Donald the only bright spot as English challenge fades away

Westwood and Co left waiting for major after latest disappointment
Click to follow
The Independent Online

The England cricket team touring Australia in 1986-87 were summed up thus: "Can't bat, can't bowl, can't field." They then went on to show their mettle and win The Ashes. England's golfers need no such motivation. It is harsh to say of the Gang of Six at Augusta, "can't drive, can't chip, can't putt," because they can and Luke Donald displayed a stiff upper lip in the final round of the Masters. He chipped in at the 18th to get to 10 under par. Awesome, as they say here. His efforts fell just short.

High Wycombe's finest won the recent Accenture WGC Match Play tournament in Tucson with an imperious display of chipping and putting. He has proved once again that a plodder (as Tiger Woods once called him: it was a compliment) really can compete at the majors with the bombers.

Donald seems to have drunk some secret elixir. There is finally belief to go with his talent. But his five countrymen in the field set off into the night in search of a stiffer drink. There were signs that it is only a matter of time before one of England's Ryder Cup stars breaks through. It has been 15 years since Nick Faldo became the last Englishman to win a major at the 1996 Masters.

While Donald made his spirited fight for glory on the hottest day of the week, it was good night from Georgia from Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter, Justin Rose, Ross Fisher and Paul Casey. The forlorn foursome all played solidly at the Masters, but all fell short of expectations.

Worksop's Westwood had reason for optimism at the start of the week. Having recently enjoyed a stint as the world's No 1 golfer, he was relaxed and drawing confidence from his fine performance last year when his runner-up score of 13 under par would have won 20 of the last 25 Masters and got him into a further two play-offs.

But the 37-year-old now has now zero wins from 52 appearances in the majors and was far from happy with his putting. Desperately seeking birdies, he took solace in a belly putter for the final round. "I felt a little more comfortable today with it," he said. "To come so close last year and get myself in good shape this year and then, on the greens, it just makes me feel like pulling my hair out," he said. He finished at five under par.

His deadeye driving should, however, see him challenge again. If fate owes Westwood a major breakthrough, there can be no more perfect venue for an Englishman than Royal St George's when the Open Championship circus comes to Sandwich on the Kent coast in July.

Casey has had four top 20s at the Masters. But not this time, after finishing well down the field after a final-round 71 to end the week at one over par and scratching his head wondering where, and when, his major breakthrough will come. And he didn't sound too confident looking forward to the upcoming major venues. "I don't know Atlanta Athletic Club [US PGA Championship venue in August]. I don't know Congressional [US Open venue] very well. And I struggled around St George's [Open venue] last time. It's quirky," Casey said.

As for the Masters at Augusta? "I felt good coming in but struggled with my ball-striking. If it weren't for good attitude and some good recovery shots, I wouldn't have sniffed making the cut. Just need to forget about this week and don't analyse it too much and just try and get the ball striking back and ready for the US Open," he said."

Rose remained under the radar but flew home with hope after a late rally propelled him to just outside the top 10. He completed his week's work at five under par after a final round 68. "It was nice to finish strong," he said. "I don't have to re-invent my game." Fisher and Poulter failed to sparkle, which left Donald as last man standing waving the flag for England.

"The major victories are coming," Faldo said.