One of the cruelest realities in sports is that you can be one of the best in the world and still be considered a loser.
To name a few, Chris Webber, the Buffalo Bills, LeBron James and Phil Mickelson have all experienced this phenomenon at one point or another.
And now the “successful loser” du jour is Lee Westwood, the English golfer who has finished in the top three of a major championship seven times since 2008 but hasn’t won any of ’em.
“The more often you can put yourself in that position,” he said Saturday at the British Open. “I don’t think there’s any sort of downside.”
He is in that position again. Westwood finished his round as the leader at Muirfield, taking a two-stroke lead at 3-under 210 after a 70 on Saturday. But he has to stare down a familiar face in the final 18 holes — that of Tiger Woods, who lurks two strokes behind, tied for second.
That sounds more ominous than it is, though.
The last six times Westwood has been paired with Woods, Westwood has outscored him. They won’t be paired for the final round as Westwood will play with Hunter Mahan and Woods will go out with Adam Scott.
And for all Woods’ greatness, he has never come from behind in the final round to win a major tournament. So it appears something, as they say, has got to give. Unlike some other golfers that have walked in these shoes, Westwood shouldn’t be distracted by Woods’ hot breath on his neck.
He’s felt it plenty of times, and dealt with it just fine.
“We’ve been playing together for the last 16 years,” Westwood said. “We’re getting on a little bit now. We’ve been in each other’s company a lot.”
Westwood has spent the last few years in the company of the world’s best golfers. In 2010 he led the Masters going into the final day but was caught by Mickelson and finished second.
He spent 17 weeks atop the world golf rankings that year, too. He’s had a building named after him at a college in England. He started one of the first golf schools in England, too.
At his craft, he is one of the biggest names in the world. And yet after the third round and he sounded a little bit relieved and a little bit apprehensive. He seemed like a guy trying not to jinx himself.
He called Woods the best player in the world and he played down that statistic about how he always beats Woods when they’re paired together.
“I don’t know,” he said. “It’s a nice statistic to own, but it’s not like I try any harder when I play with Tiger.”
His putter failed him in last year’s Masters. At last year’s US Open he was three strokes behind the leaders going into the final day, but lost his ball in a tree on the fifth hole, effectively ending his chances at a comeback.
Until this week, he hadn’t been in contention at the British Open since 2010, when he finished a distant second to Louis Ooosthuizen.
Westwood looks pragmatically at his near misses in major tournaments.
“Everybody builds up for them and they’re the most prestigious ones to win,” he said.
In other words, if it was easy to win the British Open, everyone would do it. So that’s Lee Westwood’s professional demon.
He gets another go at slaying it Sunday, and this one isn’t much different from the ones that came before it. It’s him, once again, in great shape heading into the final day. Now, only to close the deal.