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UK well placed for matchplay success

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Iain Carter | 18:34 UK time, Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Is there another sport at which UK sportsmen excel more than golf? It's a question worth posing, as is one that asks whether our leading golfers receive due credit at home for their success on the world stage?

This is thrown into sharp focus given the make-up of this week's WGC Accenture Match Play, which is supposed to throw into head-to-head combat the world's top 64 players.

Unfortunately the continued absence of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson's decision to take a re-scheduled holiday robs the event of the top two players in the world.

But in their absence the stage is set for home players to prosper in the Arizona sunshine. There are no fewer than 11 UK hopefuls in the 64-man field, a reflection of the extraordinary strength in depth we can boast at the moment.

westwood_595335_getty.jpgWestwood is one of nine Englishmen in the Tucson field. Photograph: Getty

And do these golfers get due respect for their standing in such a global game?The answer is an emphatic no according to the man who leads the home pack, Lee Westwood, the world number four and second seed here.

"We have something like 15% of the field here which is staggering," Westwood said. "I think sometimes people don't appreciate how good English golf is at the moment and it probably doesn't get the credit in the general sports media either.

"You know, they highlight players in other sports where we might get one player in the top hundred, but in golf we get overlooked a bit and I don't think we should."

Westwood is one of nine Englishmen in a field that also includes Northern Ireland stars Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell and faces an all-English first-round clash with Chris Wood.

"He's only just out the amateur game," Westwood says of his young opponent. "He's played a lot more matchplay than me recently because that's the way they do it in the amateur game and he's a good player. He's shown that at the Open Championship and with his constant improvement and being rookie of the year last year.

"There are no mugs playing this week and whoever you face you have got to be on the ball."

Another Englishman, Ross McGowan, could take a big step towards a Ryder Cup debut were he to have a big week. He would add to an already impressive tally of points in the qualifying table and send skipper Colin Montgomerie a big reminder of his matchplay credentials in the process.

But the 27-year-old from Surrey faces the toughest first-round test as he takes on the in-form top seed Steve Stricker of the United States.

There are no guarantees in 18 hole head-to-head sprints, though. Upsets can leap out, a bit like one of those "Jumping Cholla" cactus plants, so prevalent in these parts, that painfully shed their barbed spikes into unsuspecting passers-by.

But sheer weight of numbers says this should be a week where the UK is entitled to be optimistic it can celebrate success and further enhance the country's golfing reputation on the global stage.

Let's hope that if such hopes are realised they are appropriately recognised. This isn't just a British problem - Martin Kaymer has pointed out that his native Germany has yet to fully realise the giant steps he has taken in the game in the last year.
The 25-year-old has risen to number six in the world after victories last year at the French and Scottish Opens and then against a quality field in Abu Dhabi to start 2010.

"I can still walk the streets," Kaymer says of his returns to his Dusseldorf roots. "There are not a lot of people coming up and say can I have this, can I have that, can I have a photograph.

"Of course it's nice to be in Germany sometimes and when people recognise your face, that's nice.

"The main sport we have is obviously soccer. Handball got really big with the World Cup that we had. I think golf is probably third or fourth. But I'm there to get it up there," he laughed.

Kaymer's reputation for success in desert surroundings makes him a decent bet for this week and his record of turning the occasions he's in contention into victories suggests he's well equipped for the demands of matchplay golf.

He opens up against the American Chad Campbell and is in the same "Hogan" quarter of the draw as McIlroy and Oliver Wilson as well as Luke Donald and McDowell who face each other in the first round.

It promises to be a fascinating week, a break from the strokeplay norm and an opportunity for UK players to perhaps set the tone for the year.

Victories at WGC level would represent another step up the ladder and Westwood places this tier of tournament just below the majors and money list honours.

But the fact is it is the majors - the Masters, US Open, Open and US PGA - that confer true glory and we haven't had a British winner of one of those since Paul Lawrie's Open win of 1999.

