They helped inspire the greatest comeback in Ryder Cup history last September. With Europe 10-4 down against the United States with two afternoon matches left on the course, England’s finest had their input on proceedings.
Luke Donald produced a superb long iron at the 17th to extingush the challenge of Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker. That was followed by a truly inspirational performance from Ian Poulter, providing the kind of scintilating golf that current world no.1 and partner Rory McIlroy would have been proud to produce.
Both Donald and Poulter would go on to produce superb performances in the Sunday singles, providing Europe with victory in the opening two matches. Justin Rose was another who shone on Sunday against United States stalwart Phil Mickelson. Mickelson himself had enjoyed a fine Ryder Cup and led Rose by one with three holes remaining. But a clutch putt for par on 16, and birdies on 17 and 18 turned the match in Europe and Rose’s favour. The English contingent wasn’t done though as Lee Westwood finally brought his A-game to Medinah on Sunday. Having struggled throughout, Westwood produced a solid performance to comfortably beat Matt Kuchar 3&2.
Under the most severe pressure and media scrutiny, the United States had faltered and Europe had relished the opportunity to step in and complete the most remarkable comeback golf had ever seen. A serious statement was made by Donald, Poulter, Rose and Westwood on that day – but in reality, the hard work is still to do. With Westwood finally joining his countrymen in making the move to playing full-time on the PGA Tour, England’s finest must focus on winning major championships. Not competing, WINNING.
Despite all the success Europe have experienced in recent years during the Ryder Cup, the fact remains that getting the job done in major championships remains a real problem. Only four of Europes winning Ryder Cup team have experience of winning major titles, in comparison to the United States team who fielded a team of seven major champions – as well as the reigning FedEx cup champion and Players champion. Breakthrough performers on the big stage in the last couple of years come in the form of major champions Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson and Bubba Watson, as well as FedEx cup champion Brandt Snedeker – and with NI pair Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell producing major championship wins of their own, there is a danger that England’s top golfers may miss out on the opportunity to cash in on Tiger Woods’ temporary decline unless they sit up and take notice.
Perhaps that’s a little harsh – because on reflection, Lee Westwood’s career for one is something you can only marvel at and have the utmost respect for. From a slump into the golfing doldrums into the resurrection of becoming one of the finest ball strikers in professional golf, Westwood has achieved great success. 39 tournament victories across the globe is impressive enough – but it’s not enough for a man of his talent. Not only has he not won one of golfs major championship, Westwood is yet to win a second-tier WGC event or flagship event on the European/PGA tour. Superb off the tee, and fearsomely accurate in his iron play, it’s a surprise that Westwood isn’t a multiple major champion, let alone a winner of one. Yet its his shortcomings with his putting and general short-game that have ultimately held him back – they reared their ugly head during the Ryder Cup, and it’s something that must be addressed – and fast. Joining the US PGA tour full-time is probably his admission that his time is running out – Westwood must usual the adjulation and spirit of the Ryder Cup success to win a major this year, or he risks being known as one of the best nearly men in major championships.
Luke Donald is well regarded as one of the straightest and most consistent players in the world – and rightly so. His iron play is often unparalleled and his consistency of putting inside 10ft is amongst the elite. The former world no.1 is a winner of both European and US PGA Tour money lists in 2011, and has bagged back-to-back BMW PGA Championships at Wentworth. A highly impressive golfing reputation and CV only lacks one real quality – consistency in the major tourmaments. A record that boasts only 5 Top-10 finishes in his last 22 major starts is not a record that Donald will look fondly upon. Donald’s relative lack of distance off the tee may be a factor in his major shortcomings so far, but with impressive performances at the Masters and Open in the last couple of years, it’s hard to see a game as good as his, coupled with a temperament as calm as his, going unrewarded for much longer. One thing must change though you feel – developing a ruthless streak down the stretch to take those opportunities, or else you feel a similar tag to Westwood as the nearly man may tarnish Donald’s career.
A player of a similarly calm nature is Justin Rose. A career that thus far has gone largely unrewarded for some steady performances is finally beginning to flourish. Much improvement has been made to Rose’s game in the last three years, culminating in multiple victories on the PGA tour. A vast putting improvement, and an ever-evolving iron game are symbolic of Rose’s continued success – along with a calmness and serenity that seem to be taking the career of European’s only ever-present at last years Ryder Cup to new heights. A superb start to the 2013 season indicates Rose may be the man to strengthen Britains foothold at the top of world golf, and relieve the mounting pressure on his fellow countrymen to win an elusive major title.
Being under pressure is something that Ian Poulter is known to thrive upon – a sensational matchplay record in the Ryder Cup, a WGC Matchplay championship and World Matchplay title support the notion that Poulter has all the tools mentally to do get the job done. 6 stroke play titles in the last 3 and a bit years, and 3 top-ten major finishes last season would indicate that the consistency that Poulter has talked about and strived for in his game is finally coming together also. With his Ryder Cup heroics from Medinah fresh in the memory, it would seem now is the perfect time for Poulter to take the iniative and strike that major blow. Team success is all very well and good, but for this current crop of top English golfers to define their careers, each one must do better in the major tournaments to justify their standing at the top of the game. The good news is that they all know it.