The Open Championship - Westwood's swagger bodes well for weekend challenge

When Lee Westwood holed his sixth birdie of the day on Muirfield's 12th hole on Friday before racking up three bogeys over the closing six it was tempting to suggest it would be the same old story for the Englishman.

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The Open Championship - Third round: LIVE Westwood leads
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Lee Westwood at Muirfield

Westwood, 40, has so often tantalised his fans with thoughts of a first Major title only to fade away that the believers are dwindling with each passing attempt.

An awful lot must still go Westwood's way this weekend if he is to win but there was a swagger about him that bodes well for his chances.

Renowned for being one of the best ball-strikers in the world, Westwood's putting has often proved his Achilles heel at the sharp end of the Majors.

That was not the case, however, on Friday as he put together a superb three-under 68 to move two-under for the championship.

Westwood's putter was on fire during the opening dozen holes and despite the late dropped shots he produced some gutsy par-saving "momentum putts" to keep himself in the mix.

"There's not many Majors you turn up where it's a birdie-fest and you make a bogey and you feel like you're losing - getting lapped by the field," said Westwood, who has been working with putting coach and 1991 Open winner Ian Baker-Finch.

"It's just a case of not following a bogey with another three bogeys in Major championships, limiting the damage and picking up birdies whenever you can."

A prime example of that was at the par-five 17th where he was desperately unlucky to see a superb tee shot just trickle into the rough and after hacking out and reaching the green in three he left himself a nasty 10-footer for par.

To huge roars from the packed stands he holed it and although he did drop a shot on the treacherous 18th green he was still upbeat about his form.

"I felt if I came out and shot level par, I thought one-over would be right in contention. To be two-under is a real bonus, it could be leading at the end of the day, you never know," Westwood, who was looking forward to watching the late starters on a drying course, told reporters.

"I'm hitting the ball well. Controlling the flight most of the time pretty well and getting up and down when I need to.

"I always seem to putt the greens well. But I got a couple of tips on getting tension out of my arms and having a bit more control. And I'm getting it on line nicely, and I've gauged the pace of the greens as well."

Westwood is playing in his 62nd Major and 19th consecutive Open. He finished runner-up in 2010 at St Andrews and the previous year he was tied for third.

Usually, however, he has struggled to hold it all together for four rounds.

With the sunshine scorching Muirfield's fairways and making the greens so slippery, the list of players equipped with the tools to tame it is shrinking rapidly.

"I think this probably takes more experience, especially when it gets like this," Westwood said.

"There won't be many people who have played Open championships or links courses very often in these conditions. Certainly experience is a big factor."

Westwood's confident gait was noted by playing partner Charl Schwartzel, who matched the Englishman's 68.

"Around this sort of golf course those par putts are birdie putts on other tournaments," Schwartzel told reporters. "He's done that and that's definitely kept him up in his confidence.

"You can see the way he's walking and the way he's playing. Definitely a dangerman," the South African added. "I thought he putted beautifully."

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