English look to golfers to lift sporting gloom
Justin Rose and 18 other Englishmen have a two-fold mission at the British Open: end their country's 22-year wait for a champion and lift the gloom hanging over England's woeful sporting summer.
In the past two months, England's football team has made its earliest exit from a World Cup since 1958, Chris Froome's defense of his Tour de France title lasted five stages before crashing out and the winless run of England's cricket team extended to nine tests — its worst sequence in 21 years.
Throw in a whitewash of England's rugby team in three tests against New Zealand and England's sport-loving public has had nothing to cheer.
Maybe England's golfers at Royal Liverpool can end the misery.
"The last couple of summers have been so fantastic for British sport," said Rose, referring to the London Olympics in 2012 and its sporting legacy that hung over until 2013. "But for whatever reason, this year, not so much.
"(The fans) will be behind anybody that gets their name on the leaderboard this week, from an English perspective. And there's great English players that have an opportunity to win. It would be fantastic — it can make the summer."
Nick Faldo was the last Englishman to win the British Open, at Muirfield in Scotland in 1992. And England has to go back further for its last Open Championship winner on home soil — Tony Jacklin at Royal Lytham in 1969.
Its biggest hope this week is the No. 3-ranked Rose. He has won the past two tournaments he has entered — arguably making him English sport's biggest achiever this summer — and has the experience of already winning a major to fall back on.
That was the U.S. Open in 2013 amid a summer of seemingly non-stop success for English and British sport, including Andy Murray at Wimbledon, Froome at the Tour, rugby's British and Irish Lions in Australia and England in cricket's Ashes.
For the rest of this year's English contingent, it's been a story of let-downs and near misses at recent British Opens.
Lee Westwood and Luke Donald were world No. 1s as recently as 2011, but a major title remains elusive and there's a general feeling that they have missed their best chance.
Westwood's record at British Opens — and majors overall — makes for painful viewing. He fell to t a tie for third at Muirfield last year, having held a three-shot lead after six holes in his final round. It was his fourth top-four finish since 2004 at the British Open and 12th top-10 finish at a major since 2008.
He is currently ranked No. 32 and doesn't feel his game is good enough to win in Hoylake.
"The spark is not there at the moment," Westwood says heading into the Open.
Donald, who has dropped to No. 20, enlisted the help of coach Chuck Cook in 2013 to make changes to his swing with a view to improve his displays at the majors. Two fifth places are his best performances at the British Open.
The No. 27-ranked Ian Poulter reserves his best form for Ryder Cups and a sore right wrist won't help his chances this week. He did, however, get on a roll in the final round last year and tied for third with Westwood.
Paul Casey could be a dangerous outsider. He rolled in nine birdies during the final round of the Scottish Open last week to demonstrate that his links game is in good shape and has shown glimpses in the past two seasons of the form that took him to No. 3 in the world in 2009.
"Maybe I can fly under the radar a bit and pop up on the leaderboard on Sunday," said Casey, who tied for third at the British Open at St. Andrews in 2010. "I have been playing some great stuff but the English in general have."
"It is building up," he said of the English challenge. "Justin will take the focus, as he should, being a major champion and recent winner. He has to be one of the favorites. But Poulter is always good for a punt at the Open. Lee as well. Luke is great at links golf."
Hoylake enjoys big crowds — there were 230,000 over the four days when it hosted the event in 2006 — so English players won't be short of backing this week.