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Yearning for a homegrown winner

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Rob Hodgetts | 10:29 UK time, Monday, 4 April 2011

Another Masters, another year of yearning for UK fans. It's now 15 years since Nick Faldo last triumphed at Augusta and the fingers are drumming impatiently for one of the new breed to get on the Masters scoresheet.

Lee Westwood came very close 12 months ago, only to be eclipsed by some Phil Mickelson magic. But Westwood's not the only homegrown player with healthy Augusta credentials. And with five players in the world's top 10, the Great Britain & Northern Ireland challenge looks stronger than ever.

Let's take a look at their chances, with the help of BBC golf commentator Ken Brown, a man who has shot 69 around the treacherous turf of Augusta National.

Paul CaseyPaul Casey (England)
Age: 33
Masters played: 6
Best finish: 6th in 2004 (debut)
Last year: missed cut (75, 78)

Impressive on his Masters debut, bouncing back from opening 75 to card 69 and then 68. Out in penultimate group on Sunday, but slipped back with 74 to end sixth. Three other top 20s since then but missed cut last year despite winning Houston Open the week before. Won Volvo Golf Champions event on European Tour in January and made cut in all four PGA Tour starts this year.

"Says Augusta is his favourite course and has got the ideal game for it - a power player, hits the ball high and a hot putter when he gets the touch going and confidence is high. The combination of that and enjoying the course is a huge fillip." - Ken Brown

Luke DonaldLuke Donald (England)
Age: 33
Masters played: 6
Best finish: tied 3rd in 2005, 10th in 2007
Last year: missed cut (74, 75)

Comes in on a real high after WGC Matchplay win in February and a rise to third in the world. Significant Augusta form, finishing third on his debut in 2005, the best performance by a European since Jose Maria Olazabal won in 1999. In contention again in 2007, an eagle on the eighth in the final round lifted him to second before a triple bogey on the ninth derailed his challenge. Madrid Masters win last year was first since 2006.

"Form in the last six to eight months has been as good as anyone in the world - he just has a wonderfully accurate all-round game. Short game is terrific, second to none, which is key at Augusta. In the past you got the feeling he was a bit like Sandy Lyle - a bit take it or leave it when it came to winning. But his record in matchplay - in the Ryder Cup and earlier this year - is superb. So he's a sneaky, quiet terrier and I'm sure if he doesn't win a major this year he will come very close." - Ken Brown

Ross FisherRoss Fisher (England)
Age: 30
Masters played: 2
Best finish: tied 30th in 2009
Last year: missed cut (77, 76)

Raced into a two-shot lead with four birdies in first eight holes on Masters debut in 2009. Ended four behind first-round leader Chad Campbell before slipping back. Modest form on tour this season with 10th in Dubai the highlight. Won Irish Open last August for fourth career title after stunning 2009 including victory at World Matchplay, second in PGA Championship and fifth at US Open.

"Third start at Augusta and it takes a few goes to get an idea of what is going on. He hits the ball long and high and strikes it soundly, but the key is whether he can find his touch on the greens. He just needs to improve his putting a fraction. I get the feeling he is seeking a bit of inspiration and confidence in his game to move to the next level." - Ken Brown

Martin LairdMartin Laird (Scotland)
Age: 28
Masters played: 0

The US-based Glaswegian served notice he is becoming a force in the game with victory in Arnold Palmer's event at Bay Hill two weeks ago for a second PGA Tour title, taking him to career-high 21st in world. He also lost in two play-offs in 2010, both times after having a putt to win on the 72nd hole.

"Scotland's hidden gem. People have been saying Scottish golf is in the doldrums, but he's playing wonderfully and has gone relatively unnoticed until now. Had a brilliant end to last season and found some confidence, and a little key which helped him go from a middle-of-the-road putter to a very good one.

"Goes into his first Masters with a huge amount of confidence but has got to learn the course. That first week, with all the distractions of the par-three event, the practice rounds and the hype, it's hard to get it all together." - Ken Brown

Sandy LyleSandy Lyle (Scotland)
Age: 53
Masters played: 29
Best finish: Winner, 1988
Last year: missed cut (69, 86)

Fairway bunker shot on the 18th remains an iconic Masters image as Lyle sparked a run of four straight British winners at Augusta. The former world number one leads the European Seniors Tour after recently clinching his first senior victory in China. Rolled back the years with impressive 20th place at Augusta in 2009 after rounds of 72, 70, 73 and 71.

