AUGUSTA, Ga. — With a nod to Charles Dickens, the English arrived at Augusta National Golf Club with great expectations but left lamenting more hard times in the majors. All six of England’s Ryder Cup stars made the weekend cut at the Masters, but not one of them was able to get his hands on that coveted Green Jacket.
Luke Donald was the last man standing among the half-dozen. He finished T4 after chipping in at the 72nd hole, but even then he knew his 10-under par total would fall short. “You don’t want to know what I said under my breath when I made it,” he admitted.
Donald displayed a commendable stiff upper lip in the final round, relying on mental fortitude and patience to rally after hitting into the water at the 12th on the way to a double bogey. “I was a little hesitant getting out of the gates, but I’m pleased with the way I dug in there,” he said.
Donald, who played his college golf at Northwestern, won this year’s WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in Tucson with a superb display of chipping and putting, and at Augusta he proved that a plodder (as Tiger Woods once described him, and it was a compliment) could compete with the bombers at the majors.
While Donald can at least celebrate a high finish, his countrymen — Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter, Paul Casey, Justin Rose and Ross Fisher — leave Augusta National still searching for the key to major success. The forlorn fivesome played solidly at times, but all fell short of expectations.
So what went wrong this week for the English? “It’s all down to skill, precision, good decision-making, guts, intensity and determination,” said Nick Faldo, who remains the last Englishman to win a major title, at the 1996 Masters. “Our guys have all those qualities. What they’ve got to do next is learn how to hang on. The major victories are coming.”
Westwood had reason for optimism this week, drawing confidence from his recent stint atop the world rankings and his strong showing last year, when he finished second to Phil Mickelson. (Westwood’s 13-under total in 2010 would have won 20 of the past 25 Masters outright.) But the 37-year-old is now 0-for-52 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 and finished T11 at five under par. “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.”
Casey has logged four top 20 finishes at the Masters but faded this week to a tie for 38th place. And he doesn’t sound terribly confident about the other three major venues in 2011. “I don’t know Atlanta Athletic Club [PGA Championship]. I don’t know Congressional [U.S. Open] very well. And I struggled around St George’s [British Open] last time. It’s quirky,” Casey said.
He takes few positives from his Masters. “I felt good coming in but struggled with my ballstriking. If it weren’t for good attitude and some good recovery shots, I wouldn’t have sniffed making the cut,” he said. “Just need to forget about this week and don’t analyze it too much and try and get the ballstriking back and ready for the U.S. Open.”
Rose remained under the radar all week but at least flew home to Orlando in better spirits after rallying with a Sunday 68 to join Westwood in a tie for 11th. “I don’t have to re-invent my game; I don’t need to change anything,” he said. Both Fisher (T15) and Poulter (T27) also failed to sparkle.
“At holes 13 and 15 I’m over par and that’s not good enough,” Poulter said as he left the grounds Sunday afternoon. “Hopefully Rory will be slipping that Green Jacket on later tonight.”
Like we said, not a good week for the English, playing or predicting.