Suddenly, the Brits are winning everything
British Open might actually go British
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.
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.
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.