"We've seen it a number of times recently with the likes of Fred Couples and Bernhard Langer that the confidence gained from winning and playing well on the senior tour can lift your game. We all know Sandy's got a lot of talent but when you are past 50 you are really just hoping to make the cut.

"It wouldn't surprise me at all if he got through to the weekend, which for a 53-year-old is a darn good effort." - Ken Brown

Graeme McDowellGraeme McDowell (Northern Ireland)
Age: 31
Masters played: 3
Best finish: tied 17th in 2009
Last year: missed cut (75, 74)

Modest Masters form but worked on weaknesses, notably to short game, after missing second cut last year and went on to win Wales Open and then maiden major title at the US Open at Pebble Beach. Clinched winning point against US in Ryder Cup in October and beat Tiger Woods in play-off to win the Chevron World Challenge in December. Form tailed off of late and admits the opening-round 80 at Bay Hill recently was a "wake-up call". But on his day the world number four is still a force to be reckoned with.

"Plenty of self-confidence, especially having won the US Open. The next thing he must be thinking is, 'can I win another major?' He's certainly got the game for it but there's nothing in his Augusta form that makes you think 'this chap is in love with the place' - although they all are, of course.

"Likes to hit the ball with a draw - right to left - which is always advantageous at Augusta because about 11 of the tee shots favour a draw to a fade. Also a glorious putter at times - a bit like Paul Casey in that when his eye is in he can hole from everywhere. He just sees the ball going in, and you think 'this is ridiculous'. The question is, will the streak be on this week?" - Ken Brown

Rory McIlroyRory McIlroy (Northern Ireland)
Age: 21
Masters played: 2
Best finish: tied 20th in 2009
Last year: missed cut (74, 77)

Suggestions on his debut that Augusta would suit but missed cut last year was a reality check. Regrouped to win maiden PGA Tour event at Quail Hollow in May and has shown solid form this season with five top 10s. Tied third in the last two majors of 2010.

"He's got it, no question. He's got what it takes to win anything, any time, anywhere.

"Has had some experience of Augusta now and is getting to know how to play it well. Had a sit down at the end of last season with his caddie and manager to analyse his game and work out how to win a bit more.

"The upshot was he could improve his strategy - sometimes he is over-attacking and often on the par fives. So at Augusta he will sink or swim on his strategy - knowing when to have a go at greens, when to go at flags, when not to. If he gets it right and holes a few putts, particularly from inside six feet, he can be a world beater" - Ken Brown

poulter226.jpgIan Poulter (England)
Age: 35
Masters played: 6
Best finish: tied 10th in 2010

Joint leader with Lee Westwood after two rounds last year but finished 74, 73 to slip back. Also came 13th in 2007. Landed biggest career win to date in lifting WGC Match Play title last year but solid if unremarkable form since to slide out of top 10 in rankings.

"Loves everything about Augusta - the set-up, the course, the atmosphere, the glamour of it all. He's totally at home and at peace with coming to the Masters and it is one of the magic weeks for him.

"His greatest attribute is that he is a glorious touch putter, who rolls the ball well. But over the last couple of months he's changed putter and has been saying he can't find his touch.

"His game is all-round steady - he doesn't hit it particularly far but is pretty accurate and we've seen the likes of Bernhard Langer, Gary Player and Mike Weir, who are not power players, do well. Will not want the course playing wet as it might be a bit long for him. But never lacks self-belief."- Ken Brown

Justin RoseJustin Rose (England)
Age: 30
Masters played: 5
Best finish: 5th in 2007
Last year: Not qualified

Something of an Augusta specialist having held at least a share of the lead on each of the four days. Led after the first two rounds in 2004 after carding 67, 71 but shot 81 on the third day. Tied for lead after first-round 69 in 2007 but fell back with two 75s before scrapping back to within one on the 17th tee in the final round. But drive ricocheted off a branch and had to play second from 15th fairway en route to a double bogey to finish three behind winner Zach Johnson. Also tied for lead with eventual winner Trevor Immelman after round one in 2008 but second-round 78 spelled the end of his challenge.

