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England expects at Augusta

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Rob Hodgetts | 02:54 UK time, Saturday, 10 April 2010

They say overnight success can take 10-20 years. The line could have been invented for Lee Westwood.

But it applies to English golf in general, still searching for a first major winner for 14 years since Nick Faldo was supposed to have inspired a generation.

Major success may be taking its time coming, but with three Englishmen in the world's top 10, and two of those - Westwood and Ian Poulter - leading the Masters at halfway, relative success is already here.

Westwood admits, only half in jest, that he has "always been a slow learner" but his is a career that could define the term "slow burner".

The 36-year-old was the European number one in 2000 and reached number four in the world - and was seemingly poised to take the major baton from Faldo. But lean years followed, and he plummeted down the rankings, reaching a nadir of 252nd, before steadily clawing his way back.

"Your talent and ability never leaves you - it's confidence more than anything. Sometimes you start to panic and listen to too many people and it's a vicious circle," he said.

Now, in his 17th season on Tour, Westwood is once again Europe's top player, and he's back at fourth in the world. He's still searching for a first major title, but he is inching ever closer.

Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood

He missed out on a play-off by a stroke to finish third at the US Open in 2008 and was third in both the Open and USPGA last year.

Despite the disappointment each time, he says he gained precious experience of the sharp end of a major which he hopes to be able to draw on next time he is in contention on the final day. (If he does win on Sunday, he could shed the fast-looming "best player never to win a major" tag before he even properly receives it.)

"A major's the only thing really missing in my career," he said. "I know I've got the game, I know I've got the temperament. It's just going that one step further and finishing it off."

Eleven years ago he led the Masters standing on the 10th tee in the final round, only to fade to finish tied sixth.

"That's the first time I had ever experienced a lead in a major so it's bound to come as a bit of a shock," he admitted.

But triumph and disaster washes over the Westwood of today in equal measure. His coach Pete Cowen says his mental strength is one of his key weapons.

"As I've got older I'm a lot more patient and mature than I used to be," said Westwood. "I know now not to panic when things go wrong. Everybody is going to have the odd mistake. It's just minimising those mistakes and bouncing back from them."

If Westwood is England's Steady Eddie - he has hit 81% of greens in regulation over two rounds at Augusta so far - Poulter is Flash Harry, relying more on a good short game and a hot putter.

But his confident manner and colourful appearance belie a player who is blossoming into
a serious competitor.

He became the butt of jokes for a while after his comments a few years ago about how when he is at his best "it will be only me and Tiger".

But Poulter made us take note when he finished second in the 2008 Open at Royal Birkdale, and then went on later the same year to repay captain Faldo's faith in him as a wildcard when he top-scored for Europe in the losing Ryder Cup match at Valhalla.

He has since won his maiden title in America at the WGC Match Play earlier this year - beating the other Englishman in the top 10, Paul Casey, in the final. And he is living up to the hype after coming into the Masters as many people's idea of a serious contender.

"In the last 18 months I've put a lot of work into my game," said the 34-year-old. "My putting, I'm very confident with that in my hand. If putts aren't going in they are having a look and burning the edges. And it has helped a lot to win on this side of the pond."

Vindication for the ribbing he took over his Tiger comments, then?

"Sure, if I win this week I'll probably go number two [in the world], which would be lovely," he laughed. "So I guess it's a work in progress."

But before English golf starts breaking out the bunting for a new major champion, we should just remind ourselves that this is only halfway.

A collection of very talented players are within a stroke of luck or a holed putt of the lead. And one of them has sealed 14 major deals, including four at Augusta. Eddie and Harry, watch out. There's a Tiger about.


  • Comment number 1.

    Really set up for the weekend. No clue who's going to win. I like pretty much all the players in contention so I don't mind. Maybe YE's the man - get him halfway to the Yang Slam.

  • Comment number 2.

    "But before English golf starts breaking out the bunting for a new major champion, we should just remind ourselves that this is only halfway"

    Sorry but who is breaking out the bunting......?

    Liking the coverage generally but that is a typical media comment that the idiots out here in the real world are already celebrating an English victory while the savvy media know that the tournament is only half way through.

    Like the Tiger thing....all in the mind of the media...we consumers of media have to suffer the whims and influence of the media.

    but as i say, enjoying things generally, particularly with no big ears on the box cardboarding his way through a script.

    Here's to Poults and Westwood though....and may the BBC spring for some bunting if either of you do actually win...

