England expects at The Open
With 23 years having passed since Sir Nick Faldo won his third Claret Jug, is it time for another Englishman to follow in his footsteps? If so, who is it to be?
The second of Faldo’s wins was at St Andrews in 1990, so from an Englishman’s perspective there could be few better places than the Home of Golf to join him in the record books.
The favourite is Justin Rose, who has become an ever-present in the world’s top ten since he won the US Open in fine style at Merion in 2013, holding off Phil Mickelson and Luke Donald down the stretch.
Rose has been likened to Faldo for the way he has worked tirelessly on developing a swing seemingly without flaw. He may not have the flamboyance, say, of Rory McIlroy (then again, few do) but his consistency makes him a serious contender every time he tees it up.
The US-based Englishman has a curious and, to him, disappointing record in the Open. He announced his arrival on the scene with a glorious tied fourth finish as a 17-year-old amateur at Royal Birkdale in 1998 – and has yet to better that performance.
In the 16 years since he won the Silver Medal as leading amateur, Rose has a best finish of tied 12th, in 2007, and has missed the halfway cut in three of his last five Opens. Such is his mental strength, however, that he will not allow himself to look backwards when he steps on to the first tee of the Old Course this year. A work in progress since he turned professional, he is almost the finished article. The Open, for one, would not look out of place on his curriculum vitae.
The same could be said of Lee Westwood, who is bidding to become the fourth player in five Opens to win the coveted trophy in his 40s. The 42-year-old from Worksop finished outright second to South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen at St Andrews in 2010, the year in which he took over from Tiger Woods as world No 1, and will be looking to go one better this time around.
In 2009 he finished tied third at Turnberry, after leading the field with nine holes to play and repeated the feat at Muirfield in 2013 when he led going into the final round before being chased down by Mickelson, who produced a sensational last round of 66.
Since moving to the United States in 2013, Westwood has fallen outside of the world’s top 20. It means he is likely to come in under the radar at St Andrews, which suits him, and will draw on his vast experience on a course where he won the Alfred Dunhill Links in 2003. “I keep putting myself in contention in these major championships and finishing in the top three,” he said in 2010. “Hopefully one of these chances will turn into a trophy.
“I didn’t used to be a big fan of the Old Course but over the years it has grown on me and now I can see the subtleties to it. From a player’s point of view it’s pretty special.”
Ian Poulter is another player hoping to draw on his considerable experience. By his exacting standards, the Europe Ryder Cup star has failed to hit the heights in the past 12 months, but as a ‘confidence’ player it will not take too much to turn things around.
At 39, Poulter has built up a vast knowledge of links golf and while he is not the longest of hitters he will not need to be if the course is running hard and fast. Among his strengths is a strong short game – his chipping and putting under pressure is of the highest quality – and good course management. With notes in hand, he will be seen plotting his way around the Old Course as if he is on a route march. In previous Opens, Poulter gave Padraig Harrington a run for his money before finishing runner-up at Royal Birkdale in 2008; and at Muirfield two years ago he had a final round charge that could so easily have led to victory.
When Paul Casey reached No 3 in the world with victory at the 2009 BMW PGA Championship it looked as if he was ready to make the next step and challenge for the Major championships. In 2010 he played in the final pairing with Oosthuizen on the last day of the Open at St Andrews and although he was unable to make up a four-stroke deficit on the day he finished the week in a creditable tie for third.
Since then he has been blighted by injury. Among the worst of his injuries he dislocated a shoulder in a snowboarding accident over the Christmas holidays of 2011 and is only now beginning to look like the player of old. For a period he dropped down the world rankings but has climbed back inside the top 50 and finished tied sixth at this year’s Masters – a sure sign that he is back among the game’s elite performers.
Among the less established of the English players but in increasingly good form are Danny Willett and Andy Sullivan, both of them winners this year on the European Tour and each capable of scoring low. Luke Donald, the former World No 1, has also secured his place in The Open and, with two tied fifth finishes in the Championship under his belt, at Turnberry in 2009 and Royal Lytham & St Annes in 2012, perhaps this will be his year to shine on the St Andrews stage.