Failed to qualify last year but went on to win twice in three weeks on the PGA Tour. In good form this season, leading going into final round of Transitions Championship before finishing fifth and sharing third in Arnold Palmer Invitational.

"Very sound all season and all departments in good shape. Two wins last year will have done wonders, knowing he can mix it with the best. Next stage is to get into contention in the last two or three groups on a Sunday a bit more often." - Ken Brown

Lee WestwoodLee Westwood (England)
Age: 37
Masters played: 11
Best finish: 2nd in 2010, tied 6th in 1999

Close but no cigar for Westwood last year. The Englishman led following the second and third rounds and was still in front after eight holes on Sunday before Phil Mickelson birdied four of the last seven holes, including a miracle shot from behind a tree on the 13th, to storm to a third title. Westwood maintained his form to finish second at the Open in July and took over from Tiger Woods as world number one in October before he was succeeded at the top by Martin Kaymer in February. Modest form this season though.

"Likes Augusta and knows he can do it. Will look back and say he missed a couple of chances last year, a 15ft putt here, a chip there. But one magical shot from Mickelson, when he took a gamble, turned the tournament. The crowds were roaring for him and his confidence soared. Sometimes you have to say 'well done, you played better than me' but Westwood can take lot of satisfaction from it.

"Long game has been absolutely stunning for the last two years and some of his wins have been five-star cruise stuff, but his swing is not quite in the groove and as consistently sound as it was last year. I'm not quite sure why, but there may have been a few diversions in becoming world number one that have taken him away from maximum concentration.

"His form in recent years has been developed through the extra physical fitness he has incorporated into his routine. At places like Augusta you use a tremendous amount of mental and physical energy and it's easy to run out of puff and let the odd poor shot creep in. But Westwood's well equipped to run through the tape and the opposition know that this is a bloke who knows how to win and is not going to buckle under pressure." - Ken Brown

Ian WoosnamIan Woosnam (Wal)
Age: 53
Masters played: 23
Best finish: Winner, 1991
Last year: missed cut (81, 83)

The Welshman went into the 1991 Masters as the newly crowned world number one and immediately clinched his sole major title in impressive fashion, hitting the front after round three. His best finish in recent times was 44th in 2008 but age and Augusta's new length have caught up with him. Has won three times on the European Seniors Tour, most recently in 2009, and is seventh in the 2011 rankings.

"Woosie has always said he'll come back here as long as he can, whether it's as a player or not. He'll see his mates, go to the Champions Dinner, play the par three and enjoy the atmosphere. But he'll still be very competitive and will be trying his guts out to see if he can score under 75 and make the cut. But with any wind or moisture the course is a monster and the 50-year-olds might not have the armoury." - Ken Brown

BBC Two and the BBC HD Channel has live coverage of the Masters on Saturday and Sunday with extended coverage on the Red Button as well as highlights from Thursday and Friday - all streamed online on the BBC Sport website (UK users only). Radio 5 live and 5 live sports extra will have extensive live commentary and there will be live text commentary on the BBC Sport website.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    My feelings on this are similar to last year in that the players have the talent but bottle in closing out a tournament is an issue for most of them. I know there have been some wins on the PGA tour from a number of players during the last year but for most, not all, of them it was more a case of struggling over the line rather than winning emphatically. I've always felt that once Justin Rose got his first win on the board he could go on to win a lot but, having done that, though it looked like that might happen he's thrown away a few good chances to win this year. However, as he likes the course and is also playing pretty well I think he can have a good tournament, but I expect 1 poorish round will do for him (as always). Same applies to Casey.

    Of the others it's good to see Harrington hitting form as he is the one who is now a proven winner of majors and Luke Donald who also has had good Masters finishesand comes in with form. McDowell would do well if he's in the running come sunday.

    Would be great to see a British winner though so hope I'm wrong.

  • Comment number 2.

    This year, it will be the year of the Rose! If not, then Luuuuuuke!

    @1 Robbo
    Totally agree with your Rose assessment, if he can avoid that 1 bad round then he's going to be right in the mix.

