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  • Alistair Tait

England Expects at Royal St George’s

Royal St George’s has a special place in golf history, particularly British golf history, and specifically English golf and Open Championship history.

Will it be a special place for English golf this week, as it hosts golf’s greatest championship for the 15th time?

The Kent club was the first outside Scotland to host the Open Championship. It did so in 1894 when JH Taylor won the first of his five Claret Jugs. Harry Vardon won there in 1899 and 1911, Henry Cotton took St George’s apart in 1934 and Reg Whitcombe became the fourth Englishman to win the Open over the humps and hollows of the Sandwich links when he lifted the jug in 1938.

The above four are among 13 English-born winners who have won 22 Open Championships between them. The full list, alphabetically, reads:

  • John Ball Jr 1890

  • Jim Barnes 1925

  • Dick Burton 1939

  • Henry Cotton 1934, 1937, 1948

  • Nick Faldo 1987, 1990, 1992

  • Max Faulkner 1951

  • Arthur Havers 1923

  • Harold Hilton 1892, 1897

  • Tony Jacklin 1969

  • Alf Padgham 1936

  • Alf Perry 1935

  • JH Taylor 1894, 1895, 1900, 1909, 1913

  • Reg Whitcombe 1938

However, the last English winner of the game’s greatest golf championship came in 1992 at Muirfield. Nick Faldo was that man, taking the title for the third time, and second at Muirfield to go with St Andrews in 1990.

Surely it’s time for another Englishman to win the The Open?

Who could that be? Who knows, but there are plenty of candidates.

Twenty six players who pledge allegiance to the flag of St George’s tee it up today with a chance to become the first since Faldo to drape an English flag over the old claret jug. Bookmakers William Hill rate the main contenders at the following odds:

  • Tyrrell Hatton 33/1

  • Matt Fitzpatrick 33/1

  • Tommy Fleetwood 33/1

  • Paul Casey 35/1

  • Lee Westwood 40/1

  • Justin Rose 45/1

  • Ian Poulter 55/1

  • Matt Wallace 100/1

  • Danny Willett 125/1

Fitzpatrick arrives in Scotland fresh from a playoff for the Scottish Open, which he lost to Min Woo Lee. Fitzpatrick’s best Open finish is 20th in 2019. Poulter missed that Scottish Open playoff by a shot after a final round of 63. He was second to Padraig Harrington at Royal Birkdale in 2008. Woburn Golf Club's finest couldn’t, could he?

Hatton might be good value since he’s had two Open top 10s, fifth in 2016 and sixth two years ago at Royal Portrush. Fleetwood, of course, placed runner-up to Shane Lowry at Portrush. He might have had a better chance of getting his hands on the trophy if not for the inclement weather on the final day, which made it slightly easier for Lowry.

Casey also has two top 10s. He was third in 2010 and seventh in 2008, and has a good chance this year considering he seems to have found a new lease of life in his 40s.

Rose topped his fourth place finish in 1998 as an amateur by finishing second to Francesco Molinari at Carnoustie three years ago. He’s not in the greatest of form right now, hence his 45/1 odds.

Then there’s Westwood. The 48-year-old has five top-5 finishes in the major to top all majors. Second in 2010 to Louis Oosthuizen is officially his best finish, but he was a distant seven shots behind the South African. His best chance came in the 2009 championship at Turnberry.

It’s possible Westwood would already have that major he so richly craves if he hadn’t looked back down Turnberry’s 18th fairway and saw Tom Watson’s ball lying in the middle of it. It forced Westwood to charge his long birdie putt at the hole. He failed to hole his return par putt and missed the Watson/Stewart Cink playoff by a shot.

No wonder the tears flowed that night.

Many will be backing the Englishman to do well this week, especially at odds of 40/1. They shouldn’t be too hasty to spend their hard earned cash. Lee John Westwood missed the cut in his last two St George’s appearances. However, he says he has a better attitude this year.

“Kind of had it in my head a bit of a mental block that I didn’t like the golf course, but played it yesterday and really enjoyed it,” he said. “Loved the way it was set up

Westwood is 0 for 87 in the only tournaments that really matter. He’s going all in to try to make it 88th time lucky.

“You just kind of load the dice to give you the best opportunities as possible,” he said. “You can’t do any more than that, and then you give them a roll and what happens.”

This couldn’t be the major in which dice fall his way could it? Or even an Englishman’s way?

#JustSaying: “If there was a fire on the course while Nick was putting, he’d say: “What fire? What smoke?” Tony Jacklin on Nick Faldo’s concentration

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