  • Comment number 3.

    Looking like a mini Ryder Cup, with the Brits and Wooods/Mickelson/Kim chasing!
    All about knowing when to attack and defend on this course.
    Probably end up in a play-off as it's alaways tight.
    Poulter's putting may win it for him - it's awesome.

  • Comment number 4.

    Why is it that whenever Tiger Woods is a couple of shots off the lead, nobody ever says "he's underperforming" (which he is, if you consider his world ranking), but instead they say things like "A Tiger is lurking", or "A wounded Tiger is still very dangerous", or "Tiger on the prowl", or, as in this blog, "there's a Tiger about"?

    Oh yes, I see, it's because of his name! Well, not even his real name, just his nickname... how very clever! Or: how very predictable.

  • Comment number 5.

    5 months out of the game and he is under performing, ask Mcillroy Harrington Fisher and co about under performing, Westwood and Poulter are doing great job long may it continue, but your comment about Tiger is ridiculous :)

  • Comment number 6.

    I'm sure Woods has been playing every day so it's not like he's coming back from injury.

    Woods is undoubtedly the best golfer in the world but to believe the contrite facade he's putting up is like believing David Cameron knows what it's like to be poor.

    As soon as the sponsorship money comes back and the missus has been paid off to keep quiet the true arrogant Woods will be back.

    He's playing well though and only a fool would back against him, I've won a lot of money on him in the past and I will win a lot more in the future.

  • Comment number 7.

    As I said on previous post the best putter will win the masters Phil is not on his game, Poulter is very streaky putter Westwood is always better on slightly slower greens, so Kim is quite hot on the green at the moment but I would love to see YE Yang take out Tiger again oh how the chairman of Augusta would like that !!

  • Comment number 8.

    England expects. HA HA.

    The bunting will certainly be out when they get stuffed. They will be British when they lose. Certainly a reverse of the situation with Sandy Lyle, Andy Murray, Jackie Stewart and even Gordon Brown etc. ABE!

  • Comment number 9.

    Because Scotland are so successful at sport bigscot.

    If you start trying to call English players British then the Scots get all upset and disassociate themselves from them. I think in England we are more mature and will support athletes from this island who are from Wales and Scotland. The Scots on the otherhand get all childish and will never support anyone who is English. I imagine Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton are termed English in Scotland.

  • Comment number 10.

    No need to imagine they are.

  • Comment number 11.

    Hi all,

    Sagamix - liking the 'Yang Slam'.

    Brian - I'm talking about English golf in general. I'm not making any distinctions. I polished my own bunting just last night.

    Oliver - I'm not sure being two off the lead in the Masters after five months out is underperforming. If we took a quick straw poll right now before the third round, it wouldn't surprise me if the vast majority think Woods will go on to win.

    Grandecosse - if you can't play nicely, go and sit in the car.

  • Comment number 12.

    Off to hit a wee white ball aound for a few hours. Then will be rooted in front of the TV for the 3rd round. Will be back later.

  • Comment number 13.

    Grandecosse - Play well. Take more club, swing easy. Butch Harmon gave me that tip.

  • Comment number 14.

    Gary Player told me that in the 60's at Carnoustie when I was a lad.

  • Comment number 15.

    Allow me to clarify my "underperforming" comment, then, Rob. Firstly, I was speaking very generally, about every time Tiger has taken part in a major tournament and been a couple of shots off the lead at some stage. Secondly, Tiger is still number one in the world, and so, if one were to ignore all non-golfing factors (which the man himself seems to be doing very well), then one would expect him to be at the front of the field, no? My point was about the media clichés, not about how well Tiger is doing at this particular event.

    To weigh into another argument, I'm English but I'll always support players from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland too. Heck, I'll even throw in the Republic of Ireland into the bargain. I know that many other English people feel the same way, and isn't that a good thing; a display of support for one's neighbours, certainly not trying to "claim" them as our own?

  • Comment number 16.

    "Lee Westwood insists he is ready to win his first major title after taking a share of the lead with two rounds remaining in the Masters at Augusta. "

    Spoken to soon as usual, hes slowly becoming the new sergio garcia. I hope im wrong and he does actually win but golf is always to good to be true, unless proven - like tiger woods.

  • Comment number 17.

    unounos grow up, I am Scottish and proud of it but will support all the English golfers. Want Lee Westwood to win this weekend and for the rest to be there or there about.


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