  • Comment number 3.

    great chance all round for our contenders, however I believe, Rory won't want to stay to long in the shadows of his good pal Gmac, so if he can borrow some of Gmac's mental toughness along with his own natural game in tune, then Rory's our best chance.....can't wait!

  • Comment number 4.

    Coming from Ireland would obviously like to see McIlroy (has he got 4 good major rounds in him?), McDowell (badly of of sorts with long game) or Harrington (possibly our best chance as appeared to be playing into some kind of form in Houston) do well.

    I still believe that come Sunday the usual Augusta suspects - Woods and Mickelson will be there or thereabouts.

  • Comment number 5.

    I'm not sure any of the players mentionned are good enough putters to win the Masters. It is wide open this year, but you usually have to chip and putt well and make your birdies on the 5's.

    Mickelson obviously has a great chance with winning at the weekend, Tiger will scramble about, but never be in contention, still finish top 20.

    Kaymer probably has the best shot of the Europeans.

  • Comment number 6.

    I hope I'm wrong but I can't see any of the English players winning it. They all seem like very nice chaps but they all have a tendency to choke. Westwood should have won a couple of majors by now. The Irish players like McDowell seem to be made of sterner stuff. McDowell is ceartainly capable of winning more majors.

  • Comment number 7.

    Well I hope the numerous British players are slow starters, as we won't see any live coverage of them on BBC TV until Saturday. Pathetic, particularly as the BBC Sport site is plastered with previews hyping the event:

    "BBC Sport will bring you comprehensive coverage of the 2011 Masters in glorious high definition from Augusta."

    I didn't realise that "comprehensive" was another word for "half". Bitterly disappointed with the level of committment shown by BBC to major sports. I guess £££ talks.

  • Comment number 8.

    Surely Westwood's second place in 2010 is the best European performance since Olazabal's win in 1999 rather than Donald's third place in 2005

  • Comment number 9.

    Completely agree with the comment by TitusMontagueBrown, can't believe that the live coverage won't start until Saturday. Its not as if the BBC show many other global golfing events.

    I've grown up watching the Masters and don't feel that 2 days of coverage does the greatest spectacle in world golf justice

  • Comment number 10.

    So sad that the Beeb wont be showing its normal full coverage....been watching it for years and with Peter,Sam,Ken,Wayne and Jesse at the helm,its standard of transmission has been brilliant.in both observational insights and humour.....As to the competition,I think a European winner is possible,and my "Three-off-the-tee" to do well this week are Luke Donald,Sergio Garcia and Franceso Molinari.....looking forward to an exhilarating four days golf, but alas only two provided by the BBC....

  • Comment number 11.

    Would love to see LW win a major, especially the Masters (IMO the most prestigious major). I really hope that last year does not haunt him mentally.

    Also I do think that it is going to be one of the most open Masters for nigh on 15 years. You could name 30 of the players competing, and you could argue a case for anyone of them to be wearing the green jacket come Sunday evening.

    Got a sneaky feeling that Leftie (the only none European that i genuinely dont mid winning) may do it again

  • Comment number 12.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 13.

    I find it ridiculous how the BBC can provide so much hype for an event that they have suddenly taken a back seat on. Luckily for me I have Sky; so I won't be missing anything. Having said all that; even the coverage on Sky doesn't start until 7pm and with a five hour time difference; will mean only seeing live coverage from 2pm onwards. What about the other 5 hours? Ah well.

    Regarding the comment above from Ernal 'Three-off-the-tee" to do well this week are Luke Donald,Sergio Garcia and Franceso Molinari.' I think you won't be far wrong in terms on Donald and Molinari; but I think you are being very optimistic if you consider Sergio a real contender. I have always been a great admirer on Garcia's game and his talent has never been in question; it is just his ability to control his emotions which unfortunately he has been unable to do for a good 5 years now. On the decline for me. But good luck to him; I hope i'm proved wrong.

    Mr lefty won me some money yesterday for his brillian final two rounds at Shell Houston. I had a punt on Mickelson at 30/1 after round two, and he played an absolute blinder. £70 in the bank. So £20 of it will be spent on 8 contenders for me.

