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Britons face familiar challenge

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Rob Hodgetts | 20:10 UK time, Wednesday, 15 July 2009

It can't go on forever. Or at least, it's very unlikely to, statistically.

As we all know, the British major drought has gone on for 10 years now but there's a distinct feeling in the air that it could be over soon.

There's just too many good British players at the moment for it not to, goes the argument.

Maybe it's just because it's the Open and we are swept up in patriotic fervour.

But with the world number three Paul Casey hailing from England, his countrymen Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood joint second in the betting for the Open and six Englishmen and two from Northern Ireland in the top 50 in the world rankings, the prospects do look rosy.

Ian Poulter, Rory McIlroy and Paul Casey

For the record they are Casey (2nd), Westwood (17th), Poulter (18th), Ross Fisher (21st), Rory McIlroy (22nd), Luke Donald (28th), Graeme McDowell (46th) and Oliver Wilson (47th).

But prospects and reality don't necessarily follow. Plenty of world-class players have failed to win a major - Colin Montgomerie and Sergio Garcia to name but two.

In fact, take Nick Faldo out of the equation and major titles have been very slim pickings for British players.

A common theory is that Tiger Woods is to blame.

"We're living in an era where Tiger Woods is dominating golf," said Fisher's coach, Kristian Baker, the head of instruction at Wentworth and the man who guided the 28-year-old to fifth at the US Open in June.

But Woods has won 14 majors from 48 professional starts since 1997. That's a strike-rate of just over 29%, which means lots of other people have won majors in that time as well.

But no Brits, other than Paul Lawrie in 1999.

Before that we have to go back to Faldo in the Masters in 1996. And for an Open champion it is Faldo in 1992.

In the old days there was the legitimate excuse that having three of the four majors every year in the US made it virtually impossible for our players, given the difficulty and expense of travel and the vastly differing conditions they faced when they got there.

That's what made Tony Jacklin's breakthrough at the US Open in 1970 so impressive.

But that doesn't wash any more, given that golf is a global game these days and many of the top British stars play regularly in the States, where some even live.

Despite our patriotic optimism, the Open is arguably more alien to many of these players, given it is held on links courses which they encounter rarely nowadays.

In the last 10 Opens there have been 15 Britons in total finishing in the top 10, including Poulter and Montgomerie, who were runners-up in 2008 and 2005 respectively.

Former Ryder Cup star and commentary doyen Peter Alliss blames a lack of consistency week to week.

"Love him or not, Tiger Woods has missed something like three cuts in his professional career," said Alliss. "We get players who win big tournaments and then they don't qualify for the next four weekends. I don't really understand why, or what goes on in their heads.

"One or two of them talk a good game but it is a disappointment. Let's hope Turnberry is the start of something big for them."

It's the subject the players hate and get asked ad nauseam. First the eyes roll and they sigh. Then they switch on the answerphone message. They have no idea why, yes, they'd very much like to win a major, there are a good current crop of Brits, if one of them wins a major it could open the floodgates, but no, they won't dwell on it for the rest of their lives if they do end up without one.

Of the likeliest contenders, the 33-year-old Poulter will look back on his second at Royal Birkdale last year as the springboard to greater heights. And he will be buoyed by his Ryder Cup performance last September, when he top-scored for Europe after making the team as a controversial wildcard pick.

"I'm not going out there having the mindset on Thursday morning I have to win, I have to win, I have to win," he said.

"I'm going out there to play a round of golf. Yes, I do have expectations to try to go one better than I did last year but I will be pacing myself from Thursday to try to get in position to strike on Sunday afternoon."

Westwood, one of Britain's virtual veterans these days at 36, has had six top 10s in majors, including a 10th and a fourth just up the road at Royal Troon in the 1997 and 2004 Opens respectively.

He also went close at the US Open last year, playing with Turnberry first-round partner Woods in the final pair and missing out on a play-off by one.

"I learnt then that I was good enough to win a major," said Westwood, rated for his straight driving ability, who lost a play-off in the French Open recently and came eighth at the Scottish Open despite suffering from a chest infection.

Casey, 31, has won on three continents this season and is the second highest-ranked player in the field given Phil Mickelson's absence.

He was seventh last year but is perhaps more suited to a course like Augusta, where he has finished sixth, 10th and 11th in four Masters starts.

