Westwood deaf to Augusta roars
Electricity crackled and fizzed around Augusta on Saturday as the magic of the Masters returned with a roar.
Make that multiple roars, as Phil Mickelson sparked a scintillating spell of golf that had fans shaking their heads in disbelief.
Mickelson ignited the fireworks with an eagle at the par-five 13th and stoked the fire further by holing his second shot to the 14th for back-to-back eagles - for only the third time in Masters history. He nearly added a third at the very next hole as patrons went into delirium.
The thunder which accompanied the second eagle had fans down in Amen Corner wondering perhaps whether a bomb had gone off. "What the hell was that?" said one.
"That was no birdie," said another. With no radios, eyes strained to see distant leaderboards. Those with binoculars became their guides.
"Here it comes, they're changing it now...oh man, he dunked it. Mickelson dunked his second." Word spread like wildfire. But after the earthquake came the aftershocks.
Fred Couples, who had just birdied the 14th, chipped in for an eagle on the 15th before Mickelson kept the party going, just missing the hole with his second over the water at the long 15th. And those were just the headline acts. "That's about as fun as it gets," said Mickelson.
Back down at the 12th, patriotic English fans witnessing Lee Westwood drop a shot and Ian Poulter leak two felt like they were watching a different tournament. "We're in the wrong place here," said one resignedly.
The roars reverberating around the Georgia pines made you quite forget it was a Saturday. This was Sunday stuff, eclipsing the final round last year when Mickelson and Tiger Woods went on a charge to restore the Masters' mojo after some barren years.
"Those roars are Augusta roars," said the 60-year-old two-time champion Tom Watson. "I'm glad they're back."
Out on the isolated 13th tee, Westwood looked a peripheral figure, having gone from being the four-shot leader to tieing with Mickelson. And by the end of the 13th, Westwood was one behind the charging American, all in the space of 30 minutes.
"It was probably one of those great days in golf. I obviously wasn't privy to it but I was well aware that somebody was making a charge and I figured it was Phil," he said. "That's why major championships are tough to win because great players do great things at majors."
But the 36-year-old Westwood has become hardened to major golf over the last few years and knows better than to concern himself with what others are doing.
"I've got my own little bubble in my own little world that I wander around in now," said the world number four. "What Phil Mickelson does is out of my control. The only thing I can control is where I hit it."
Westwood, who has finished third in three majors in the last 18 months, continued to plough his own steady course, like a huge tanker steering an unerringly straight course across a rough sea.
He put that single blemish at 12 behind him and remained patient until a birdie at the 15th set up his one-shot lead over Mickelson going into the final round, with a maiden major title beckoning.
Westwood admits that a few years back he was caught up in trying to take his game to "the next level", but has since discovered there is no such thing. Only the ability to put yourself into contention and then keep playing until they hand out the prizes at the end.
"It's very boring, I'm just going to keep playing to my gameplan," he said. "I'll try to hit that first fairway and we'll go from there, try to hole the odd putt and see what the situation is at 7pm on Sunday night."
England has not had a Masters winner since Nick Faldo won the third of his Masters titles at Augusta in 1996, while Britain is still chasing its first major champion since Paul Lawrie won the Open in 1999.
Poulter fell away on Saturday, though he is still just about in touch, but Sam Torrance, the former European Ryder Cup captain and BBC commentator, believes Westwood's time has come.
"Lee Westwood really handled himself well out there and put himself in perfect position to win his first major," he said. "I think he's absolutely ready now - 100% ready."
But Mickelson, who won the second of his two Green Jackets in 2006, is developing a deep love affair with the Masters and its fans and will feel he is ready for another, while the ever-tenacious Woods just will not go away.
He has won all 14 of his majors when leading going into the final round, but is well-placed at four back to launch a strike which could break that pattern.
As Mickelson proved, things can change fast at Augusta. But the Good Ship Westwood may yet just steam straight to victory.