    Nick Watney @ 16/1 is a great bet.
    He has played the Masters three times and pocketed a top 20 finish on each occasion, with last year's effort his best yet carding a 65 in his final round to finish 7th. He's comes off the back of his best form having just recorded his biggest win of his career by beating all of the other members of the world's top 50 to capture the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral. Great chance. £2.50 e/w is worth a punt.

    Dustin Johnson is another at 25/1 who is a real contender. His record at Augusta is steady yet unspectacular. But he has the game to contend at Augusta as he's exceptionally long and has the necessary short game skills, so it would come as no surprise were he to be in the mix come Sunday. He should already be a dual major winner having blown a three-shot lead in last year's US Open before falling foul of a rules decision that saw his play-off spot in the PGA Championship taken away. This guy will come close.

    Graeme McDowell is another contender who has the mentality and confidence to record his second major. He may not have the natural ability and exuberance of his counter-part McIlroy; but he is very much the man who is always in the spot light when it comes to competing and keeping his cool. He has proved he is a man for the big occasions. A great driver of the ball with a natural draw to his ball striking and on his day; one of the greatest putters around. Glorious bet @ 40/1.

    Martin Laird is a guy who has very much slipped under the radar with very little mention of his chances. Ok, this is his debut at Augusta and we all know that debutants without course experience; often don't do that well. But, this is a guy who already has two PGA Tour titles and is oozing with confidence at the moment. @ 66/1, he is a great e/w bet.

    Hunter Mahan is another who @ 28/1 offers great value. In his two visits to Augustsa, he has recorded two top ten finishes. A guy very much comfortable where he game is at and very much in prime form coming to Augusta. Great shot and on his game is very lethal with the putter.

    KJ.Choi played a blinder last year with at four rounds carding under-par. He is a 60/1 shot which I find extraodinary and he surely worth support. He has a great all-rounder reliable game. A very relaxed and often gives off a lackadaisical impression to his game; but he is a very gifted golfer who is always in the running.

    Another two long shots are Oosthuizen at 100/1 and Stewart Cink at 125/1.
    Two very competent players, both of which already have major wins under their belts. Both are very dependable of the tee's and both have very good short games.


    Can't wait until Thursday.







  • Comment number 14.

    Apologies for some of the grammar and spelling. Doh. Should have read it through before I posted it.

  • Comment number 15.

    European Golf is on an obvious high after the Ryder Cup and many British players are not only highly regarded in the States and justifiably so, but have also put in some brilliant performances of late.

    Whole host of names, great golfers, super potential. However, when it comes to the Majors and especially Augusta, the media hype everything out of all proportion, heaping massive expectation on to the shoulders of players already under natural pressure of the spotlight of the year's first big one. Is it therefore any surprise that some fail to live up to those expectations or others, seemingly thriving in the pressure cooker atmosphere, simply fail to deliver at the final hurdle?

    Perhaps not at all, but historically when considering the Seve or Faldo 'Factor', and especially at The Masters, masterful golf was accompanied by complete self-absorbtion and focus......do any of the current flock of Brits have the abilities to immerse themselves completely in that zone? McDowell definitely, Westwood probably, Donald, Rose et al quite possibly.

    I hope I am completely wrong and a we get a deserving Brit winner, but with them engulfed in the usual over-drive hype, don't be surprised if the 4th Leader Board is headed by names like Mickleson, Cink, Stricker, Fowler, Mahan and even perhaps a rebounding Tiger.

  • Comment number 16.

    I don't know why people even bother to try to predict a winner. It's pointless. It's a pin in the board this year - there's probably 40 players that could win it, but who thought that Ben Curtis could've won the Open, or Hamilton.
    The bottom line is that to win a major requires at least 3 great rounds, and frnakly half the field should be capable of that. SO I won't even try to predict who, except to say that I'd be surprised if they were from Europe. Sorry.

  • Comment number 17.

    More Masters preview at http://teestacklesandtons.blogspot.com/

  • Comment number 18.

    I'm not sure any of the players mentionned are good enough putters to win the Masters. It is wide open this year, but you usually have to chip and putt well and make your birdies on the 5's.

    Mickelson obviously has a great chance with winning at the weekend, Tiger will scramble about, but never be in contention, still finish top 20.

    Kaymer probably has the best shot of the Europeans.

 

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