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It was all right there for Lee Westwood to win the 142nd Open Championship. To win his first major. To shed the monkey on his back named “Best Golfer To Never Win A Major.” To win “what for me is the biggest tournament, the most important tournament in the world,” he once said. To become the first Englishman to claim the Open Championship since Nick Faldo in 1992, at this very same Muirfield course.
The 40-year-old held a two-shot lead going into Sunday. The raucous British fans made Westwood their man. It was a great position to be in.
Then Phil Mickelson happened. Well, that and Westwood shot a 4-over-par 75.
The Englishman ended up tied for third with countryman Ian Poulter and Australian Adam Scott at +1 for the tournament. Sweden’s Henrik Stenson finished second at even par, three strokes behind Mickelson.
Westwood has seen more crushing losses, but this one still smarts. It marks his eighth career top-3 finish at a major, the most of any golfer without a win since 1934.
Here’s a look back at those eight close calls:
2008 U.S. Open
Westwood first entered major contention the last time Tiger Woods, his playing partner Saturday, won a major. The two were paired together as the final group for that final round, and both shot 2-over-par 73’s. But Woods held a one-shot edge going into Sunday, leaving Westwood one stroke shy of a playoff with Woods and Rocco Mediate. Third place was the best of Westwood’s career in a major to that point.
2009 Open Championship
The Englishman struggled mightily to regain that form for the rest of ’08 and most of ’09, but after three rounds at the ’09 Open Championship, Westwood found himself just two shots out of the lead. Then on Sunday, he eagled the seventh hole to jump in front and stay there for most of the afternoon. But he bogeyed three of the last four holes, and three-putted on 18. Westwood missed another playoff by one stroke.
2009 PGA Championship
Three weeks after the Open Championship disappointment, Westwood never made himself a real threat at the PGA Championship, but a solid 2-under 70 in the final round vaulted him from T9 to T3. He tied with Rory McIlroy and finished two shots behind Woods, but five strokes behind surprise winner Yang Yong-eun of South Korea.
In the midst of the best span of his career, Westwood played some of his greatest golf at the 2010 Masters, where he opened with a 67, was tied for the lead after two rounds, and held a one-shot advantage all to himself entering Sunday. But he carded three bogeys on Augusta’s front nine and couldn’t fend off an on-fire Phil Mickelson, who played 5-under for the day, earning a three-shot win over Westwood. Nonetheless, that marked three straight top-3’s at majors for the Englishman.
2010 Open Championship
Westwood tied for 16th at the 2010 U.S. Open, but was solid yet again at that year’s Open Championship. There was no stopping Louis Oosthuizen, however, as he finished 16-under. But Westwood was the best of the rest at -9, his second runner-up of the year at a major.
2011 U.S. Open
An opening-round 4-over-par 75 seemed to doom Westwood at the 2011 U.S. Open, but he rebounded with a 68 and 65. He stayed under par with a 70 on Sunday, but that could only pull him even with three others in third place at -6 overall. That was 10 strokes behind McIlroy and his breakout performance for a first major.
After six top-3 finishes in major championships, Westwood again elicited hope of winning his first big one when his 5-under 67 seized the first-round lead at the ’12 Masters. But he carded a 73 on Friday and 72 on Saturday before an Easter Sunday 68. Again, that was only good enough to draw him into third place with three others. They were two back of Bubba Watson, who beat Oosthuizen in a playoff.
2013 Open Championship
Westwood’s putting was spot on in recording a 3-under 68 on Friday and 1-under 70 on Saturday to give him the outright lead. It didn’t abandon him on Sunday, but his driving did, as he missed his first seven fairways. That led to three bogeys on the front nine (with just one birdie mixed in), and he dropped two more strokes on the back nine. Not long after Westwood gave up the lead with a bogey at 13, Mickelson took it over for good.