Golf Monthly Staff Writer Nick Bonfield discusses the chances of an English victor in the 2014 Masters at Augusta National
Masters blog: Englishmen to challenge?
Over the past couple of years, the collective strength of the English golfing contingent has been as strong as ever before.
The hyperbole surrounding English golf has been entirely justified in recent times, with Lee Westwood and Luke Donald reaching the summit of the world game and Justin Rose winning England’s first US Open for 43 years.
As it stands, Rose, Donald, Westwood, Ian Poulter, David Lynn and US Amateur Champion Matthew Fitzpatrick are in the field for the 2014 Masters.
As such, expectation levels will once again be high. Unfortunately, I don’t share the sense of optimism that will undoubtedly disseminate from non golf-specific media outlets in the lead up to the year’s first major. After all, a simple glace at the world ranking reveals four Englishmen in the top 40.
That, though, doesn’t paint the full picture of decline. I’m not suggesting we’re in a state of disarray – far from it – but things were looking much rosier 12 months ago.
Take Westwood, for example. He became world number one in October 2010, some 16 years after the last Englishman to achieve such a feat – Nick Faldo.
Since then, it’s been a tale of deterioration. He won on the European Tour in 2011 and 2012, but it’s now been almost two years since his last professional victory.
His decision to move to the States at the start of 2013 simply hasn’t paid dividends, and he hasn’t been able to fix the recurrent Achilles Heel in his game: chipping and putting.
Given his age, I’m one of the naysayers who believes he’ll be vying for the title of ‘best player never to have won a major’ with Colin Montgomerie at the end of his career.
I’d love to see Westwood win the Masters – he’s a fine player and one of the best ball-strikers the game has ever seen – but you can’t win one of golf’s big four without chipping and putting as well as anyone in the field. I’m not convinced Westwood has that in his locker.
To continue my negative streak, I’m going to go ahead and rule out Rose, Donald and Lynn.
Rose is struggling with tendonitis in his right shoulder and comes into the tournament off the back of a first missed cut in almost a year; Lynn still hasn’t won on the PGA Tour and, whilst Donald has shown encouraging signs of late, he’ll need to be on top of his game to compete on a golf course increasingly suited to long, accurate drivers.
If I had to put my money on someone taking home the Green Jacket, it’d be Poulter. He’s a very good driver of the golf ball, proficient on and around the greens and someone capable of sheer brilliance when everything clicks into place. The only downside is that – The Ryder Cup aside – those moments are too few and far between, and not even Poulter knows what brings them on.
The caveat to my glass-half-full attitude is the inherently unpredictable nature of golf. Despite my negativity, all the aforementioned players have the talent to win the Masters. Let’s hope one of them arrests the minimal, but not inconsequential, English decline in an era where young, talented and ominously confident Americans looks set to dominate.