Saturday 10 December 2016

Poulter and Donald must follow Harrington's lead

Karl MacGinty

Published 20/12/2011 | 05:00

Luke Donald and Ian Poulter. Photo: Getty Images
Luke Donald and Ian Poulter. Photo: Getty Images

GOOD grief, Irish golfers have won six Major championships in the past five years! That's two more Major titles than the Americans in the same period, and three times as many as Tiger. Economically, our little island may be as close as Europe gets to a leper colony, but in golfing terms, Ireland is a superpower.

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The mind-blowing success of our golfers has been brought into clear perspective in recent days by an impressive series of performances by English players, no less.

For example, Luke Donald's historic feat in winning the official money list in Europe and the USA kindled hopes across the water that the world No 1 might soon be able to end Britain's 12-year drought at the Majors.

Emphatic victories by Donald's compatriots Lee Westwood (at the inaugural Thailand Golf Championship) and Ian Poulter (in the Australian Masters) in the final Tour events of 2011 have further fanned that flame.

For the record, Britain's most recent Major title was won by Scot Paul Lawrie at the 1999 British Open in Carnoustie, an event more widely recalled for Jean van de Velde's infamous follies on the final hole.

England, meanwhile, must look three years further back to Nick Faldo's 1996 US Masters triumph. Indeed, Ireland's 'Golden Generation' is so dominant at the Majors, we even can match Greg Norman's humiliating final-day meltdown at Augusta National that year!

Rory McIlroy's Sunday afternoon implosion at last April's US Masters was every bit as spectacular and made the Holywood youngster's record-shattering success at the US Open in Congressional 70 days later all the more remarkable.

Naturally, as golf is an all-island sport, we're delighted our good friends across the water felt able to share, as UK citizens, some sense of accomplishment in the feats of McIlroy and fellow Northern Irishmen Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell.

How wonderful to have more than enough largesse to go around. Yet we have the 60-year famine between Fred Daly's solitary British Open success in 1947 and Padraig Harrington's nerve-jangling 2007 breakthrough at Carnoustie to remind us what seldom is too.

Each Major championship represents such an epic achievement that it is impossible to become blase about winning them, even for Tiger Woods at his pomp. Of course, Woods hasn't won at the Majors since the 2008 US Open -- his well-catalogued travails have left a vacuum at golf's Grand Slams.

Initially, the gap was filled that summer by Harrington with back-to-back wins at Royal Birkdale and Oakland Hills, yet it has been 'open season' at the Majors ever since, with 10 of the last 12 producing first-time winners.

Logic suggests that in the absence of a rampaging Tiger, more people will go to these events believing they have a real chance, which explains why so many have been able to make that initial breakthrough. Conversely, the pressure and expectation felt by new and established Major champions is greater now than it was a few years back, when Woods carried the weight of the world's attention into every tournament he played, so multiple wins are more difficult.

Though Tiger has been installed as 6/1 favourite for next April's US Masters after winning his own Chevron World Challenge a fortnight ago, he is unlikely ever to exercise the same domination over the professional arena.

That will not make it any easier, however, for Messrs Donald, Westwood or Poulter to make that long-awaited Major breakthrough for England.

Donald is a phenomenally consistent golfer and, in the past 18 months, has found a sharp competitive edge, which has helped establish him as the undisputed world No 1.

With four victories in 2011 and 20 top-10s in 26 events, Donald (34) can be fancied to go close any given Sunday on the American or European Tours, but Sunday at a Major championship is different. Though Donald has had four top-five finishes at the Majors, he has consistently fallen just short of making a sustained bid for victory on Sunday afternoon. That's a tough barrier to break.

Westwood, now 38, certainly knows what it's like to contend at the Majors, with six top-three finishes in his last 12. Yet, for all his vast experience and huge talent, the Worksop man has been unable to provide that crucial finishing touch with his putter in golf's most exacting arena.

It was interesting to hear Westwood say in the wake of Sunday's Thai success: "I've been working for the last six or seven weeks (in the gym) with my mind on the US Masters in April. You don't just pitch up at Augusta and turn it on that week."

There's the rub. Westwood and Donald can be magnificent, week in, week out on Tour but each Major, especially the US Masters, can be months in the making. They have an intensity all of their own.

Poulter doesn't quite match the consistency or technical brilliance of his two fellow countrymen. Yet he has the temperament, the scary-eyed focus of a Harrington or McDowell, to rise to any occasion and would be my fancy to end England's drought.

Perhaps there's a drop or two of Irish blood in there somewhere!

More awards for World No 1 as he completes famous hat-trick

WORLD NO 1 Luke Donald yesterday joined Padraig Harrington as the only golfers in history to win the US PGA Tour, European Tour and Association of Golf Writers Player of the Year awards in the same season.

Harrington completed this famous hat-trick of awards in 2008 after winning the British Open and US PGA Championships back-to-back. Darren Clarke and Rory McIlroy tied second in the AGW poll of journalists in Britain, Ireland and internationally. The European Solheim Cup team placed fourth.

Irish Independent

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