win.

What of Tiger Woods, who was tied for the halfway lead with Furyk and David Toms He had a shocker on and around the slick greens. In nine previous appearances when leading at the halfway stage at a major, he had never shot an over par round. Here he was five strokes worse than that mark after a 75, including a bogey-par-bogey finish.

Completing his day of misery was a stubbed chip at the last. As former US Open champion Johnny Miller said: 'That was embarrassing for a player of his calibre.'

Slow and steady: Jim Furyk scrapped his way around to put himself in pole position at the US Open

Slow and steady: Jim Furyk scrapped his way around to put himself in pole position at the US Open

Not at his best: Tiger Woods watches his tee shot on the fourth hole of the Lake Course

Not at his best: Tiger Woods watches his tee shot on the fourth hole of the Lake Course

As he came off the 18th green Woods, with his head down, bumped into a cameraman and clearly felt some pain in his right wrist. At five back he can't be discounted but precedent is against him. All 14 of his major triumphs to date have come when leading going into the final day.

'It was just a tough day on the greens and I had one of those days when I always seemed to be between clubs,' he said. As for his wrist, Woods was not in the mood to talk about that. 'It's fine,' he said.

McDowell and Furyk, who won this title in 2003, know there is a long way to go before they can even contemplate a second victory in America's national championship. Just look at the starry cast list within striking distance. There's two-time US Open Champion Ernie Els, just three adrift. There's the unsung Europeans Nicolas Colsaerts from Belgium and the Swede Freddie Jacobson. And then, just three off the pace, there's the ultimate nearly man when it comes to the majors, Lee Westwood, who is right there, just as he always seems to be in the big ones these days.

McDowell was one over par for his round at the turn and later described his bogey at the 9th as a 'wake-up call.' Thereafter he was faultless, and appropriately saved one of his most telling blows for last, a short iron approach at the 18th that came to rest just 4ft from the hole and he sank the putt.

G-Mac on the attack: Graeme McDowell hits his tee shot on the 14th hole of the Lake Course

G-Mac on the attack: Graeme McDowell hits his tee shot on the 14th hole of the Lake Course

Hot ticket: McDowell and Nicolas Colsaerts on the eighth hole at the Olympic Club

Hot ticket: McDowell and Nicolas Colsaerts on the eighth hole at the Olympic Club

'That was about the first time all week that I really enjoyed myself out there,' he said. 'I am really proud of the way I played and the way I executed my game plan.'

With a new laid-back attitude and the same formidable arsenal, Westwood will try once more to claim the major championship he richly deserves.

The only man in golf history to finish in the top three in all four majors and never win one has given himself yet another chance to open his account, following a fabulous 67.

Cheered to the echo by the sporting San Francisco crowds who clearly would like to play their part in getting him over the finishing line, Westwood played a leading role in another enthralling instalment of this compelling championship.

It's a trap: Raphael Jacquelin of France plays a bunker shot on the second hole during the third round

It's a trap: Raphael Jacquelin of France plays a bunker shot on the second hole during the third round

Kid's play: 17-year-old American amateur Beau Hossler watches his tee shot on the third hole

Kid's play: 17-year-old American amateur Beau Hossler watches his tee shot on the third hole

The 39-year-old began the day fully two and a half hours before the leaders but such was the quality of his performance he ended up with only the two pacemakers and Jacobsen ahead of him.

Whatever happens, Westwood has vowed not to beat himself up. He is fed up doing that. 'I've reached the stage in life where I can appreciate how lucky I am to be doing what I am doing for a living and that at the end of the day it is only a game of golf,' he said. 'I used to get down on myself but it is so hard to win in this sport that I'm not going down that route anymore, and I am going to enjoy it.'

He certainly enjoyed his third round. What a performance this was in the context of a tournament that saw him double bogey his opening hole and stand three over par after just four holes. He's just been getting better and better and there was a wild fist pump of joy after a 45ft birdie putt turned improbably into the hole at the 18th.

Lining up his second major: Graeme McDowell (right) with his caddie Ken Comboy at the Olympic Club

Lining up his second major: Graeme McDowell (right) with his caddie Ken Comboy at the Olympic Club

Lee-sy does it: Westwood put himself right in the thick of it with a brilliant round of 67 on Saturday

Lee-sy does it: Westwood put himself right in the thick of it with a brilliant round of 67 on Saturday

On one over par is the American-based Scandinavian Jacobson, while alongside Westwood is the talented Colsaerts, who won the Volvo World Match Play Championship last month and Els, who chipped in for an eagle three at the 17th.

Among those on three over par is the remarkable 17-year-old American amateur sensation Beau Hossler, who finished tenth in a junior tournament coming into this event and stands higher than that in the year's second major after a 70.

On five over and on the fringes of contention are Justin Rose and Padraig Harrington.

What a final round we have in prospect

US Open 2012: View from the Olympic clubhouse

View from the Olympic clubhouse: Rory in the rough

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UPDATED:

23:36 GMT, 15 June 2012

There won't be a more mind-boggling statistic in golf this year than this: Rory McIlroy missed more greens in regulation in the first round here (12) than he did in 72 holes at Congressional last year (10). After all those records he set 12 months ago, it's safe to pronounce Olympic Rory-proofed.

Out of it: Rory McIlroy hits a shot from a bunker

Out of it: Rory McIlroy hits a shot from a bunker

Gong wrong

Given all his achievements, it was a shame the honours list confirming world No 1 Luke Donald as an MBE coincided with his poor first round here. It doesn't stand for Major Breakdown Early, does it

The Top 60 not half

Making the halfway cut just got a whole lot harder at the US Open. Previously, anyone within 10 shots of the lead got to play both rounds at the weekend. This year, that rule has been scrapped. Now just the top 60 and ties will play on.

