McDowell sets up Olympic Club duel with Furyk… but resurgent Westwood lurks
02:55 GMT, 17 June 2012
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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
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
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
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
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
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