Augusta - European number one Lee Westwood is finally playing his best golf when it matters most and ready to set aside a history of near misses by finally claiming a major title Sunday at the Masters.
Westwood fired a three-under par 69 Friday to match countryman Ian Poulter for a share of the 36-hole lead at the 74th Masters on eight-under 136, the first time Westwood has led at the end of any round in a major championship.
"It's probably about as good as I have played," Westwood said.
"I'm delighted with the way I'm striking the ball. I'm hitting the ball really good, driven it well and rolling a few putts in when I've missed greens. I've made some nice chip shots and bunker shots."
Westwood, who turns 37 on April 24, shared third at the 2009 British Open and PGA Championship and 2008 US Opens but his best Masters showing was a share of sixth in 1999.
After years on the verge of a major breakthrough, Westwood hopes it comes this week.
"It's the only thing I'm missing in my career," Westwood said. "Obviously it would mean a lot. I know I've got the game and I've got the temperament. It's just going up one step further and finishing it off."
Westwood endured a rankings roller-coaster, plunging from fourth in the world and rising back up again to the same spot. The journey taught him plenty.
"I'm a lot more patient now and mature than I used to be," Westwood said. "I know not to panic now when things go wrong. Everybody is going to have the odd mistake. It's just minimizing those and bouncing back from them."
Westwood eagled the second and birdied the third Friday to jump two strokes clear of the field, then followed a bogey at five with back-to-back birdies.
He answered a bogey at 10 with birdies at 11 and 13 and bounced back after a double bogey at 14 with a birdie at 15 before a bogey at the last dropped him level with Poulter, still looking up at no one on the Masters leaderboard.
"It's the best position to be in, so that's what I set out for at the start of the week, to get up there by the lead," Westwood said. "If you're going to win the tournament, you've got to be in the lead at some stage."
For Westwood, experience has taught him when to press the attack and when to be patient.
"Messed up once on 14, paid the consequences there with a double, but other than that I was happy with the way the day went," Westwood said.
"I holed some I didn't believe were going to going and I missed some i ought to have holed. It's swings in roundabouts. Those things happen, especially on a course like this that tests your limits."
When examining all aspects of his game, Westwood finds little to be greatly concerned about.
"I'm more pleased with the consistency I'm showing," he said. "When I analyze every aspect of my game, there's not one at 10 and one part at four. The bad stuff is 6.5, 7 and the good stuff is 10.
"I just want to carry on doing what I'm doing, really. I've got my game plan pretty well sorted out. Scores have proved that. I'll just try and stick to that. Just try to minimize the mistakes and maximize the opportunities."
Westwood could become the first Englishman to win a major title since Nick Faldo rallied in the final round to beat Greg Norman at the 1996 Masters.
Poulter, his Saturday last-pairing partner, could achieve the honor too, but Westwood did swipe bragging rights and some money with a 4-and-2 triumph during a relaxed nine-hole practice round this week, Poulter disdainly recalled.
"He would remember that," Westwood said. "Every pound is a prisoner to him."