Brit pack can recreate history by adapting to adopted homeland
Sunday 13 April 2008
Where Colin Welland, of Chariots of Fire fame, clutched an Oscar and declared "The British are coming", Sandy Lyle took out his bow of burning gold and said much the same thing with his seven-iron from the bunker at the 18th. Two decades ago Lyle won the Masters and for four years the green jacket ceremony was a strictly British tailoring operation with Nick Faldo (twice) and Ian Woosnam following the Scot's lead.
Faldo won a third time in 1996, in a run that saw Europe capture the Masters 11 times between 1980 and 1999. There has always been a strong British influence at Augusta National. The founder Bobby Jones won half of his Grand Slam – consisting of the Open and Amateur titles of the US and Britain – on our shores and he hired Alistair Mackenzie to help design the course.
These days the influence is just as strong, with Faldo himself now the chief analyst on the American broadcast of the Masters, where he is joined by Peter Oosterhuis and Ulster's David Feherty. Out on the course Lyle and Woosnam have been turning back the clock. And up on the leaderboard England's new breed of hopefuls have been popping up all over the place.
Whether they can stay there until the end remains to be seen, especially given Justin Rose's wild roller-coaster of what he calls "powerful experiences, good and bad" at Augusta. Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter have flirted with the lead this week before Paul Casey charged headlong into the thick of it last night.
Unlike Rose, Casey has struggled in the opening rounds here before battling back. This year he did not play himself out of contention before he had started. If he can repeat a previous feat of being the lowest scorer over the last 54 holes it might be more than just a consolation prize.
Meanwhile Nick Dougherty, at 25, is probably too young to remember all but Faldo's last triumph. But he has been picking the mind of his namesake mentor and an impressive debut has resulted.
At Carnoustie last year Padraig Harrington broke Europe's long majorless drought and now the attention is on those who follow. "There are a lot of really good English players coming through," Dougherty said. "It's going to happen. With so many coming through, you've got to think there's going to be a few majors between us."
Back when Seve Ballesteros was leading Europe's charge to major success, there was a theory to the Masters dominance. It was not that the course suited those players particularly but that it was different for everyone. The question was whether you could adapt and European players, used to playing in all conditions all over the world, were better at adapting than Americans who played identikit conditions every week.
Then technology and raw power overwhelmed the subtleties of the old course, not least when Tiger Woods won by 12 strokes in 1997. But all the changes of recent years – the lengthening, the semi-rough, more trees tightening the landing areas – have come as a shock to those who are used to powering their way to success.
Flair and strategy are back. Harrington, even more than a good putting week, put making good decisions at the top of his wishlist. Casey said: "I love the course and I think all the British players do. I was so looking forward to this week. I always like difficult courses. I like the challenge and this is a challenge."
It is a challenge that Tiger has struggled with since his last win in 2005. At other majors, principally the Open at Hoylake two years ago, he has been able to leave the driver in his bag. At regular events, he knows he can often get away with some wayward tee balls. Here he has to use it and knows he has to hit it just right. Even the world No 1 feels that pressure.
Thomas Levet, the Ryder Cup player working for French television this week, has played with Woods in the States and seen a different Tiger with driver in hand here. "He cannot get away with driving poorly here," Levet said. "He is in the trees like at the 18th on Friday night. If you get out of position there are consequences.
"It is a great course because if you hit it in the right place, you can make birdies," he added. "But if you hit an average shot, your next shot is more difficult. If you hit a bad shot, it affects your next two shots."
Tiger got away with it again at 18 last night as he charged back into contention. But British participation at the quixotic Butler Cabin presentation ceremony is a tradition that might make a revival, if not tonight, then soon.
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