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"I tied into the lead going into the back nine at Augusta at least once, maybe twice," he said. "I've been in the mix. I know what the pressure is like. And it's time to put myself in the mix again."

McIlroy, meanwhile, is the very fast-rising star of British and Northern Irish golf and may yet jump the queue.

As the youngest player ever to reach the world's top 50, the current world number 22 grew up playing links golf, shot a course-record 61 at Royal Portrush in 2005 and has legitimate claims at Turnberry this week. At 20 he would be the youngest Open winner since 1900.

The downside would appear to be his lack of experience in majors - he's only played in two as a professional, finishing 20th at the Masters and 10th at the US Open this year.

"I've sort of proved to myself that I do have the game to get around major championships," he said.

Maybe, McIlroy's lack of exposure could actually prove a blessing. Not haunted by near misses or scarred by brushes with Woods.

As well as the other Britons in the world's top 50, there are more candidiates with claims too, of course, the likes of Justin Rose and Darren Clarke to name but two.

But each player will have to beat 155 others to win, spread across 26 different nationalities.

Put like that, the odds of a British winner don't look great. But put like that, nor do anyone else's.

Follow updates from BBC Sport at the Open this week on Twitter (www.twitter.com/robhodgetts or www.twitter.com/markorlovac).

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Casey to win, 35/1 great odds

  • Comment number 2.

    I'm kinda liking McIlroy. Might be worth a flutter.

  • Comment number 3.

    "McIlroy, meanwhile, is the very fast-rising star of British and Northern Irish golf and may yet jump the queue"

    fast rising star of british golf??

    Rory is the best ball striker in world golf. he is a star ye muppet.

  • Comment number 4.

    Just to be pedantic, McIlroy and McDowell aren't Brits!
    Great Britain doesn't include Northern Ireland!
    Do your homework Robin.

    It's the UK that includes NI

  • Comment number 5.

    Grimli01,

    If they are from Norther IReland, then they will prob have a British passport (or Irish, or both), in which case they are British.

  • Comment number 6.

    rampantreds22 - You are wrong. People from Northern Ireland can hold a UK passport - and by definition the UK stands for the 'United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland'. It states it very clearly on the front of the passport.

    Can people stop incorrectly labelling people from Northern Ireland as British. It doesn't matter what their faith or political persuations are, no one from Northern Ireland is British.

    Robin, I'm not trying to be vindictive and I like the jist of your post but please ensure you get your facts correct.

    Good luck to all the rising stars of Britain and Ireland.

  • Comment number 7.

    Grimli01,

    If they are from Norther IReland, then they will prob have a British passport (or Irish, or both), in which case they are British.

    If they have an Irish passport how can they be British? This reminds me of a story about Samuel L Jackson being interviewed by an English reporter (how true it is I do not know). The breathless interviewer only seemen to be interested in asking Mr. Jackson about his co-star "our" Colin Farrell (I presume she was female). When Mr. Jackson replied "He's Irish isn't he?" she said "I know but we like to claim him as one of our own". Mr Jackson then said "That's the problem with you British. Always claiming things that arent yours."

  • Comment number 8.

    Look, I know Woods is a popular draw but is there any chance of seeing any other players? So far on the bbc online service I've only seen the Tiger woods group. Last time I looked there were other players competing in this tournament. Ok, he's the best but it would still be nice to see other players, complete favouritism if you ask me.

    Sort it out !!

  • Comment number 9.

    the reason they show tiger is because they look at the tv ratings and the go skyward when hes playing.

  • Comment number 10.

    Definitely British.

  • Comment number 11.

    Hi all,

    Thanks for your comments. I'm well aware the British/Northern Irish issue is a sensitive one and I do make it clear early on that there are six Englishmen and two from Northern Ireland in top 50. Further down I say, "McIlroy, meanwhile, is the very fast-rising star of British and Northern Irish golf and may yet jump the queue."

    In this sense I've used British and Northern Irish to cover the whole UK golfing scene. Sorry if that's not clear.

  • Comment number 12.

    Rory McIlroy is BRITISH

    READ BELOW

    the people of Northern Ireland have been recognised as "all persons born in Northern Ireland and having, at the time of their birth, at least one parent who is a British citizen, an Irish citizen or is otherwise entitled to reside in Northern Ireland without any restriction on their period of residence". The Good Friday Agreement guarantees the "recognition of the birthright of all the people of Northern Ireland to identify themselves and be accepted as Irish or British, or both, as they may so choose".