Wat a shot: It was only the third albatross in US Open history

Wat a shot: It was only the third albatross in US Open history

Peter who

Two hours after an albatross from Nick Watney on Thursday, the US Golf Association put out some details. They said it was the second successive albatross in a major, following Peter (sic) Oosthuizen's at the Masters. Not a statement worth waiting for, then.

Nordea Masters 2012: Lee Westwood leads heading into final round

Westwood eyes Nordea Masters glory with three shot lead heading into final round

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UPDATED:

16:42 GMT, 8 June 2012

Lee Westwood will take a three-shot lead into the final round of the Nordea Masters after keeping the chasing pack at bay in Stockholm.

A round of 68 was good enough for Westwood to maintain the advantage he had enjoyed at the halfway stage at Bro Hof Slott Golf Club, although England's Ross Fisher rather than Swede Peter Hanson is now his nearest challenger.

Westwood finished the day on 16 under par, with Fisher 13 under after a superb 65 and Ryder Cup team-mate Hanson a further shot back after a battling 69.

Swede victory: Westwood is closing in on glory at the Nordea Masters

Swede victory: Westwood is closing in on glory at the Nordea Masters

Nordea Masters

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'I played well, hit a lot of good shots and it was some solid stuff.' Westwood told Sky Sports 3.

'I didn't really get into too much trouble. I got a bit of a flier on the second and that was the only bogey I made all day.'

Westwood had started in the perfect fashion with a birdie on the par-five first, but that flier on the second saw him run up a bogey five.

The world number three bounced back quickly with a stunning approach to the par-three fourth which finished just inches from the flag to set up the easiest of birdies.

A number of other chances went begging on the front nine before Westwood rolled in a hat-trick of birdies from the 11th to ensure he would keep his nose in front following yesterday's superb 64.

'I did misread a couple of putts on the front nine, the one on five and the one on eight, but other than that I putted well,' he added.

Bridging the gap: Westwood has been in impressive form heading into US Open

Bridging the gap: Westwood has been in impressive form heading into US Open

Bridging the gap: Westwood has been in impressive form heading into US Open

'I've read the greens well this week and rolled in a couple of nice ones on the back nine.

'It (the weather) changed coming up 14, the breeze picked up a little bit and made 14, 15, 16 play a bit tricky. That's what happens round this golf course, it's quite exposed out there on the lake and it's no easy finish.'

Westwood and Hanson played together for the third day running, with the Swede doing well to remain in contention after running up a double-bogey six on the eighth to be out in 37.

Four birdies on the back nine saw Hanson home in 32 to finish 12 under, but Fisher will partner Westwood tomorrow after his flawless 65.

Fisher put last week's one-shot penalty for slow play during the final round of the Wales Open firmly behind him, carding three birdies on the front nine and four on the back to storm up the leaderboard.

Outside chance: Fisher hit an impressive 65 to leave himself three shots off the pace

Outside chance: Fisher hit an impressive 65 to leave himself three shots off the pace

England's Richard Bland is five shots off the lead in fourth after a 68, with Swedish duo Michael Jonzon and Alexander Noren sharing fifth another shot back.

Defending champion Noren looked out of contention after an opening 74, but has responded with consecutive rounds of 66.

Lee Westwood three shots clear at Nordea Masters

Westwood targets Swedish hat-trick after moving three shots clear at Nordea Masters

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UPDATED:

18:39 GMT, 7 June 2012

Lee Westwood showed why Sweden is a
happy hunting ground for him as he carded a 64 to move three shots clear
of the field at the Nordea Masters in Stockholm.

Westwood followed up his first round
score of 68 by registering eight birdies to move to 12 under par ahead
of a chasing pack of three that contained Scotland's Lloyd Saltman.

In the swing: Lee Westwood enjoys his trips to Sweden

In the swing: Lee Westwood enjoys his trips to Sweden

The Nordea Masters provided Westwood with his first European Tour victory in 1996 and he also won the event in 2000.

The Worksop golfer, currently ranked third in the world, was delighted to top the summit after day two.

'I've always enjoyed coming to Sweden, obviously winning here for the first time in 1996 gave me an affinity,' he told Europeantour.com.

'And then I won again in 2000 when I won the money list so I've had a lot of success in Sweden and it's somewhere I enjoy coming to.

'I played nicely yesterday but today I played a little bit better.

'I'm getting to know the course a little bit better every day and it was there for the taking this morning. There was not a lot of wind and the greens were pretty pure.

Great Scot: Lloyd Saltman carded a 64

Great Scot: Lloyd Saltman carded a 64

'I'm putting the ball well and rolling it nicely on the greens which gives you confidence. I hit it pretty close so I gave myself a lot of chances.'

Saltman, ranked 512 in the world, also carded a 64, the highlight of which was an albatross on the par five 12th that came after he struck a sweet three iron which rolled in from some 237 yards.

'I had a great number,' he said. 'I started walking then heard a little roar and knew it was in, so that was nice.'

Saltman was joined by local favourite Peter Hanson and Spain's Carlos Del Moral at nine under.

Hanson had a double bogey at the 11th but recovered with three birdies in his next four holes.

'I didn't strike the ball as well as I would have hoped and 68 was a good result,' said 2008 champion Hanson.

A score of 72 meant overnight leader Magnus Carlsson was five shots off the lead along with one-time clubhouse leader Richard Bland.

Sergio Garcia threatened briefly, but he found water at the par five 13th and made 69 to finish the six under in total.