By Mark Lamport-Stokes
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Lee Westwood put himself in position to clinch a long-awaited first major title by shooting the exact score he had set for himself before the start of Saturday's third round at the U.S. Open.
The British world number three, widely viewed as the best player of his generation yet to win one of golf's blue riband events, fired a sparkling three-under-par 67 on another difficult day for scoring at the Olympic Club.
Westwood recovered from consecutive bogeys at the eighth and ninth, covering the back nine in three-under 33 for a two-over total of 212 to finish three strokes behind joint leaders Jim Furyk and Graeme McDowell.
"I had a lot of fun out there," the Englishman told reporters after mixing five birdies with two bogeys on a sun-drenched afternoon at the northern California venue. "I really enjoyed the day.
"I finished it off nicely," Westwood said of his 40-foot birdie putt at the last. "I had a couple of good chances at 16 and 17 that I didn't birdie and then I made that bomb at the last that you don't expect.
"I played nice for the first two days without too much reward but I knew that, at five over par, I was still not out of it. As long as I shot a good score today, then I was going to have a chance come Sunday."
Westwood, who tied for seventh when the U.S. Open was last held at Olympic in 1998, felt he had picked up at least six shots on the field in the third round after firing a joint best-of-the-day 67.
"I think the average score is about 73, 74 again, but that wasn't really the goal going out," he said.
"The goal was to actually shoot 67 and give myself a number and I said, 'Bang on'. So I'm pleased with that and I reset a new number for tomorrow."
Westwood has recorded four top-10s at the U.S. Open, including two top-three finishes in the last four years, and believes he can only benefit from his previous close calls at the majors.
"I've probably been in contention for major championships more than anybody else over the last three or four years," said the 39-year-old, who has recorded 13 top-10 finishes in the majors.
"Every time you get yourself in contention you learn something new. I've been in contention a lot in different kinds of positions - leading, coming from behind.
"So I pick little bits out of all of those, but the main thing is just to go out there and believe that I'm good enough. And I must be, I keep getting myself in contention often enough."
Westwood won his 22nd European Tour title at the Scandinavian Masters last week but has had to adjust to very different playing conditions for the U.S. Open at the fast-running Olympic Club.
"I played a pretty soft golf course last week and the first hole here, missing it on the short side and getting a big bounce right, that was a bit of an eye opener," Westwood smiled.
"So I snapped into U.S. Open mode quickly after that. I'm looking forward to tomorrow and hopefully going to go out and have some fun and see what happens."
(Editing by Julian Linden)