Sud­denly, the Brits are win­ning ev­ery­thing

Bri­tish Open might ac­tu­ally go Bri­tish

Austin American-Statesman - - SPORTS - By Nancy Ar­mour

ST. AN­DREWS, Scot­land — Rule Bri­tan­nia.

A Bri­tish golfer hasn’t won his own Open in more than a decade, and it’s been even longer since an English­man hoisted the claret jug. That could change at St. An­drews this week, given the way golfers from the United King­dom — all of Europe, re­ally — have dom­i­nated the win­ner’s lists on both sides of the At­lantic lately.

“I ex­pect one of us to be in con­tention on Sun­day, just pure num­bers,” said Justin Rose, who’s lead­ing the charge af­ter win­ning twice on the PGA Tour in a five-week span. “Numer­i­cally, you look at the world rank­ings, you look at the op­por­tu­nity for us. It’s prob­a­bly bet­ter than it’s been, dare I say, ever.”

Stuck in the shad­ows of Tiger Woods and Phil Mick­el­son for so many years, the Euro­peans pose their biggest threat since

the days of Seve, Faldo and Olazabal. Af­ter eight years with­out a ma­jor cham­pion, Euro­peans have won four of the last 12, in­clud­ing Graeme McDow­ell’s sur­prise win at the U.S. Open last month. McDow­ell’s big vic­tory was part of a stretch in which Euro­peans won four PGA events in five weeks — and Rose had a shot at win­ning the fifth as the 54-hole leader.

Half the play­ers in the top 20 hail from Europe, with all but three of the 10 from Bri­tain or North­ern Ire­land. Only six of the top 20 are Amer­i­cans. Com­pare that to five years ago, the last time the Bri­tish Open was held at St. An­drews. Back then, the Amer­i­cans had nine play­ers in the top 20, while all of Europe man­aged just five, two from Bri­tain or North­ern Ire­land.

“You look at the last five years of the ma­jors, and the English and the Bri­tish play­ers have started to get more and more ex­pe­ri­ence. That was what spurred me on,” said Nick Faldo, whose win at the 1992 Bri­tish Open was the last by an English­man. “Ev­ery­body is learn­ing and ev­ery­body is re­ally keen. I think some­thing is go­ing to hap­pen this week.”

When Padraig Harrington won the 2007 Bri­tish Open, he was Europe’s first ma­jor cham­pion since Paul Lawrie at Carnoustie in 1999. Harrington kept the claret jug for a sec­ond straight year in 2008, and added the Wana­maker Tro­phy at the PGA Cham­pi­onship.

Sud­denly, all those play­ers who won­dered if they’d ever catch up to the Amer­i­cans re­al­ized one of their own al­ready had. McDow­ell’s win at Peb­ble Beach was the first at Amer­ica’s na­tional cham­pi­onship by a Euro in 40 years.

“To see him win that, it gave me a lot of con­fi­dence just to know win­ning a ma­jor wasn’t as far away as I thought it was,” said Rory McIlroy, who has al­ready proven he’s got the game to win — and win of­ten — with his dom­i­nant dis­play at Quail Hol­low in May.

McIlroy is only 21, the kind of pre­co­cious tal­ent that could carry the con­ti­nent for a gen- er­a­tion. The North­ern Ir­ish­man turned pro in 2007 and made the top 10 in the world be­fore his 21st birth­day.

Lee West­wood’s bum calf may keep him from do­ing much at St. An­drews, but he’s ranked No. 3 in the world and was Europe’s top player last sea­son. When he was hon­ored at the Bri­tish golf writ­ers’ din­ner Tues­day, West­wood looked over at PGA Tour com­mis­sioner Tim Finchem and said, “Con­grat­u­la­tions to Steve Stricker. Al­ways nice to see an Amer­i­can win on your tour.”

Ouch. Hard to ar­gue, though. Stricker’s vic­tory Sun­day at the Deere Clas­sic was only the sec­ond by an Amer­i­can since the be­gin­ning of June.

“Get­ting over to the States and play­ing a lot more with ob­vi­ously the best play­ers in the world, you be­come more com­fort­able with them,” McDow­ell said.

Poor weather strikes

The Cham­pi­ons’ Chal­lenge, a four-hole ex­hi­bi­tion with 26 past win­ners of golf’s old­est ma­jor, was can­celed Wed­nes­day at the Old Course be­cause of driv­ing rain and howl­ing winds. Tiger Woods was among those set to com­pete.

1978 AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS (TOP); 1978 GETTY IM­AGES (BOT­TOM)

BEN CREN­SHAW

1978

70-69-73-71–283 (-5) Above: A 26-year-old Ben Cren­shaw tees off on No. 18 in the sec­ond round of the 1978 Bri­tish Open at St. An­drews. Be­low: Tom Kite, then 28, watches the flight of a tee shot. The for­mer Texas Longhorns tied for sec­ond place.

David J. Phillip AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Graeme McDow­ell of North­ern Ire­land hugs the tro­phy af­ter win­ning the U.S. Open last month. It showed that ‘win­ning a ma­jor wasn’t as far away as I thought it was,’ Rory McIlroy said.

Rory Mcilroy be­came a top-10 player be­fore turn­ing 21.

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