English pair aim to stay out in front

Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood were the only Brits to make the cut at Augusta – but the pair go into the weekend tied for the lead.

Only two of the 13-strong British and Irish contingent that started the week were still standing as The Masters headed into the third round today. But just look where they were.
Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter share top spot on eight under par, two ahead of a star-studded chasing pack led by Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Anthony Kim, Ricky Barnes and KJ Choi.
So what a weekend is in store for the two Englishman, both chasing the first major titles of their career after near-misses in the past – and both with a chance to move to second in the world for the first time.
Now all they must do is try to improve significantly on what happened when they played together in the final round last year.
Sharing 10th spot then, Poulter managed only a 74 and dropped to 20th. Westwood crashed to a 79 and came 43rd.
Since then, however, Westwood has topped the European money list and finished third in both The Open and the US PGA, while just two months ago Poulter became World Match Play champion in Tucson.
The final there, of course, was against Paul Casey. English golf really is on a high and now it might have its first major champion since Nick Faldo had his third Masters victory in 1996.
Both feel ready, although they would have better about their chances if they had not finished with bogeys yesterday.
Asked by an American reporter whether their performance was verification of an English renaissance Westwood replied: “Well, yeah – if you needed verification, if you had not bothered to look at the world rankings and seen how many English players were up there, three in the top 10.
“We’re not up at the top of the world rankings by mistake, you know. We ought to be contending in these major championships.”
Eleven years ago the 36-year-old led entering Amen Corner on the last day and admitted he felt physically sick.
He fell away to sixth then, but commented last night: “That’s the first time I had ever experienced a lead in a major championship, so it’s bound to come as a bit of a shock.
“Now it’s the only thing really missing in my career, I’ve won everywhere around the world and money lists and here in the States.
“Obviously it would mean a lot to win a major championship.
I’ve come close over the last couple of years – three third place finishes – and I know I’ve got the game and I know I’ve got the temperament.
“It’s just going that one step further and finishing it off.”
He means, of course, two steps further. Poulter is the one who has a runners-up finish to his name, two years ago to Padraig Harrington in The Open at Birkdale.
Poulter, who shot his second successive 68 yesterday, said: “To be playing Augusta was in my dreams (as a kid) and to be sitting at the top of the leaderboard was in my dreams as well.
“It’s Friday, so I don’t want to get carried away, but hopefully we can have a good weekend and be in a similar situation come Sunday night.”