Future bright for Britain as Westwood and Owen earn stripes
Wasn't this the final round of the USPGA Championship, and if so what the hell were Lee Westwood and Greg Owen still doing in contention after the third round? Didn't they know that the year's final major has always been as kind to Englishmen as the midday sun that once again burned so brightly and so oppressively at Baltusrol yesterday? Didn't they know that as many Englishmen (none) have walked on the surface of the Moon as on the surface of the final green with the Wanamaker Trophy in hand?
Well, the world of golf is changing and so, most definitely, is England's place in it if the evidence presented here means anything at all. True, the scowl of Luke Donald was more wraparound than John Daly's waistband as he trudged in at nine-over after a wholly irrelevant final-morning 74, but even the continued inability of the crown prince of British golf to turn potential - not to mention decent first rounds - into anything of lasting substance should not dampen the optimism.
Because the facts bragged that of the 10 Englishmen in the world's top 100 (which in itself is a record), six made the cut, one (Paul Broadhurst) was not in attendance and only three went home early. Nick Dougherty, playing in his first USPGA and just his second major, was as unlucky as anyone when missing out by one while David Howell, the world No30, did well just to finish having not played competitively for two months after a torn abdominal muscle. In fact, only Camberley's Brian Davis had much to pace around his living room about these past few days as his countrymen - all of whom are aged 33 and under - were attempting to lay to rest the ghost of Tommy Armour, the Americanised Scotsman, who was the last European to win the USPGA some 75 years ago.
That was an exorcism obviously beyond Steve Webster and Paul Casey as they both finished on eight-over after a 71 and a 72 respectively, but for varying reasons both were simply delighted still to be in town. Webster is only now acclimatising himself to the giddying feeling of competing in American majors while Casey has been there before, having finished sixth in his first Masters in 2003.
That is a memory, however, that has been so distant of late that it might well have happened to a different golfer, which indeed he was until the slump that reduced him to a quivering wreck these last few months.
"I am genuinely relieved that things are coming around for me," said the 28-year-old. "I am happy with the way I've played this week and the game in general. Ryder Cup points start in a couple of weeks and I am looking forward to that and there are still a lot of events left in Europe that I am really up for, so yes I am feeling happy again."
Ian Woosnam will say Amen to that, although he may have a problem of biblical proportions regarding Owen, the 33-year-old from Mansfield who could cause the European Ryder Cup captain a whole week of sleepless nights if he goes through with his threat of resigning his European Tour membership, and thus ruling himself out of next year's match in Dublin. To remain a Tour member, Owen has to commit to 11 events, but after coming through the US Tour qualifying school last December he has played only four of those 11 so far, and in 16 tournaments in the States he has earned over £600,000.
"I really enjoy it over here," he said, playing in his first major for two years. "The heat's a lot easier on my back for one thing and the atmosphere is fantastic. There's a buzz every week. If you are not in the world championships, which I am not at the moment, it's tough to play both tours and if I don't get into the one next week then I am going to resign."
Owen, 168th in the world at the start of the year, stood 68th yesterday, but needed to be in the top 50 today to make the field for the NEC Invitational in Ohio. A top-three finish would probably have been good enough, and as he set off with Westwood, another Nottinghamshire lad, in the sixth from last group, three off Mickelson's and Love's lead, one behind Singh and three ahead of Woods, their excitement was palpable.
As was all of Europe's, because not only was there Owen, Westwood and Ian Poulter a few further back to cheer home, most noticeably there was Thomas Bjorn, a shot off the pace. His course-record equalling 63 on Saturday was jaw-dropping in both its magnificence and its unlikeliness, given the Dane's continued dalliance with the demons that manifested themselves at the European Open in June as cruelly as they had in that Sandwich bunker at his doomed Open two years ago.
At the K Club, a final-round 86 that was drumrolled with a horrendous 11 on the 17th, threw away a four-shot lead that had seemed impregnable. That experience forced him to change his coach, change his swing and change his expectations as he arrived in Springfield a changed man. Baltusrol was about to check just how "changed".
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