Once that duck is broken, these players are less likely to struggle for recognition. Success this week offers the chance of taking a useful step in that direction as well.


  • Comment number 1.

    I agree that British golfers have been doing very well, but I think you hit the nail on the head with the no majors since 1999. I feel sure that this disappointing trend will end soon, but until it does British golfers are unlikely to get much recognition among occasional golf followers. The Brits generally seem to be quite popular with US crowds, is the recent British rise acknowledged amongst US golf fans/pundits?

  • Comment number 2.

    If you don't believe British golfers receive proper recognition in the media, you could do your bit by ensuring the BBC improves its coverage. Very little TV and anaemic, and usually ill-informed, on-line coverage is what golf fans have to put up with.
    Not surprising McIlroy and Westwood turn to 606.
    In response to Anaemic_Paper, the British rise in the golf world will be "acknowledged amongst US golf fans/pundits" when they start winning US tournaments. Two wins last year, but nothing the previous two years. Let's hope for more success in 2010.

  • Comment number 3.

    I thought Steve Stricker was the number 2 golfer in the world?

  • Comment number 4.


    I totally agree with the above post about lack of attention given to golf and british golfers in particular by the media. The obsession with "you know who" has further detracted from what us golf fans want to hear about and that is the sparkling golf and performances week by week. I think you could play your part Iain by talking up the game and the season ahead which I know I am excited about what with the current strength of the british and europeans both young and experienced golfers starting with this weeks WGC event!

  • Comment number 5.

    'Is there another sport at which UK sportsmen excel more than golf?'.

    Snooker, Darts...... That's probably it.

  • Comment number 6.

    I think the modern media (and I'm not referring to Ian here) is very much focused on the "individual celebrity" which is probably why an Andy Murray garners many more headlines than a Lee Westwood or a Paul Casey - or indeed the fact that British golf is in such rude health. Hopefully these guys get the recognition from true sports fans that they deserve and shouldn't crave the back page headlines - afterall as we see all too often back page headlines can lead to front page headlines and then they'll be wanting their anonymity right back!!

  • Comment number 7.

    Iain - apologies. Last time I refer to you as Ian!

  • Comment number 8.

    Iain, you're exactly right, it's the majors that will result in recognition and plaudits, the only surprise is that Lee Westwood did not no/acknowledge that. He has a 606 account I believe, so maybe he'll fill us in......

    Also, is Kaymer serious?!?! He should ask Tiger Woods what it's like to be world famous, if he knows where he is currently hiding out that is.

  • Comment number 9.

    It sounds ideal to me. Play the game you love, travel the world, earn loads of money and still be able to walk the streets without getting pestered. What exactly is the compliant here?

  • Comment number 10.


  • Comment number 11.

    On what do we base this belief that these British golfers are gonna collect any of WGC events this year, let alone the Majors?

    As I recall, with the exception of the world cup when it was a WGC event, only Darren Clarke (GB & I) has managed to win one of these WGC tournaments, and that was about 7 years ago now or something!

    Yeah, they've managed to win the odd occasion on the PGA Tour, but when it's come to the Majors and WGC events there's usually some American lifting the trophy... and not always an American player have even heard of!

  • Comment number 12.

    I like the title talking of British players staying " cool " in the Arizona heat ....all due respect but the highs all week will be low 70'S !!! Too much hollywood for my liking ...let's stay with facts please ..

  • Comment number 13.

    To be fare, I think there maybe only 1 or 2 of our boys that crave the attention. Most of them are happy to put in there hours and get out of dodge. Look at Tiger, he would turn up, play, and leave as soon as the the last putt had dropped. Now he will be chased from wherever he's put up for the week to the course and back. No privacy.

    I also believe that like most British Sports Stars when they are put up on that pedestal... They come crashing down!!!

    British Golf (mainly English) is in great form and will continue to shine for many a year!


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