Masters Countdown: Englsih hopes look slim
Post by Golf Journalist, Nick Bonfield
Englishmen have traditionally fared pretty well at The Masters, which comes to our screens in less than two weeks. From Nick Faldo’s three victories in the 1980s and ‘90s to a succession of strong performances from the likes of Lee Westwood, Justin Rose and Luke Donald in recent years, those from our shores have enjoyed a proclivity for Augusta National over the last 30 years or so. Once again, a number of English players are in the field for the first major of the year, but who might make the strongest challenge? Are we likely to see an English winner for the first time since 1996? Nick Bonfield investigates….
Justin Rose took to Augusta National like a duck to water on his Masters debut, shooting one of the best first rounds before falling back into a tie for 39th. Since then, his record has been very impressive. The following year, he produced rounds of 67 and 71 to head into the weekend with the lead. He struggled in round three, but that wasn’t entirely unexpected given his lack of comparative experience. He’s played eight times since 2003 and only finished outside the top 30 on one occasion, in 2008. He came very close in 2007 en route to a tie for 5th – one of four top-15s he’s recorded in the last eight years.
Given the statistics, and Rose’s length and strength from tee to green, he’s often considered one of the favourites, but not this year. The 34-year-old has missed three cuts on the PGA Tour this season. In fact, the only event he’s earned a cheque from was the WGC-Cadillac Championship, a tournament without a cut. To put his run of form in perspective, he only missed four cuts on the PGA Tour in 2013 and 2014 combined. Still, he’s got major-winning pedigree and excellent course form, so it wouldn’t be a massive surprise if he came out on top. At this point in time, I just can ‘t see it though.
What has happened to Luke Donald? His decline has been steady since he reached the top of the Official World Golf Ranking in 2011. In fact, he’s on the verge of dropping out of the world’s top 50 for the first time since August 2004 – a product of swing changes, a lack of confidence and the ever-increasing difficulty of competing with limited length off the tee. That said, if any place can inspire you, it’s Augusta National, particularly when it’s somewhere you have a good record.
Donald had a chance to win in both 2005 and 2011, when he finished 3rd and 4th respectively, and he sandwiched those two performances with another top-10 in 2007. However, I’d be shocked if he claimed his first major championship at the 2015 Masters. He currently ranks outside the top 150 on the PGA Tour in Driving Distance, Driving Accuracy and Greens in Regulation – not an encouraging combination. The major concern is that he’s 102nd in Strokes Gained: Putting and 82nd in Scrambling – the foundations his game is built on. Ominously, nothing seems to be working for Donald.
I have to admit I quite like Lee Westwood’s chances at Augusta. He hasn’t set the world on fire this season, but there’s been cause for optimism and I think he’ll benefit from coming into the tournament under the radar. The 41-year-old has a superb record at Augusta National, where he’s finished inside the top eight in four of the last five years. Incredibly, he’s only been outside the top 11 once since 2008. Who could forget his enthralling battle with Phil Mickelson in 2010, where only some sublime play from the left-hander deprived Westwood of his first major title.
This season on the PGA Tour, the man from Worksop has finished inside the top 25 four times out of four, including a T12 at the WGC-Cadillac. Augusta is a ball-striker’s golf course – something that’s never waned for Westwood – and, encouragingly, he ranks 17th in Strokes Gained: Putting. Doubts still remain about his chipping – a test that’s magnified at Augusta – but I’m quietly optimistic about Westwood’s prospects at The Masters.
Ian Poulter has been in decent form on the PGA Tour so far this season without really capitalising on a consistent spell of good play. His best chance came at the Honda Classic, where he led heading into Monday’s play at the weather-delayed event. Unfortunately, he imploded on the final nine holes and eventually finished a decent way outside the play-off, which saw Padraig Harrington claim his first victory since the 2008 USPGA Championship.
Poulter’s key statistics are good this season – he only ranks outside the top 100 in one major category, Driving Distance, something that’s never been the cornerstone of his game – but it’s so much easier to compete at Augusta when you have more loft coming into those treacherous greens. Poulter has notched two top 10s over the past five years at Augusta, plus a T20 in 2014, but I just can’t envisage him winning this time around.
Paul Casey has arguably been the form English player this season since his decision to ply his trade solely on the PGA Tour in 2015. He lost out to James Hahn in a play-off at the Northern Trust Open and followed that with a third-place finish the next week at The Honda Classic. It’s been a good resurgence for Casey over the last 18 months, given that he was outside the world’s top 150 in June 2013. What’s encouraging is the fact he’s 21st in Scoring Average and 33rd in the All-Around ranking – two factors that are indicative of good form across the board.
Casey had two top-10s at Augusta in 2004 and 2007, but he’s not played the past two years and he missed the cut in 2012 in his last outing on the hallowed turf. He’ll come into the tournament in good form, though, but, once again, I just can’t picture him in the Green Jacket come Sunday night.
So, my prognosis in simple: if you’re a betting man, go for Westwood, with a small amount each way on Casey and Poulter. I just can’t see Rose or Donald troubling the scorers this time around.
Let’s hope I’m wrong.
Do agree with Nick's assesment of English chances at Augusta? Let us know by commenting below:
Be part of the action with a selection of unique golf tournament experiences, from playing in a pro-am with the stars to watching the action at golf’s most illustrious events. Whether it’s the Masters or The Open, The Ryder Cup or WM Phoenix Open, build your own bespoke package with the experts at Golfbreaks.com.
What do you think? leave your comments below (Comments)