    OK. NOW YOU WILL ALL UNDERSTAND

    STAND UP FOR THE ULSTERMEN!!!

  • Comment number 13.

    The only man who knows whether Rory McIlroy considers himself British or Irish or whatever is Rory McIlroy. Until someone asks him all of you are just waffling.

  • Comment number 14.

    12. At 11:29am on 16 Jul 2009, geniussimon82 wrote:
    Rory McIlroy is BRITISH

    READ BELOW

    the people of Northern Ireland have been recognised as "all persons born in Northern Ireland and having, at the time of their birth, at least one parent who is a British citizen, an Irish citizen or is otherwise entitled to reside in Northern Ireland without any restriction on their period of residence". The Good Friday Agreement guarantees the "recognition of the birthright of all the people of Northern Ireland to identify themselves and be accepted as Irish or British, or both, as they may so choose".

    OK. NOW YOU WILL ALL UNDERSTAND

    STAND UP FOR THE ULSTERMEN!!!

    A very helpful post apart from how the writer has interpreted it to prove Rory is British. If he had actually read the text instead of just copying and pasting it he would see that it could equally prove that Rory is Irish or both along with Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell.

    In addition, although the article makes clear that the writer is aware of the sensitivity of this issue by talking of British and Northern Irish contenders it is really the headline that most people would take issue with.

  • Comment number 15.

    Would the cameraman at the Open please spend more time focussing on players' grips, please. Particularly the right hand of right handed players. We see the index finger crooked or the "pinkie" overlapping. The right handed power created by the finger position of the grip would be a help to club players

  • Comment number 16.

    As part of the Good Friday Agreement that the British government signed up to, the concept of self-determination was furthered and enshrined in law in Northern Ireland. Let's see what Wikipedia (not fool-proof I admit, however) defines self-determination as:

    Self-determination is defined as free choice of ones own acts without external compulsion; and especially as the freedom of the people of a given territory to determine their own political status or independence from their current state. In other words, it is the right of the people of a certain nation to decide how they want to be governed without the influence of any other country.

    If Rory claimed to be British then this wish would have to be respected by Irish people. However, he doesn't claim to be British. He holds an Irish passport. He uses that passport for international travel. He claims that he is Irish. Rory McIlroy is Irish.

    Might be hard for some people to accept I suppose.

  • Comment number 17.

    I'm very proud of where i am from, but one massive downfall in Northern ireland is this stupid nationality argument! It shouldn't matter whether someone is catholic, protestant, feels british, or have grown up in a culture or surroundings more closely related to the south, they are still from northern ireland!!

    And anyone can get 2 passports simply to avoid conflict. I come from a protestant family, live in a protestant area, have never been to a gaelic match and my brother is getting an irish passport simply because he needs it as id to get into clubs and bars, and incase he loses it he can still use is british passport for air travel! It shouldn't matter if rory has an irish passport. It doesnt stop him from being a uk citizen.

    Good luck to all the players ,mentioned above and I tipped Stricker and fisher to do well so good luck to them especially! :)

  • Comment number 18.

    Rory Mcilroy, Graeme Mcdowell and Darren Clarke are IRISH in golfing terms. They all played amateur golf for Ireland. The Golfing Union of Ireland does not recognise Northern Ireland as a separate country, it is considered all one island.

    'Britian' cannot claim anll these players because they may be successful. I once heard a BBC commentator referring to Padraig Harrington as British!!! When they are winning you want to claim their success, when they arent winning they suddenly refer back to their home country.

    Its the same for Andy Murray, when he loses he is suddenly Scottish again!!!!

  • Comment number 19.

    I could've sworn if McIlroy wins it he'll be winning it for himself
    Unless it's part of a team named after the country, these sportmen are not competing to win anything for their nation, their individual talent is irrespective to their nationality

    and as Dylan Moran would say, anyone with hair like that has got to be Irish.

  • Comment number 20.

    Could anyone tell me why Gary Lineker is the link man for the Open golf coverage. He is arrogant, rude, makes useless unfunny comments about golfers and other presenters. His knowledge of golf is limited and he is a total waste of space. There must be plenty of ex-golfers who could do his job easily and more interestingly. He should stay with his second rate presenting of Match of the day.

 

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