Golf: European hopes alive at Masters

Golf: European hopes alive at Masters
Jonas Blixt of Sweden hits his tee shot on the 12th hole during the third round of the 2014 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 12, 2014 in Augusta, Georgia.

AUGUSTA, United States - Hopes of a first European winner at the Masters in 15 years were alive after Saturday's third round with five players under par and within range of joint leaders Jordan Spieth and Bubba Watson.

Leading the way is Swedish rookie Jonas Blixt, who has surprised many at Augusta National this week with the quality of his golf, and Spain's Miguel Angel Jimenez, who has surprised many that he is still competitive at 50.

But the real threat may come from further down the leaderboard in the shape of England's Lee Westwood, who at 40 has played in 63 major tournaments and has yet to win one. That is the most of any active player, just one ahead of Jimenez and two ahead of Sergio Garcia.

Westwood, who was runner-up in the 2010 Masters and tied for third in 2012, moved up the leaderboard Saturday with a two under 70 that left him three strokes off the lead.

Asked if he felt he had a realistic chance of finally bagging that elusive first major win, Westwood replied: "Oh, very much so, yeah.

"Anywhere within five, even six shots of the lead going into the final round of the Masters is given a good chance, especially with the way the golf course is playing out here.

"Kind of on the knife edges of the greens. It's getting faster and firmer."

Experience of the course will be crucial, he believes and that he has in abundance, having played in 14 Masters with an unbroken record going back to 2005.

"Augusta is one of those places where I feel like I can get around," he said. "And I felt like I know how to get around here, even if I'm maybe not on my game. But I've hit the ball well this week and that's why I'm in contention."

Ryder Cup teammate and fellow Englishman Justin Rose is also still in the hunt after a 69 left him four strokes of the lead.

Rose struggled in the first round when he had a 76, but his game has been improving since then and he staked his claim to a second major title afer his US Open win of last year with a brace of eagles at the third and 13th holes.

"Third hole, obviously a bonus coming off the back of a four?putt. Hit driver off the tee, wedged it up. It's a blind shot, but obviously I could tell by the crowd that it went in.

"At 13, I hit a great drive, drew driver around the corner. Hit an awesome four-iron at the pin, which began to funnel a bit to the right, but made about a 25-footer there for an eagle.

"There's a lot of players I think going to be in with a chance tomorrow. Anybody under par going into tomorrow has a good shot."

But if the mood was upbeat for Westwood and Rose, it was less the case for a third Englishman, Ian Poulter, who made a charge early in the day only to fall away again down the back nine as he finished at level par.

"Four-under for the day and cruising. And should have been a couple more, as well. Made a couple of mistakes. I didn't take advantage of the par-5s on the back nine from perfect position.

"I'm pissed. I'm really pissed and I should be pissed. Four-under par out there on the golf course, I'm playing some phenomenal golf. Anyone would be pissed."

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