Lee Westwood surprised himself by staying calm and composed during an amazing day of golf.
Now the Englishman feels he is finally ready to claim a major title by winning the 74th Masters.
Westwood fired a four-under par 68 on Saturday, fighting off a challenge from Phil Mickelson to seize a one-stroke lead over the US star on 12-under par 204 after 54 holes at Augusta National Golf Club.
“Certainly was not nerve wracking. I’m amazed how calm and collected I was out there,” Westwood said. “I know it’s a position I wanted to be in. So I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”
Sunday could see Westwood capture his first major title after several near misses and win the first by any Englishman since Nick Faldo’s 1996 last-day comeback over Greg Norman which won the Masters.
But Westwood said he will lose no sleep thinking about his leading a round at a major by himself for the first time in his life or what a victory would mean.
“I think I’m ready,” Westwood said. “I felt very calm, comfortable in what I was doing. Every aspect of my game felt good.”
Westwood shared third at the 2009 British Open and PGA Championship and 2008 US Open, missed opportunities for a man who rose the fourth in the world, took a tumble of bad form and has fought his way back to the top.
“The first time I played well, it was easy to take it for granted because I was young and I had not really experienced any poor play,” Westwood said.
“Now I’ve experienced both ends of the spectrum, and you learn to appreciate things more as you get older and the more good times and bad times you’ve been through.”
Westwood called the back-nine battle Saturday “one of the great days in golf.”
Westwood opened with a 25-foot birdie, birdied the par-3 sixth and par-5 eighth for a four-shot lead, then in 35 minutes saw Mickelson make back-to-back birdies and barely miss another for a tap-in birdie to take the lead.
“Glad you were timing it. It seemed quicker,” Westwood said.
Egde over Tiger Woods
Westwood birdied the par-5 15th and third-ranked Mickelson took a bogey at the 17th to put Westwood on top, with a four-stroke edge on world number one Tiger Woods and South Korean K.J. Choi and a five-shot edge on Fred Couples.
“You’ve got 4, 3, and 1 in the world on the leaderboard,” Westwood said. “That’s what everybody wants to see. Everybody has missed Tiger on the golf course the last five, six months and he’s up there, and Phil is.
“I’m going to do the same as I have been doing, ignore them and just play my own game. That’s the only thing I can control, just hitting it where I want.
“When you are faced with 11, 12, and 13 on this course, there’s no room for thinking about what somebody else is doing. You know never to go counting your chickens out there too much.
“The guys up on the leaderboard there are great players. They are going to do something. You have to expect the unexpected at times.”
That means keeping your mind uncluttered by expectations, including what score it might take to claim the green jacket symbolic of a Masters champion.
“That’s the mistake that some people have made. They have a number in mind,” Westwood said. “It’s very boring. I’m going to go out and keep playing the game plan I’ve had.”