Westwood, Mediate know taking down a Tiger won't be easy

SAN DIEGO -- Lee Westwood's moment in the spotlight lasted about as long as it took a Tiger Woods putt to track ever-so-slowly into the cup. From clubhouse leader to pursuer of the greatest front-runner in golf history ... just like that.

Welcome to the final round of the U.S. Open.

Westwood was feeling pretty good about himself early Saturday evening, sitting in the media center and atop the leaderboard. A few questions were lobbed his way when a roar rumbled back several hundred yards from the 18th green at Torrey Pines.

Everybody in the room knew what that meant, and the result was confirmed seconds later in a delayed television feed as Woods' eagle putt on the final green trickled into the hole, vaulting him from 1 behind to 1 ahead.

Rocco Mediate, who at one point on the back nine led Woods by 5 strokes, watched helplessly from the 18th fairway, his chances at becoming the oldest U.S. Open champion in history receding as much as his hairline.

Forty-five-year-old golfers don't haul down Tiger Woods on the Sunday of a major championship, do they? What about Geoff Ogilvy and D.J. Trahan, who are the next closest pursuers and stand 4 strokes back?

"Completely out of his mind," Mediate said. "The stuff he does, it's unreal. It was an amazing day."

Woods is in the position from which he has never failed to deliver on the Sunday of a major championship. To see his score Saturday does not tell the story. A 1-under-par 70 does not do it justice. A birdie-eagle finish only partly gives you the picture.

Woods' round gave him a 1-shot advantage over Westwood, who matched the world's No. 1-ranked player with a 70. Woods owns a 2-shot cushion over Mediate, who finished the day with a 72.

Woods is 13-for-13 when he has at least a share of the lead going into the final round of a major.

Woods has also won 43 of 46 times on the PGA Tour when in that spot, and 50 of 56 times worldwide.

At least Westwood can take consolation in knowing he is one of the rare people to come from behind and defeat Woods during the final round of a tournament.

That happened eight years ago at the Deutsche Bank-SAP Open in Germany. Woods led by 2 over five players, including Westwood, who blew by everyone with a 64. Woods finished 4 strokes back in a tie for third.

"It's better to have done it than not done it," said Westwood, who will be in the final pairing with Woods on Sunday. "So, yeah, it does mean something. ... We weren't playing together. I was playing in the group in front. I shot 64 that day, so hopefully I can do the same [Sunday]."

Westwood cracked a smile when he said that, knowing that 64s are pretty rare at the U.S. Open on any day, much less a Sunday.

Still, he'll be on an incredible stage, playing alongside Woods and with all that goes with it. The Englishman carries the hopes and dreams of a nation, a continent -- not to mention his own personal goals -- riding on his shoulders.

Westwood, 35, is a 19-time winner on the European Tour and five-time member of the European Ryder Cup team who once climbed as high as No. 4 in the world.

But Westwood has never won a major championship and has posted just four top-10 finishes in the year's biggest events, his best a fourth at the 2004 British Open. His top showing at the U.S. Open was a tie for fifth in 2000 at Pebble Beach.

Besides going toe-to-toe with Tiger, Westwood will also be battling history. No European player has won the U.S. Open since Tony Jacklin accomplished the feat in 1970.

"The last European to win it was an Englishman and before I was born," Westwood said. "So that would be great to follow in his footsteps. And it obviously is the reason I practice every day, to get into this position and try and win major championships.

"I've won pretty much everything else there is to win, I think 29 tournaments [worldwide] now, so I proved I can win golf tournaments. But players are always rated on how many major championships they have won. So it's a good opportunity to try and win one of those."

Westwood captured the European Tour's Order of Merit in 2000, then went into a prolonged slump that saw him drop out of the top 200 in the world. He has steadily climbed back to 20th, has endured the pressure cooker of the Ryder Cup, and seems undaunted by the idea of playing alongside Woods in what is practically the No. 1-ranked player's backyard.

"You've got to play with somebody," Westwood said. "Although I think I'd have a fairly good chance to win if I had my own card. But you pretty much accept when you come to a major championship and you're in the last group on the last day, nowadays you're probably going to be playing with Tiger Woods on Sunday in a major."

Mediate, 45, very much wanted to be in that spot. The five-time PGA Tour winner was so giddy Saturday that he mockingly approached Woods after the round, yelling at him as if he were a fan. He must have played it perfect, because Woods ignored him until Mediate finally got in his face, laughing.

He will be chattering and joking and smiling in a group in front of Woods, trying to pull off the improbable and steal a major championship in what could be his last, best chance.

Either way, he will enjoy the view of the Pacific at the oceanside Torrey Pines South Course on Sunday and see if he can alter history.

"It's the greatest, to be part of the era that Tiger is in," Mediate said. "And the dream for me would have been to be in the last group. That's what I want to do. Before I came here this week, that's what I told everyone that's what I want to try to do. I don't care if I win or lose. I want to be there.

"He's the best that ever walked on grass that played golf, whether he beats [Jack Nicklaus'] record or not, forget it, it's just the most amazing display of athletic, mental power that there is, there ever was. Look at him, he hasn't played for 10 weeks. No surprise to me, but he hasn't played for 10 weeks. And he comes here. So I'm not surprised. I'm looking forward to [Sunday]. I can't wait to see what happens."

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.