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GULLANE, United Kingdom (AFP) – England's Lee Westwood broke clear of the field down the front nine in the third round of the British Open on Saturday.
The 40-year-old Ryder Cup star sunk a monster putt from the edge of the green for an eagle at the fifth and then birdied the par-three seventh to lead by three at four under par.
But a missed four-footer at the eighth cut his lead to two shots.
Playing partner Tiger Woods had been the first to overtake overnight leader Miguel Angel Jimenez on the back of a 12-foot birdie putt at the second. The 49-year-old Spaniard missed a short putt at the same hole minutes later.
Woods was at three under, but dropped shots at the fourth and seventh just as Westwood broke loose.
Also at one under, level with Woods, were Argentina's Angel Cabrera and rising Spanish star Rafael Cabrera-Bello, both of whom had reached the turn.
At that stage they were the only players to remain under par.
Phil Mickelson was going along smoothly at even par after 14 holes, with Masters champion Adam Scott also on that mark after 13.
Jimenez was leading by one on three-under 139 when the day began with a quartet of Woods, Westwood, Henrik Stenson and Dustin Johnson breathing hotly down his neck.
In all, 22 players were within five shots of the lead, including such big names as four-time major winner Mickelson, the last three Masters champions Scott, Bubba Watson and Charl Schwartzel, and former Open champions Darren Clarke and Justin Leonard.
Usually referred to as Saturday "moving day" at the Open, it felt more like "hanging-on day" for many as Muirfield once again took aim at the world's best players with its punishing mix of pot bunkers, waist-deep rough and super-fast greens.
Failing to hang on notably was home hope Martin Laird. The Scot birdied the second to stand at two under, one off the lead, but took a quintuple bogey nine at the fourth where he had two unplayables in the wispy rough.
England's Ian Poulter was two over at the turn and Schwartzel had four bogeys and a double bogey on his card by the time he reached the turn.
Japanese youngster Hideki Matsuyama went on a charge. He parred the first eight holes and then had three birdies in a row to motor up to one under, but dropped shots at 13 and 14.
With the greens drying out as the day wore on and the sea breezes coming off the Firth of Forth stiffening, there was an opportunity for some of the morning starters to make a move.
The first pairing out both shot under the par of 71, with Japan's Shingo Katayama carding a 69 and South African Richard Sterne a 68. But both started the day at eight over and were unlikely to be in the mix for the Open crown come Sunday evening.
Defending champion Ernie Els had a 70 to edge up to five over, while Sergio Garcia came in with a sterling 68 to stand at three over, sinking a 20-footer at the last for birdie.
"I'm trying to make a move but I'm shooting myself in the foot, as well. But I'm not totally out of it, I believe," said Els, who had four birdies, but also three bogeys.
"Finally felt like I knew what I was doing out there. And it wasn't easy," said Garcia, the Open runner-up at Carnoustie in 2007.
American Brandt Snedeker was level in the clubhouse with Garcia at three over after carding a 69, 10 strokes better than he managed on Friday.