GULLANE, Scotland (AP) – While Phil Mickelson was hoisting the claret jug on the 18th green to roars and applause, Lee Westwood was about 40 yards away in the corner of a press tent, explaining how yet another major championship got away from him.
“I wanted to be there on the 18th green right now, that's pretty obvious,'' Westwood said, briefly turning his eyes to a nearby TV screen to see Mickelson parading the trophy.
Seeking a first major title to erase his “nearly man'' tag, Westwood began the final round of the British Open with a two-stroke lead. But he shot a 4-over 75 to finish four strokes behind the fast-finishing Mickelson, tied for third place with Ian Poulter and Adam Scott.
“I'm not too disappointed,'' Westwood said. “I don't really get disappointed with golf anymore.''
Westwood has come to live with near misses at golf's biggest tournaments. This was his eighth top-three finish in 62 majors and, at 40, he may never have a better chance again.
File this in the same drawer as the British Open at Turnberry in 2009, where he three-putted to miss out on a playoff, and the 2010 Masters in which he led after 54 holes.
Never has he had such a cushion going into a final round but he couldn't build any momentum and regularly put himself in trouble. Three plugged lies in bunkers on Nos. 7, 8, and 9 resulted in two dropped shots, relinquishing his lead, and many of his drives dribbled off the fairways into the light rough or, even worse, the thick stuff.
Westwood didn't make a birdie on a back nine he has struggled with all week.
“I wouldn't have done anything different for breakfast, or carried three markers in the pocket instead of two,'' Westwood said. “I never second-guess myself. So there's no point in doing it, you just do what feels right at the time.''
Westwood has 38 wins around the world, climbed atop the rankings in 2010 to end Tiger Woods' five-year reign and has been an integral part of a string of Ryder Cup-winning Europe teams. But that first major remains elusive, just like it does for compatriot Luke Donald.
He moved to Florida ahead of the 2013 season, seeking a warmer climate and to test himself on PGA Tour 20 years after turning professional.
And his recent decision to use former Open champion Ian Baker-Finch as a putting coach has improved his posture to address the worst department of his game. For the first three rounds at Muirfield, Westwood was solid on the greens but his touch deserted him when it mattered most.
“Sometimes you play well and somebody plays a bit better, and sometimes you play poorly. I didn't really do either today and Phil obviously played well,'' Westwood said. “But you've got to play well to give yourself your own momentum, and I just couldn't get there today.''
As Westwood addressed a putt on No. 14, a huge roar came from over on No. 17. Mickelson had just made birdie to move to 2 under and stretch his lead.
He'll try for a 63rd time at the U.S. PGA Championship at Oak Hill next month.
“I'm a philosophical person,'' Westwood said. “It just doesn't wind me up or get to me anymore.''