Westwood stays steady through exciting round

AUGUSTA — There was no way to avoid the roars Saturday at Augusta National Golf Club.

But even with Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods thrilling the Masters crowd, Lee Westwood wasn’t rattled. And because of that, he has the lead entering the final round.

After never leading a major championship at the end of a round, Westwood has done it two straight days.

He shot a 4-under-par 68 on Saturday and is at 12 under, a shot ahead of Mickelson and four shots ahead of Woods and K.J. Choi. Westwood’s co-leader after Saturday, Ian Poulter, stumbled to a 2-over 74 and is tied for sixth at 6 under.

“I’m delighted. I really played well out there,” Westwood said. “All aspects of my game were solid. I made one bogey, which is always pretty good around this golf course, and I felt really comfortable.”

Westwood certainly looked to be in control of his game and emotions throughout the round.

He had three birdies and six pars on the front nine and added two more birdies and his lone bogey on the back nine. He finished his round with four straight pars despite all the excitement that was going on around him, and he expects to be just as focused in the final round.

“I have my thoughts about my own game and how I’m going to get around the golf course (today), which is similar to what I did (Saturday),” Westwood said. “It’s certainly not nerve-wracking (to be in the lead). I’m amazed how calm and collected I was out there. I know it’s a position I wanted to be in.”

Mickelson stole the show on the back nine and almost took the lead right along with it. The two-time Masters winner matched Jerry Kelly for the low round of the day with a 67, but Mickelson really made his move with a dynamic three-hole stretch on the back nine.

Mickelson made a nice eagle putt on No. 13, then he holed his second shot from the middle of the fairway on the 14th hole for another eagle to become the third player in Masters history to record consecutive eagles.

But Mickelson almost topped Dan Pohl and Dustin Johnson in that department when he nearly holed his third shot on the par-5 15th as his ball stopped six inches from the hole. Mickelson settled for birdie, but he was at 12 under and had the lead.

“The bounces seemed to pay off or even out, I guess,” Mickelson said. “But you don’t plan on balls like on 14 going in the hole. It just kind of evens out over the course of 72 holes.”

But Mickelson bogeyed the 17th hole to drop back to 11 under, and Westwood made a birdie on the 15th hole to get to 12 under before his steady finish to maintain the lead.

“I haven’t played this well in a long time, and I feel like my game’s as good as it’s ever been, and I’m looking forward to it,” Mickelson said. “I love this tournament more than any other. I love (the final round) being in contention. (Saturday) was a good day. I’ve been playing well and shot a good number that got me right back in it, and I’m excited about (today).”

While Mickelson made the big move, Woods slowly climbed back into contention behind him.

Woods came out of the gates quickly in the round with birdies on the first and third holes to get to 8 under. But he stumbled through the middle part of the front nine with three bogeys in four holes to fall to 5 under. Woods was still at 5 under until he recorded three straight birdies on the 13th, 14th and 15th holes.

After a bogey on No. 17, he finished with another birdie to get back to 8 under and will play with Choi for the fourth straight round today.

“It was nice,” Woods said of the birdie on No. 18. “After struggling to fight back in the ballgame — the guys were running away from me there for a little bit; at one point, I was seven back, so to kind of claw my way back in there where I’m only four back, I’m in good shape.”

Fred Couples, the first-round leader after a 66, bounced back from a second-round 75 with a 68 on Saturday to sit alone in fifth at 7 under.

Five more players are within seven shots of the lead.