LOOKING FORWARD into 2015 it is clear that Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke and Paul Lawrie have more than helped paper over the cracks. For those of us with long memories every Open Championship during the 18 years between Max Faulkner’s victory in 1951 and Tony Jacklin’s success at Lytham in 1969 brought the annual question, ‘When will a British golfer win The Open again?’
With Sandy Lyle’s triumph in 1985 added to the efforts of the two Northern Irishmen and the Scot mentioned above we have been able to proclaim British winners without having to wait so long again. Even Padraig Harrington, despite being from the Republic of Ireland, was perceived as ‘one of us’ and was included in the national outpouring of delight and emotion when he lifted the claret jug in successive years at Carnoustie and Birkdale.
The most worrying thing for English golf fans is when the next Englishman will be acclaimed as the champion golfer of the year and handed a gold medal by a Royal and Ancient bigwig?
Since Nick Faldo triumphed for the third and last time at Muirfield in 1992 not one English golfer has won the Open Championship, a gap of 23 years, the longest in the tournament’s history. That is not to say that there have not been some nearly moments with Lee Westwood being the leading English nearly man.
At Turnberry in 2009 he reached the 18th hole for the final time needing a birdie to win. Faced with an enormous putt from the front edge of the green, his fallibility with the flat stick proved his undoing.
What Westwood did not know was that a two putt would have been sufficient to have got him into the play-off with veteran Tom Watson and his fellow American, Stewart Cink, but he thought he had to hole it and raced the ball past the hole. The resulting three putt cost the Englishman his chance of not only winning but also picking up a cheque for a further £2m from a sponsor.
The following year at St Andrews Westwood went one better to finish runner-up to the South African, Louis Ooosthuizen, although was nowhere near the top slot finishing seven shots back. Another Englishman, Paul Casey, was in the final pairing after rounds of 69, 69 and 67 before falling away on the Sunday with a three over par 75.
At Muirfield in 2013 Westwood was looked set to finally break his duck until the final day when once again he faltered with an error strewn round of 75, four over par, leaving him tied third with Adam Scott and another Englishman, Ian Poulter, who had shot a final round of 67.
Phil Mickelson came from five shots back to triumph by three strokes from Sweden’s Henrik Stenson giving him his first Open Champiosnhip title.
Westwood is not the only Englishman to have been ranked number one in the world without ever winning a major championship. Luke Donald, some would argue a more naturally talented player than the man from Nottinghamshire, has rarely threatened at his home Open. His best finishes were two tied fifth slots in 2009 and 2012 and he now wears that saddest of golfing mantles, being described as the most talented player of his generation never to win a ‘major’.
With Ian Poulter’s game tending to blow hot and cold during the course of four rounds the Englishman most likely to succeed has been Justin Rose, especially after his superb performance at Merion in the 2013 US Open having started with a four over par opening round to triumph by two shots from Phil Mickelson and Australian, Jason Day. In doing so he became the first English winner since Tony Jacklin, 43 years earlier.
Rose still remains the best chance of an English triumph and, at 34 years of age, still has time on his side. For Lee Westwood, at 41, his chance has most likely gone and for Luke Donald, who will be celebrating his 38th birthday this year, time may well be running out. Poulter and Casey can only be regarded as outsiders.
Of the coming forces, Matthew Fitzpatrick, the first victorious Englishman in the 2013 US Amateur championship since Harold Hilton won in 1911, looks to have the temperament and the talent to be a serious contender but it is unlikely to be for a while yet. Danny Willett, powerfully built and winner of the Nedbank Golf Challenge in Dubai, pocketing a cheque for €865,000 in the process, is also young enough at 28 to be considered a possible contender.
However, the smart money must be on Rose. He has got over the huge psychological hurdle by already winning a major and, provided the weather stays kind, St Andrews will present no demons come July.
A Rose victory would also give English golf an enormous fillip just as Tony Jacklin did all those years ago, and hopefully attract more players into the English game in the process as certainly occurred following Jacklin’s success. While the world’s media will, predictably, all be focussed on McIlroy and Woods 2015 could well be Rose’s time. And what better result for the last Open Championship to be viewed on terrestrial television.
So come on Justin! Come on England!